As part of this years Museums at Night – when hundreds of museums around the country open their doors after hours – Bethlem Archives and Museum will be open until 7pm for a chance to see Miss X’s “Art in the Dark”. The exhibition of intricate red biro drawings is viewed by torchlight, turning the viewer into a voyeur: the torch illuminating the most private and intimate areas of the pictures.
The set of drawings, previously exhibited in 2000, was completed following a six month psychotic episode. “When I came round”, Miss X says, “my delusions offered a clue as to why I was suicidal and why I wanted to sleep all the time and why I felt so guilty. I wanted to draw out the problems before I forgot them. I used biro because it was cheap. I wasn’t drawing so that the pictures would one day be treasured, I just wanted to cure the here and now.”
The densely crowded images thus have a direct and visceral quality, incorporating a complex array of symbols: religious, medical or sexual. Arrows direct the flow, but are also penetrative. Question marks question the artist’s sense of selfhood, while the persistent “z” symbol represents the fatigue caused by prescribed medication and lack of motivation. Seeing and being seen are regular themes, and the voyeuristic nature of viewing the work by torchlight reminds us of the uncomfortable nature these ideas often hold within and beyond psychiatric practice.
As Miss X concludes: “In my psychotic period I had “owned” the world banks and I’d discovered Earth and fire. I was 30 different people. When I came round I wanted to be a nobody, so I chose X as a name.”
The Museum will be open from 5 – 7pm for this special event on Friday 18 May. Items from the general collection will also be on display, and staff will be on hand to give regular short talks on the history of the hospital and its art collection. The Bethlem Gallery will also open until 7pm, for a chance to see Steph Bates’ “Thursday’s Child Has Far To Go”.