Southend Exhibition The Chain Uncovers Taiwan's Asylums

by Roz Tappenden | 24 December 2005
A black and white photograph of two male Taiwanese mental patients chained together at the waist

The Chain is a shocking testimony of life at the Lung Fa Tang mental asylum in Taiwan. Photo: Chien-Chi Chang.

Insanity takes many forms and can be an unnerving thing to confront but the latest exhibition by Chien-Chi Chang does just that.

The Chain, on until January 14 2006, is on display at the Focal Point Gallery at Southend Central Library, Essex, and is a shocking testimony of life at the Lung Fa Tang mental asylum in Taiwan.

The 24 near life-size images are a disturbing education about the realities of mental health treatment in a distant society.

A black and white photograph of two male Taiwanese mental patients chained together at the waist

The patients are chained together as part of their treatment. Photo: Chien-Chi Chang.

Each photo shows two patients bound together with a chain around their waists. The Buddhist monks who care for them consider the practice therapeutic but the expressions and body language recorded in these images tell an altogether different story.

The men in the photographs have been sent to the Buddhist sanctuary by their families. Considered social misfits, they are consigned to a life at the asylum, which also happens to be Taiwan’s largest chicken farm.

More than 700 mentally ill patients live and work at Lung Fa Teng, each one is permanently chained to their neighbour. The chaining treatment is designed so that the more well of the pair can help the other with their daily chores.

A black and white photograph of two male Taiwanese mental patients chained together at the waist

The 24 images were part of a larger exhibition displayed at the Venice Biennale in 2001 and at Sao Paulo Biennale in 2002. Photo: Chien-Chi Chang.

Chang has spent much of his time thinking about alienation and connection, freedom and restriction, normality and madness.

The human conditions are depicted in such a stark and graphic manner that they are no longer unnerving but compelling and engaging.

Born in Taiwan in 1961, Chang now shares his time between New York and Taipei. He has worked as a photographer for The Seattle Times and The Baltimore Sun.

This latest exhibition is an edited version of a larger exhibition of 40 images presented at the Venice Biennale in 2001 and at Sao Paulo Biennale in 2002.

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