Dr Eric Fong in the Department of Liberal Arts
Collaborating with Dr Alana Harris, Reader in Modern British Social, Cultural and Gender History and Head of the Department of Liberal Arts, Dr Eric Fong is resident in the Department of Liberal Arts working on a project creatively exploring the history of mental health treatment in Britain.
Cyanotype Portraits: Psychiatric Treatments and Pauper Burials in London’s Asylums
Eric and Alana will explore, historically and artistically, the history of mental health treatment in Britain - centring on a newly accessible, digitised archive of glass plate negatives of some of the 9000 psychiatric patients who were given pauper burials in Horton Cemetery in Epsom, Surrey.
They will run a series of co-creative arts workshops, centred on the cyanotype photographic printing technique, allowing participants to engage with the poignant images (and genealogically-reconstructed life histories) of these patients. These workshops will allow participants to reflect on changing attitudes to mental illness and explore the role of nature and ‘therapeutic landscapes’ in treatment and wellbeing.
Eric will also produce an installation, interleaving medical history, photographic images and film, to offer testament to the patient demographics and diverse diagnoses within the five ‘Epsom cluster’ Asylums – the largest psychiatric facility in Europe.
Both strands of the project will offer a socially engaged, historically-recovered memorial to these forgotten patients – buried for more than a century in now unmarked graves and on an abandoned plot at risk from developers – whose bodies have merged with the soil, vegetal growth and ancient trees. The project connects medicine, creative visual practice, and debates about sustainability and nature, with a community history project whose objectives include restorative justice.
Dr Alana Harris is an interdisciplinary scholar, whose historical interests centre on shifts in identities and subjectivities across the twentieth century, refracted by the intersectional dynamics of gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality and religiosity. Alana is particularly interested in life histories, and transformations in taboo, stigma and mental health since the Great War.
Dr Eric Fong’s practice is driven by his interest in the juncture between art, science and technology, informed by his knowledge and experience as a former medical doctor. He works in a range of media, including film, photography, sculpture and installation. His artistic outputs have explored issues of mental illness, disfigurement, blindness and the phantom limb phenomenon.