FOURTEEN spoons, 2 prayer books, 2 rosary beads and a purse containing 7 pence; the owner certainly fit an impressive amount into her small leather handbag. The spoons are something of a mystery. Perhaps she was a spoon hoarder, perhaps they were souvenirs from her home. For this bag of spoons belonged to a woman who was committed to the Richmond Asylum in Grangegorman. And it is just one of a number of fascinating left behind artefacts discovered in the attic of the hospital and now on display in Personal Effects: A History of Possession at the axis: Ballymun, axisballymun.ie.
Upon admission to the asylum, the personal possessions of an inmate were taken from them. Clearly many were never returned or reclaimed by their family. These items, abandoned to the 'care' of the institution, became the property of the state as their owners had once been its wards.
For the most part, the contents of the handbags were not extraordinary. There were items of personal care and hygiene, powder compacts and lipstick, combs and hairpins, identity or ration cards, diaries, letters, photographs, rosary beads and prayer books. The contents were no more extraordinary than their owner. What was extraordinary was the institution in which they found themselves and lived out their lives.
Artist Alan Counihan sorted through the records that were retrieved from the hospital attic. And a looped soundtrack plays actors reading from correspondence found within the containers, from case notes and hospital management records. Their past speaks to our present.