mechanised
[beneath the rule a country hides]

Sunday, December 31st, 2000

Time:10:05 pm.
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........#7 - Appendix: Tilt [Autumn 2006]


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With redevelopment imminent, I took the opportunity to return to St. _____ - once a youth treatment centre, but now simply an impediment to luxury housing. It has been almost a year since my last visit, but little appears to have changed. A few more broken windows, an accretion of dead birds on the upper floors – but nothing of any significance. Its singular atmosphere remains – cobalt skies and the autumn sun doing little to offset its bleakness.

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I focused this time on the prison’s periphery – the administration block and social centre. Left untended, both have largely been reclaimed by the surrounding woodland (footpaths consumed, windows enshrouded; it is as if they have risen through the forest floor).

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With the administration block unyielding, however, I spent most of my visit in the social centre – an almost windowless structure to the side of the approach road. Large partitions divided the floor space, while at the rear stood what I assume was once an altar. [Bizarrely, straw and manure lined the floor in some rooms, the remainder stripped bare. On the stage lay a government booklet on violence, but there were few other clues to the centre’s usage. ]

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The history and experiences of inmates must have been horrific; and yet all I was able to sense was absence - the population an undifferentiated mass. Viewed simply as places – derelict, forgotten, silent - these buildings are extraordinary; but with no human traces to cleave to, the desolation eventually becomes too much. (I remember feeling much the same at Cane Hill – my first visit all-encompassing, my last spent entirely in occupational therapy, knee-deep in patient artwork).1

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..There is something to be said for revisiting the same locations - a means of charting their decay as well as any changes in one’s own sensibilities. In the case of St. ____, for instance, I found myself more responsive, more distressed - the prison’s history increasingly difficult to comprehend. [At St._____, the dividing line is violence, brutality – something far beyond the compass of my own experience (unlike mental illness)]

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Indeed, St ____ serves as a fascinating counterpoint to psychiatric hospitals. With asylums, there are always concessions to the outside world – be it geographical prominence, the abundance of windows - but here separation is absolute. A ten-metre metallic fence and the pervasiveness of razor wire utterly reject the idea of assimilation or contact. The cord with the outside world is cut completely.

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1. As with Cane Hill, the obvious analogue is Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (surely the greatest exploration film there is). Ostensibly, I venture in search of something - be it history, photographs – but each time the journey is largely internal (while not quite descending into solipsism, the lack of human traces invariably forces my gaze inward – something I despise but seem powerless to resist)

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