Benevolent Asylum is an installation, performance and community discussion ground. The project at the Fremantle Arts Centre last year, was prompted by the discovery of the razed site of The Melbourne Benevolent Asylum, once the most prominent building in North Melbourne, where Hibberd lived for 11 years. Established in 1851, the Asylum was abandoned in 1900 and finally demolished in 1912.
Hibberd writes ‘The exhibition at Fremantle Arts Centre was the result of an encounter with the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum, which sparked an examination of asylum institutions as an archetype of care and confinement in Australia. Benevolent Asylum has evolved over three years, with research across Australia and Europe, to look at the origins of institutional confinement and birth of the circumstance in which state care and incarceration are inseparable.This work has revealed that originary models still profoundly influence Australia’s chief institutions of confinement and punitive detention. In Fremantle, for instance, convict labour transported to Tasmania from London’s Millbank and Pentonville prisons brought with it the Solitary System and a penology of relentless isolation and labour. Replicated across the colony in the mid-19th century, Model Prisons were established at Fremantle, Port Arthur, Adelaide Gaol and at Pentridge in Melbourne. Inmates in this system spent 12 hours labour and 23 hours a day in 2 x 3 metre cells.’
‘Tourism at former prison sites promotes the idea that this is a ‘dark’ history, which our institutions have left well behind, and that such harsh treatment borders on fiction. This is simply another radical forgetting. Confinement operates in precisely the same way in our asylums, prisons and detention centres today. And solitary incarceration is the prevailing public secret of Australian punishment: denial of the practice is so obvious that everything is done to avoid recognising it. ‘
This is a fascinating area of historical research & documentation, and is a rich area of creation for artists in site specific installation & artworks. Im particulalry fascinated by the current use of these spaces especially for play & free leisure activities when they hold such deep secrets in their psychological landscapes. Is this an unconcious healing process or just gentrification? Certainly at the Forum discussion with the artist, issues of asylum, the history of confinement and the relationship between historical research and creativity were discussed openly and sometimes very emotionally, between artists, historians, prison counsellors, psychiatrists, educators, activists and other community members .