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Hydrotherapy and bathing room | by Kirkbride Palace
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Hydrotherapy and bathing room

This photo was taken in a hydrotherapy room at Manteno State Hospital in Illinois, a state-run mental institution which was shuttered in 1985.

 

This particular hydrotherapy room is the last existing part of the hospital where Kristyn Vinikour's Gennie Project (www.mantenostatehospital.com/gennie/index.html) was shot. (All of the other sites have been demolished already, and this building awaits demo.) The words on the tubs and walls are excerpts from the actual records of a 1950s patient at Manteno--a woman named Gennie.

 

Although the doctors noted that she had "no active signs of pathology" upon her admittance, Gennie was at the hospital, so the doctors nonetheless felt compelled to treat her, using the barbaric methods that were standard practice at the time. One such treatment was hydrotherapy, in which the patients are forcibly submerged in ice cold water, in tubs like these. Gennie's doctors noted that the longer she stayed there, the more cynical and unfriendly she became. As time wore on, Gennie was subjected to electroshock therapy and then lobotomized.

 

Besides how affecting Vikikour's photos (see link above) are, this space that her project has left behind is just, um, wow. You walk into the room and find yourself at a loss for words. Visiting any abandoned medical facility or public institution, you feel the weight of all the pain that's happened there, and you can't help but thinking about all the suffering that must have happened, but in Vinikour's hydrotherapy room, there is all the pain physically manifested, literally spelled out for you. It's overwhelming and depressing, but the space is so weighty and thought-provoking that if I had the time (and thought I'd not get caught), I could easily spend hours sitting there in contemplation, experiencing the room and the way it changed with the day's waning light. If I was in charge of the world, American history museums would be less of cliche Ben Franklin quotes on badly designed shiny signs, and much much more of this.

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Taken on April 10, 2005