Sunday, 18 July 2010

Meat houses and old asylums

This is the week that I officially start my phd but as I don't yet have my library access I've just been tinkering around the edges looking at things that spark my interest. Many of these come from tweets posted from all in the mind's Natasha Mitchell (ABC science journo). This week she tweeted a link to a series of shows she did a couple of years ago about the 'lunatic asylum' at Goodna: Up the Line to Goodna: stories from inside the asylum. Mental health services are still delivered at what is now called The Park at Goodna, west of Brisbane, but Mitchell's series looked at the bad old days of shock therapy, overcrowding, abuse, cruelty and seclusion in dungeons. Her show had stories from former patients and workers as well as some women who, as children of staff, grew up in the grounds of the asylum.

Many of the stories were shocking but some memories, particularly from the women who grew up there, told of a different side. For my purposes, it might be worthwhile for me to drive out there one day and have a look around, get a feel for the buildings, for the scale of them and how they're laid out. I'll also have a look at Mark Finnane's history of the place, if I can get a hold of it, and the memoir of a former patient. In terms of a setting for part of my manuscript, an abandoned lunatic asylum is perfect atmospherically and practically. But I want to get right into the nuts and bolts of the place, make it palpable within the narrative - the horror and violence as well as the warped normality.
But if lunatic asylums have a lot to offer in terms of atmosphere, a house made of meat offers up a whole different range of possibilities. I can't remember who tweeted the link to Inhabit, a blog about the future of design that focuses on sustainability, but I'm forever indebted to them. The blog comments showed the idea of the meat house caused some controversy, but the image of the curved exterior of the pig skin house and the idea of the house being grown from animal flesh had immediate appeal for me. A building grown organically from animal flesh that has the possibility of using sphincter muscles to open and close windows and doors - brilliant!