The Asylum Gene

The Asylum Gene

A South Australian Living Artist festival 2023 exhibition

What is Madness?

How is madness defined? Politics, history, culture, law, medicine, psychiatry?
Can creative practices, like narrative art and storytelling, alter social perceptions of madness?

While working through these questions cognitively, my creative side explores them. They become tangible. Physical in origin and outcome as I wander through my lived experience and research on the Ballaarat1 Asylum. Ink, pencil, charcoal, text, memory, pixels, paint, hands, feet, body. Filling the void of Mad silences and forced incarceration.

“Confinement hid away unreason, and betrayed the shame it aroused; but it explicitly drew attention to madness, pointed to it. If, in the case of unreason, the chief intention was to avoid scandal, in the case of madness that intention was to organize it.”

Michel Foucault, Madness & Civilisation p.70

Re-stor(y)ing The Ballaarat Asylum

The Ballaarat Asylum ©Kendrea Rhodes 2023

Practical lino floor easily clean human spills

TV low hum, chatter chatter, pool cues tapping

no one belongs.

Relentless kitchen cooking machine: potato mash

TV, low hum, frightened chatter

pool cues tap tap tapping

people holding people down like they’re dangerous.

Relentless kitchen cooking machine

potato mash.

Needles, Pills, quiet down.

People holding people down

not dangerous not broken

needles pills quiet down.

How do you get there

not broken, belonging.

How do you get there?

Practical lino floor easily clean human spills.

©Kendrea Rhodes 2023

Original Drawing

Before digital effects applied

©Kendrea Rhodes 2023

The shrinking chasm between institutional beds

╔different but not╝

(from lived experience of mental distress)

by Kendrea Rhodes

Originally drawn in pencil and charcoal, finished in permanent ink. The drawings of people on the walls within this drawing (top left), are what the inhabitants of this scene see of us as we ponder this image. Right now. The image dwellers are not Mad, they know we are here watching them. It’s us, until we acknowledge and accept the multitude of ways of knowing and being, and Madness in all its definitions.

Digital Effects Applied

There is no madness except as the final instant of the work of art—the work endlessly drives madness to its limits; where there is a work of art, there is no madness; and yet madness is contemporary with the work of art, since it inaugurates the time of its truth. The moment when, together, the work of art and madness are born and fulfilled is the beginning of the time when the world finds itself arraigned by that work of art and responsible before it for what it is.

Michel Foucault, Madness & Civilisation pp. 288-289
©Kendrea Rhodes 2023

A child made homeless — under a sturdy sovereign roof — the child eats — lies in bed —supervised, medicated, institutionalised.

The world sleeps peacefully now.


This image was digitised and altered using Adobe Photoshop, purposefully, to dilute the purity of the original drawing and reflect the contamination of the incarcerated child’s personhood and worldview. The image now exists as dynamic digital art; malleable, adaptable, animated, musical, multimodal. The original drawing has grown up and reaches through social media platforms, grasping for meaning in the virtual world. It asks: I don’t feel Mad, I just feel me. What is Madness?


Other artworks in the Asylum Gene Series by Kendrea Rhodes:

Kendrea Rhodes is currently undertaking doctoral research on the History of the Ballaarat Asylum via Mad Studies, with the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Flinders University, South Australia.


  1. There are four A’s in Ballaarat – This Place. National Indigenous Australians Agency, Commonwealth of Australia,
  2. Foucault, Michel. Madness & Civilisation: The History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Social Science Paperback, 1982, p.70.
  3. Foucault, Michel. Madness & Civilisation: The History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Social Science Paperback, 1982, pp. 288-89.

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©Kendrea Rhodes 2023

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