Mad Building Syndrome



With works by Hannah Hull, Agata Mrozowski, Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam and Rupali Mozaria, ariella tai, Joe Wood, and contributions by Kai Cheng Thom, Joshua Whitehead, and Kelly Schieder

Curated by Sajdeep Soomal
17 January – 22 February 2020
Opening Reception: Friday 17 January 6-8PM

Psychiatry is a modern religion and the asylum is its old church.

Starting in the late 19th century, psychiatrists routinely crafted new disease categories to understand the mad mind: anorexia, hysteria, schizophrenia, depression, gender dysphoria, anxiety. By the 1950s, the psychiatric establishment neatly assembled its shaky ideas about the human mind, diagnostic categories, legal and moral stature, and treatment plans in a holy book called The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The manual armed psychiatry’s willful adherents with a gospel to contain and control the insane.

Early psychiatry used both brutal and creative methods of treatment in that old church: incarceration, orgasm, forced labour, Freudian psychoanalysis, insulin shock therapy, meditation, invasive surgery, electroconvulsive therapy. In the 1960s, psychiatry found likely allies in pharmaceutical labs and corporate towers. Joining hands with burgeoning chemical corporations obsessed with maximizing profits like Bayer, Pfizer and Merck, psychiatry added pill-based treatment to its reformist program. Under this new rubric, madness was the product of chemically-imbalanced, malfunctioning brains. And biochemical psychiatry was the solution.

Healthy Responses to Patriarchy

As depression became the diagnosis of the day in the 1990s and diagnostic rates of anxiety sky-rocketed in the 2010s, BigPharma consolidated its hold over psychiatry. It is not incidental that the rise of biochemical psychiatry has paralleled the neoliberalization of the economy. If neoliberal governance in North America reduces the individual down to their productive mind, then contemporary psychiatry and neoliberal self-care functions to sedate that mind into submission. As our minds either shut off or go into overdrive in the face of capitalism, patriarchy, and settler colonialism, we are quickly drugged up with mind-numbing pharmaceuticals designed to pacify us.

Biochemical psychiatry ignores the social, political and architectural surround that drives us mad in the first place. Playing on the term Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)–a medical condition where a particular building’s occupants suffer from symptoms of physical illnesses–Mad Building Syndrome (MBS) is a psychic condition that invites us to consider how our environments make us go crazy.

Healthy Responses to Patriarchy

Mad Building Syndrome (MBS) proposes that madness is the product of a broken world, a normal biological reaction to unhealthy living conditions and toxic environments. The culprits are everywhere: psychiatric institutions run by settler governments, basement offices turned moldy from corporate negligence, family homes ruined by patriarchy. It is an indictment of the built environment that we have inherited and its defenders; an indictment of an Enlightened world designed with the objective to contain and control.

Architecture after the Asylum is a curatorial project about architecture, madness and freedom. Presenting an open dialogue about the architectural forms of asylums, psychiatric hospitals and mental health institutions that flows through sanity and insanity, the project assembles a new set of mad architectural grammars to build a free world. The exhibition features artists, writers and freedom fighters afflicted with Mad Building Syndrome (MBS) who are obsessed with building new, free worlds beyond this mad one.

The exhibition was inspired by the work of Hannah Hull and the vacuum cleaner (James Leadbitter), the UK-based duo behind Madlove: A Designer Asylum. The project imagines what a psychiatric ward would be like if patients designed it. Through interviews and workshops, the duo gathered data about “what good mental health looks like, feels like, tastes like and sounds like” in order to design extravagant, out-of-the-box safe spaces to go mad, and to create a robust guide to designing mental asylums that do not rely on carceral tactics.

As the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto gears up to announce the opening of its redeveloped Queen Street location in Toronto and re-affirms its commitment to carceral psychiatry, Architecture after the Asylum builds on the energy of the Madlove project with artists self-diagnosed with Mad Building Syndrome (MBS).

