Michal Heiman’s exhibition includes an installation, performance, video, sound, photographs, floor work, objects, documents, and archival display. In 2012, she came across the book The Face of Madness: Hugh W. Diamond and the Origin of Psychiatric Photography (1976), and had a crucial encounter with a photograph in it – Plate 34. This image led her to undertake a project that seeks to envision the political, cultural, gendered, and psychic conditions of possibility of a “return.” Heiman’s radical proposal is to create a new community comprised of dozens of women – asylum-seekers, activists, artists, and others – from 1855 to 2017.
The young woman who stared at Heiman from Plate 34 – a photograph taken circa 1855 by Dr. Diamond (1809–1886), a British psychiatrist who was a senior staff member at the Springfield Hospital (formerly the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum) – looked to her exactly like her adolescent self. She even recognized her particular hands.
In an endeavor to find ways to revisit the women photographed in the 1850s while hospitalized in the asylum, Heiman’s first act was to sew herself a similar plaid dress. This dress served her as a principal strategy for gaining access to the asylum. She began taking multiple portraits (still photographs and videos), mostly of women, including herself, as well as a few men and some people of non-binary gender, all wearing this dress.
In her exhibition, Heiman offers an opportunity for a personal encounter with herself. Its aim is to provide the artist with consultation and support.