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A Walk Through the Abandoned Wings of the ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ Asylum

Curators’ corner

A Walk Through the Abandoned Wings of the ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ Asylum

The Oregon State Hospital, originally built as the Oregon State Insane Asylum, is most recognized as the film site of the Academy Award-winning “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” starring Jack Nicholson. Ken Kesey’s classic novel that inspired the equally classic film also takes place there.

While much of the hospital is still in use, some wings have been shut down – but not cleaned out. Photographer David Maisel explores OSH’s hidden ruins in Library of Dust, a photo collection named after a muttering by a local prisoner who was surveying shelves of canisters containing cremated remains during Maisel’s first visit to the hospital.

(Doesn’t this whole thing just give you the willies already?)

Maisel’s shots of the asylum are indeed spooky – torn up olive green walls, shattered Pepto-Bismol-pink tiles, alternately dark and sunlit hallways – but these types of shots are pretty typical in abandoned buildings.

The theme the collection is named after, though, is exceedingly eerie – Maisel was introduced to a room full of copper canisters containing unclaimed cremated remains of former patients who died at the hospital between 1883 and the 1970s. Thousands of canisters. Chronologically yet sporadically labeled from 01 to 5,118.

(Cringe-worthy, right?)

Each canister corroded uniquely; some turning blue, others turning green, each hosting a different pattern of chemical barnacles and its own distinctively worn label. It’s almost as if the canisters take on different personalities, thus preserving the individuality among those in them.

“Sublimely beautiful, yet disquieting, the enigmatic photographs of Library of Dust are meditations on issues of matter and spirit,” Maisel says. “While there are certainly physical and chemical explanations for the ways these canisters have transformed over time, the canisters also encourage us to consider what happens to our own bodies when we die, and to the souls that occupy them.”

Library of Dust stops you in your tracks; that’s what great photography does. Maisel’s images capture the otherwise forgotten and bring inanimate objects to life, sparking vividly subjective imagery of an entire setting and time period.

What sort of scene do you picture while looking through Maisel’s Library of Dust collection? Surely something stirring – Tell us in the comments below.

Photo by David Maisel

Photo by David Maisel

Photo by David Maisel

Photo by David Maisel

Photo by David Maisel

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