In the exhibition, artist Joe Wood will be presenting their two-part project ᑯᐦᐹᑌᔨᑖᑯᓯᐃᐧᐣ | kohpâteyitâkosiwin – the act of being thought of as contemptible. For one element, Wood marks-up and displays medical documents about her “gender dysphoria” that she requisitioned from CAMH. The public signage can be read sitting from her sculptural installation of tree tops. Through architectural drawing in collaboration with Patrick Richmond and Richard Howard, landscape architect student and Parkdale Community Drop-In Worker Agata Mrozowski considers the relationship between homelessness and wellness against the housing crisis in Toronto. In a multimedia work, filmmaker Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam returns to her uncle Pandi’s story with collaborator Rupali Mozaria, developing an architectural schematic that maps out three key spaces in Pandi’s life: forced healing, natural healing and autonomy. Portland-based media artist ariella tai re-appropriates, glitches, and re-mixes scenes from Gothika against black vernacular queer and trans performances that subvert, interrupt or defy the diegetic cohesiveness of narrative performance that psychiatry demands. Making forays into and out of madness, the works collectively propose new bricks and mortar, new blueprints and new places for building a less-Enlightened world.

Exhibition Public Programs:

Friday, January 17 – Opening Night Reception
Saturday, February 01 – The Visual Language of Psychiatry, workshop by Sajdeep Soomal
Thursday, February 13 – Performance by Joe Wood
Thursday, February 13 – Joshua Whitehead in conversation with Kai Cheng Thom
Thursday, February 20 – Pandi, reflections on the film by director Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam
February 10-21 – Artist Residency with Ariella Tai, hosted by VTape

For further information, including artist biographies, please see Trinity Square Video’s website.

Architecture after the Asylum is generously supported by the Ontario Arts Council.

  • January 17 - February 22
Trinity Square Video

401 Richmond Street West, Suite 121
Toronto, Ontario


Wheelchair Accessible Venue

Trinity Square Video


No recommended events under this criteria

Making Mad: How Expressions of Vulnerability Connect Us

Making Mad: How Expressions of Vulnerability Connect Us


Featured Artists: Alison Crouse, Peter Dillman, Esmond Lee, Ben McCarthy & SpekWork, Sarah Trad and Véronique Vallières

Curated by Claudette Abrams

Through humour and pathos, the artists in Making Mad explore the ways in which depictions of vulnerability in their work resonate on a human scale. Deep-diving into personal touchstones that go beyond the individual, these works relate in poignant and absurd ways to our condition as a collective of fallible, temporal beings. 

Vulnerability is rarely associated with courage, yet it is central to survival. Happiness and contentment require little consideration—fitting well within our expectations and ideals—yet pain and uncertainty seem to demand justification in order to understand their purpose and meaning (especially in the absence of any explanation). 

The artists in Making Mad unapologetically take cues from their own misgivings to draw attention to our universal susceptibility to harm. They attempt to debunk stigma equated with weakness, shame and isolation, to embrace the compassion, intimacy and intensity of the ways in which vulnerability teaches us to live with an awareness of the likelihood of change.

  • October 11- October 20
    daily, 12 - 6 PM
    (closed Oct 14)
TMAC - Toronto Media Arts Centre

32 Lisgar St


Saturday, October 12, 1-3 PM

Wheelchair Accessible Venue, Artist Talk/Panel is ASL Interpreted


Alison Crouse

Devastation Portraits is a series of performative images, staged by the artist, who deliberately collapses face down in public spaces. These overt re-enactments give visibility to the often-invisible weight of anxiety and depression and challenge societal norms of what is considered “appropriate” emotional expression. Alison continues to produce these scenarios for sharing on social media, and they have been featured in BuzzFeed, and on the NPR Picture Show.

Alison Crouse is a Philadelphia-based artist, filmmaker, photographer and instructor. She received her MFA in Film and Media Arts from Temple University and her BFA in Photography from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and University of Vermont. Her award-winning film and videos have been broadcast, screened and distributed internationally. Alison Crouse’s photographic work has been published and shown in galleries across North America.

