In addition to the current exhibitions at the Bethlem Museum and Gallery, there are several events in London from this weekend focusing on the arts and mental health. In mid-February, an exhibition by Core Arts opened in the Hackney Museum, and runs until the end of May. Creative Journeys claims to address responses to mental health in Hackney, past and present: however, it’s the present responses that really resonate. Paintings, drawings, sculpture, video art, music and collaborative installations involving the viewer all form part of the display by artists involved with Core Arts. Each piece is accompanied by an autobiography of the artist. Some choose to focus on their mental health history, others do not, following Core Arts’ aim to refuse to allow artists to be pigeon-holed into psychiatric or “outsider” art.
The artists’ stories are powerful in a different way from their art, offering a collection of unique insights into the individual (and very different) experiences of mental health service users. This makes the historical element of the exhibition, which offers a standardised sweeping narrative of psychiatric “progress” rather jarring, and it’s hard not to wish that the art had simply been allowed to speak for itself. There are a number of art workshops related to the exhibition, all presented by exhibiting artists: see the full list on the Core Arts website.
A very different series of events starts this weekend at the Barbican. Wonder: Art and Science on the Brain recognises that depictions of human thought, emotion, behaviour and expression are common to neuroscience and art. Musical performances, lectures, film, theatre and a street fair offer an enormous variety of ways of interpreting mind and brain, in health and illness. Films include the previously banned Titicut Follies, a documentary by Frederick Wiseman filmed in the Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts in the 1960s. While the hospital authorities had agreed to the film crew’s access, staff and patients appear to have been given no choice over being filmed, and the documentary makes for disturbing viewing on many levels. The series ends with the Wonder Street Fair on 7 – 9 April.
This Saturday, of course, is the Bethlem Museum and the Bethlem Gallery monthly weekend opening. Join us in the Gallery at 2pm, for a talk by artist Liz Atkin on her exhibition, My Singular Fascination, followed by a historical talk in the Museum (moved to 2.45) on Caius Gabriel Cibber’s states of Raving and Melancholy Madness.