Anna Schuleit’s Bloom is one of my long-held favorite installation works, and it’s a perfect Abler project. So why haven’t I featured it before now?
It was staged at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in 2003, in the days before the center shut down, after nine decades of patient care. Schuleit covered the entire four floors with 5,600 square feet of sod and 28,000 blooming flowers.
Schuleit says the work addresses, in part, the strange lack of flowers in psychiatric settings, while they appear everywhere in other clinical environments. That distinction packs so many assumptions about who is sick, and why, and how.
And it’s impossible not to consider the modes of care, such as it was—restraint, or nurturance, or abuse—that would have transpired in a many-decades-old institution. These settings are always an index of the wider culture, revealing how we care for those whose maladies often can’t be seen.
Schuleit also piped in sounds through an old PA system, the snippets of conversation and ambient sounds of the building in its last days. And then the entire structure was open to the public for four days, to explore and remember.
After those days and the building’s closing, all the flowers were donated to shelters, psychiatric wards, and halfway houses around Boston: a big extended gift to many invisible people.