Peter Dillman

45 Homes is a body of work which chronicles the forty-five different homes that he moved in and out of throughout his life with a changing constellation of family members, house mates and partners.  Through the compilation of documentary materials, such as census data and photographs the artist reconstructs and recounts a history of domestic instability from an early age, moving to a more stable environment as he achieved autonomy.

Peter Dillman is a Toronto-based multi-disciplinary artist, curator, theatre professional and instructor. He studied Fine Art at the University of Waterloo, Theatre Design at the National Theatre School, and Culture and Heritage Management at Centennial College. His multi-media work explores themes of home and environment. Peter Dillman’s work has been exhibited across Canada and is held in corporate and private collections.

Esmond Lee

Ancestral Veneration is a photo-based series depicting the inter-generational realities of migration. As a second-generation Chinese Canadian, Lee’s work examines the nuances and ambiguities of suburban cultural evolutions. His layering of familial and familiar motifs on vinyl mesh banner material echo the clash and assimilation of ancestral values with contemporary identities and experiences.

Esmond Lee is a Toronto-based artist and architect. He holds a Master of Architecture (University of Toronto) and Bachelor of Architectural Studies (Carleton University). He has received Toronto and Ontario Art Council grants and is recognized by the Ontario Association of Architects. His work has been exhibited at Gallery 44, Koffler Centre for the Arts, Toronto Media Arts Centre and Artscape Youngplace. Recent projects include participation in the Ontario Heritage Trust’s Doris McCarthy Artist-in-Residence program and Nuit Blanche 2019.


resourced is a VR documentary about the precarious labour of frontline workers. The user progresses through a series of interactive levels, each built to reflect the lived experience of street nurses, social workers, sex workers, and activists; people serving those at the margins of society who are often marginalized themselves through associated stigma and poverty.

SpekWork is a studio exploring new political narratives through game design with a focus on the dynamic relationship between work and play. The studio is a collaborative effort of Cat Bluemke, Ben McCarthy and Jonathan Carroll, post-secondary instructors teaching from the intersections of art, labour and emerging technologies. Members of the collective have been recognized through awards, grants and commissions for their individual and collective work, and supported by Rhizome, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Sarah Trad

In Sickness and in Health (but mostly, Just in Sickness) is a multi-channel video projection installation which visually shows unnoticed moments between couples and explores the difficulties of seeking companionship while faced with mental illness, codependent tendencies and metaphysical crisis. The title, partly taken from traditional marriage vows, highlights the optimistic decision to bond.

Sarah Trad is a Philadelphia-based artist. She graduated with a BFA in Art Film from Syracuse University, where she subsequently became an Engagement Fellow. She is the recipient of the 77Art Artist Residency (Rutland Vermont Art Center) and Carol N. Schmuckler Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film. Sarah has shown at The Warehouse Gallery (Syracuse, NY), Kitchen Table Gallery (Philadelphia, PA), Gravy Studio and Gallery (Philadelphia, PA) and the Everson Museum of Art (Syracuse, NY).

Véronique Vallières

I Extend my Arms/Je Tends les Bras is a multi-media installation involving a methodically storied assemblage of forms that playfully hinge on spectrums of human experience, spirited dualities and intensity of feeling. Physical interaction with material is signified as curative. Craft functions as a survival tool, patterns as armour, and scale that transforms larger-than-life, gender-fluid, soft-sculptures into delightfully embracing recliners.

Véronique Vallières is a Toronto-based, multi-media artist, working primarily in ceramics, textiles and printmaking. They hold a BFA from Concordia University and have attended residencies in Montréal, Moncton and Winnipeg. As a film curator, they co-programmed monthly film and performance events for the Revue Cinema. Véronique Vallières has received multiple grants for their work, which has been exhibited widely, and most recently, acquired for the CAMH permanent art collection.



Saturday, October 12, 1-3 PM
Toronto Media Arts Centre

Join the exhibiting artists in conversation with Curator Claudette Abrams as they discuss how their work explores and navigates issues of mental health and pushes back against stigmas.

For Information Contact
Paulina Wiszowata
Visual Arts Coordinator
416.583.4339, ext 6



15 OCTOBER 2019