In this photograph, cylindrical, copper cannister is shown against a black background. The shiny red-orange of the copper is contrasted with the bright turquoise and white erosion on the can that contains the cremated remains of a psychiatric patient.
David Maisel visited the Oregon State Hospital, a psychiatric hospital, to photograph thousands of copper canisters containing the cremated remains of patients. Most striking is the vibrant mineral bloom on the urns’ surfaces, which makes every canister as unique as the person whose ashes it contains. While copper owes its value to how well it resists corrosion, here it reacted with the ashes within the canister.
The hospital started to cremate the unclaimed dead in 1913 and continued to do so until the 1970s. Maisel’s images “provide their own form of recognition [of the unclaimed], perform their own work of memorialization,” writes Michael Roth in the publication "Library of Dust." According to the artist, the project is about transformation, the physical and metaphysical, and “the slippage of life into death and perhaps back into some sort of alchemically driven afterlife.”
deaths; fires; memory; social commentary
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