Queer As A Clockwork Orange

The title has its origins in pre Second World War London. It is an East End Cockney slang term that; implies a queerness or madness so extreme as to subvert nature, since could any notion be any more bizarre than that of a clockwork Orange? The title and image appeals as something surreal, but obscenely real.

The phrase and meaning fits obliquely as a way to describe the recent installation and performance at Willow Court by artist Mike Parr. The event formed part of the Tasmanian Winter Fest, Dark Mofo.

Willow Court, a former mental Asylum, at New Norfolk provides the venue for Parr’s installation and performance, illustrating perfectly the nightmare of living and working in these types of institutions in a most surreal and obscene way.

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Entry by mirror was Parr’s method of eliciting audience participation in his performance. By asking that their mirrors and fragments be placed in and around those areas of that most moved them, he has them look closely and in an effort to understand what treatment and confinement meant for the patients and the their carers..

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The performance, featuring grotesque video, audio, photos, subtle poetry coupled with props, serves to set the dark scene. Such is the role of the stainless steel buckets full of urine and waste, strategically placed to evoke a sense of enhancement to the appalling conditions experienced by patients at Willow Court.

Parrs performance in part honored the death of his brother who died of mental illness in 2009. T abandoned Asylum at Willow Court is the perfect stage for the installation and performance as a focus and reflection of the suffering endured by his brother and others who were victims of such facilities in post and pre war Australia.

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The prison like environment and conditions at Willow Court produced a bizarre almost whispered respect, a palpable silent horror at the prospect of being an patient in such a place. Everywhere you look, the outside view was framed in a window sized mosaic of small 10 inch glass barred windows, backing onto a ‘concrete wall’ exercise yard.

The performance for all its unsettling and bizarre messages, focuses the attention on how such a physical environment combined with an outdated treatment methodology could adversely affect a persons physiological state mind.

Look closely, beyond the bricks and mortar, not is all it seems, a dark past almost as queer as a “Clockwork Orange”

Mike Briggs, Willow Court Tasmania June 2016

Note; the photographer and author has featured other stories about this institution on this website in 2014. He also worked periodically at this place in the mid 1980s until the closure in 2000. He retains an interest in the treatment of mental illness in Australia and has an opposition to institutionalised treatments. Regardless, Willow Court and places like it are part of our history and should continue to be documented. My thanks go to Mike Parr, Dark Mofo organisers and the Willow Court Tasmania organisation who provided me with research material and information from their website. Mike Briggs July 2016.

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