Bedlam in the Old Vic Tunnels

Two artists associated with the Archives and Museum are currently exhibiting in a new show at the Old Vic Tunnels. Bedlam is described as the third and final meeting of minds between Lazarides Gallery and the Old Vic Tunnels, creatively exploring the history of the institution. Like Nell Leyshon’s play at the Globe Theatre two years ago (and as we blogged at that time), the event seeks to explore the parallels between the hospital itself and a “world gone mad”, using the institution’s history as part of a more general critique of society, art, madness and genius.

Much of the work included reflects the interests of Lazarides Ltd, who pride themselves on their popularisation of urban and non-traditional art. The dark, cavernous space of the Old Vic Tunnels suits the material well, lending a haunting quality to the spray-painted canvases and muted video installations. From the near-total darkness of the entry-way, the artworks slowly emerge from the space, the lighting and context lending an uneasy fragility to some of the material, such as Tessa Farmer’s glass and taxidermy sculptures or the ominous presence of Doug Foster and Nachev’s Lidless – a huge weather balloon on which footage of an eye, staring and blinking, is projected.

We were particularly excited, however, by the opportunity to see work by Jane Fradgley and War Boutique. Jane’s striking photographs of the museum’s collection of strong clothing will soon be on display at Guy’s Hospital. Here, however, the large-scale projections emerge with slow beauty on the dark brick walls: ghostly, exquisite and unsettling all at once. These haunting images of late nineteenth and early twentieth century garments of restraint offer a much more complex perspective on mental health care and experiences past and present than the usual stereotypes that fall under the “Bedlam” tag. Jane’s own exhibition, Held, will open in Atrium 2, Guy’s Hospital, on 9 November.

War Boutique’s practice examines forms of conflict – whether physical, psychological or emotional. For Bedlam, he has produced The Noosphere (literally meaning “sphere of the mind”). The sculpture combines Victorian crinoline construction with modern military fabrics, and is based on ideas of rotational therapy for mental illness, which date back to Erasmus Darwin’s Zoonomia of 1801. The Archives and Museum collection contains a model centrifuge, seemingly made in Bethlem’s workshop at a later date and for unknown reasons. The Noosphere even offers visitors a chance to experience the spinning chair, perhaps providing a new visual perspective on the world beyond it.

Bedlam runs until 21 October at the Old Vic Tunnels, Station Approach Road, London SE1 8SW. Book your free tickets online here.

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