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Exhibition: Bedlam the asylum and beyond

The exhibition held at the Wellcome Institute, is an insight into mental health, giving you the opportunity to examine the idea of the asylums past and present. It explores the minds of patients and medical professionals with a stimulating display of literature, photography, sculptures and video showing the life of patients and discusses the treatments and mindset of the doctors and their therapies. Also the movement of change around the practises of medicine by respected professionals within psychiatry.

One of the Artist's Eva Kotátková, presents a collection of fears, anxieties, phobias and phantasmagonic visions of patients and children struggling to fit into society, or conforming to the norm of how they should look and behave. On display were three dimensional metal sculptures and black and white imagery of human anatomy, also dysfunctional facial and body collages that represent the persons fear they have about their own bodies, the space and environment they live in and how they see the world. The artist expresses the mental state of the mind in detailed forms, which gets the viewer to question and recognise the feelings of others and themselves. Artworks have been loaned from organisations such as the Bethel Museum of the Mind and Peter Kilchman Gallery.

Sachering Chess captured me by Javier Téllez, an installation of a chess game, where the black and white chequered floor represents the hospital floor. Each chess piece is a replica of pre-Columbian ceramics produced by the Schering Laboratories to promote psychotropic drugs in the 70’s. The pawns were reproduction of egg shapes an image the artist associates with the mind and its flaws. The base of each figure has written text that names a mental disorder. Each disorder is labelled by the documented illnesses at that time such as: anxiety, depression or dual emotional stress. The smooth carved black and white sculptures covered in a square glass case highlight the social and historic dimensions of mental illness. The exhibition also includes work by artist such as David Beales, Richard Dadd, Dora García.

The display on the Bethlam Hospital which has a history of scandal and abuse of the residents, a place where patients spent the whole of their lives never to see the outside world again. It details the expansion of the design and construction of the new hospital which opened in 1810 on the industrial side on the bank of The Thames. It shows medial records of diagnosis, treatments, testimonies, historic documents, literature and artworks from staff and patients are all on display. From the materials on show you can see how the research and development of therapies, medicine and the progression of psychiatry used Bethlam as a model for institutions around the world to implement and use.

Unfortunately you were not permitted to take photographs as I would have liked to share more of this important exhibition. However as you are leaving there is a positive vision, with a visual wall explaining how to re-design the asylum so that it emotionally, psychologically stimulates the patient and provides sanctuary and a safe place for individuals, helping them to understand and live with their the conditions. It also evokes the question of what qualities and facilities do people need to support, guide and help them through their journey of anxiety, mental health and depression? Also what is society and the current government planning to implement to address the issue in modern life today?

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