From Wednesday, the Bethlem Gallery will present a veritable cabinet of curiosities showcasing contemporary ceramics made within the hospital’s creative studios, juxtaposed with medical apparatus from the Bethlem Museum’s collection. The exhibition will take the viewer on a journey through the meanings of objects, exploring the possible uses and narratives attached to them. From ECT machines to abstract clay sculptures, the items on display reveal how they came into being and the significance that they held for individuals at the Bethlem – be these magical, fearful or useful.
Artists, patients and staff members delve into the museum’s collection to creatively investigate, interpret and shed new light on the mysterious objects evidencing centuries of existence of Bethlem Royal Hospital, ‘Bedlam’, the oldest functioning psychiatric hospital in the world.
The hospital sits in a 240 acre site in Beckenham, Kent where it was moved from central London in the 1930s. Amongst the facilities available for patients is an impressive set of arts studios including printmaking facilities, a purpose-built pottery and The Bethlem Gallery. Art is an important part of the therapeutic process of recovery for patients.
Katy Phillips, Pottery Therapist, says of the exhibition; “Much of the museum’s equipment was perplexing in its use. The objects are of interest from both symbolic and conceptual perspectives as well as from a functional and craft perspective – examples of this are the silver cup that was awarded for the tug of war and the highly crafted large metal feeding syringes. I was very inspired by Bethlem Artist James Tanner’s contemporary piece of work as it too is like a piece of unexplained machinery, the viewer can decide for themselves what it might have been part of and what its original functional purpose was.
“Engaging people in this project has provoked thought inspiring conversations in the studio. Two of the artists have chosen to respond to the ECT machines, they are both people who have had ECT as part of their treatment and both reported very different experiences. These memories have been interpreted by the artists and given ceramic form, creating powerful testimonials to past experiences, causing reflection and providing a context for current making.”
Some items seem innocuous enough (knives and forks, a nit comb, a pair of bellows, a trophy awarded to the winners of the staff tug-of-war competition) while others come freighted with meaning (a drug jar, a cylindrical patient feeder). Hollow Space and Outgrowth brings multiple perspectives to bear on the challenges represented by these objects and generates new questions.
Hollow Space and Outgrowth will be part of London’s first arts in health festival being launched at the Tate Modern 13th – 20th June 2012. For more information visit: http://www.creativityandwellbeing.org.uk
Opening Event: 13th June, 3 – 6pm
Exhibition continues: 14th June – 13th July
Opening times: Wed, Thurs, Fri, 11am – 6pm