Posts Tagged 'art and mental health'

In the Frame for October 2013

As the new Community Engagement Officer here at Bethlem, writing my first In the Frame post seems like a somewhat daunting task.  I’m lucky enough to have had some previous experience of the collections here but, with around 1,000 artworks to choose from, there is still so much more to uncover and explore.

I first came across the pottery of Bibi Herrera in 2008 while curating an exhibition at the Museum of Croydon.  Bibi’s pots come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, all with colourful and eye-catching designs.  I particularly like ‘Electric’ as the vibrant lines and colours to me seem to signify life, growth and positivity.  In many of Bibi’s works, you can see the influences of her time studying Chilean Indian art in Santiago at the age of 16.  Reflecting on this experience, Bibi speaks of how this reminds her of the importance of colour in life and how everything is not always black and white.

Electric, Bibi Herrera

Electric, Bibi Herrera

The beauty of Bibi’s art speaks for itself, but the journey she took to become a ceramicist, for me, makes her work even more powerful.  While studying in Santiago, Bibi became a member of the Young Communist Party and a supporter of the left-wing President, Salvador Allende.  On 11 September 1973, her life was overturned by a military coup, which resulted in the establishment of Augustus Pinochet as President of Chile.  On the morning of the coup, Bibi was arrested at her father’s printing works.  She was detained for three and a half years, during which time she was interrogated, tortured and raped.

In 1977 Bibi was released into the hands of the UN and came to England as a political refugee.  Initially she had no-one to talk to about her experiences and could find no outlet for her distress, which led to her first suicide attempt in 1979.  She was treated at Bethlem for a short period of time, but tried to commit suicide again in 1993.  This time she was offered the chance to talk to a psychologist about her experiences and pottery was suggeted as a form of occupational therapy.  However, the failed suicide attempt had led to Bibi losing the use of her left hand and left her frustrated with the fact she was still alive.  It wasn’t until one day when she chanced upon the sight of another patient working the clay with one hand – while smoking a cigarette in the other – that she felt encouraged to try pottery for herself.

Pottery is still Bibi’s lifeline today and she now uses her experiences to help others.


Flight of Ideas: New Exhibition at the Bethlem Gallery opens 2 October

Next week, an exciting new exhibition to celebrate world mental health day will open at the Bethlem Gallery.  Flight of Ideas will start on 2 October, and continue until 25 October 2013.

Flight of Ideas is an exhibition of postcards made by artists staying and working in hospitals across Europe.  This exhibition is an international collaboration between innovative arts practice, studio spaces and galleries based within psychiatric healthcare in Croatia, France, Italy and the UK.  All four organisations are unique within their own countries.  Flight of Ideas celebrates their shared ideals framing them within the context of each nation’s system of mental health care.  These differing institutions all facilitate creative activity as part of the recovery process during a person’s time in hospital and support professional development of these artists beyond the hospital setting.

At the heart of the exhibition are the artists themselves. Their extraordinary talent will be presented within the size of a postcard but is broad and varied in the range of style, media and technique employed.  Artists working within the hospital environments range from having formal arts training to the self-taught. Their work shows, better than any document, their identity as artists and their right to lay claim to that status.

The World As Was Before, by Anon

The World As Was Before, by Anon (The Azienda USL di Reggio Emilia, Italy)

Landscapes of the Mind: The Art of Well-Being

An upcoming one-day conference at The Lightbox in Woking explores some of the relationships between, on the one hand, the appreciation and creation of artworks (and art projects in general) and, on the other hand, mental health and well being. This full day event, on Friday 28 June, costs £15 to attend, which includes lunch and refreshments.
The Conference will reflect back particularly upon the Landscapes of the Mind project and exhibition which was held at The Lightbox, in which mental health service users engaged with the landscapes in The Ingram Collection of Modern and Contemporary British Art. They then produced their own artworks in response to the works and curated the exhibition Landscapes of the Mind. This built upon The Lightbox’s experience of previous projects, but gave even more control of the process to the participants. This took place as part of the Happy Museum initiative. The Conference will feature speakers from the world of arts and mental health, from the Happy Museum and also from the participants in the Landscapes of the Mind project.
Speakers will include:
·         Hilary Jennings,a freelance consultant working across the arts, cultural, educational and skills sectors; a Happiness Associate for the Happy Museums Project
·         Prof. Paul Camic, Professor of Psychology and Public Health at Canterbury Christ Church University; founder and co-executive editor of Arts & Health: An International Journal of Research, Policy and Practice
·         Leisa Gray, formerly leader of the health and wellbeing programme at Manchester Art Gallery, currently Deputy Director at Open Art, Huddersfield
·         Dr Linda Thomson, Research Associate, Museums & Public Engagement, University College London, currently working on a heritage-specific well-being measure
·         Rib Davis, Special Project Manager, The Lightbox, and participants of Landscapes of the Mind
How to book:
There is a charge of £15 to cover lunch and refreshments.  To book your place please call The Lightbox on 01483 737800, and state whether you have any particular dietary requirements or other needs. If you have any enquiries relating to the Conference please email Rib Davis on
Conference: Landscapes of the Mind, the art of well being
Date: Friday 28 June 2013
Time: 10.00am – 4.30pm
Venue: The Lightbox, Chobham Road, Woking, Surrey, GU21 4AA

Wonder: Art, Science and Creative Journeys

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.

Core Arts Exhibition Flyer

In the Frame for November 2012

This month one of our volunteers has chosen Dan Duggan’s Cipher Series 1, which was brought into the Archives & Museum’s collections following its inclusion in the Bethlem Gallery’s 2010 exhibition, entitled Me, Myself and I, as this month’s featured picture. She writes:

I find the face to appear elfish and earthy; roughly textured, the trails down his cheeks remind me of tree bark. Its severe gauntness and expansive forehead, which disappears out of view, also adds to this slightly inhuman quality. The expression is solemn and his eyes, staring blankly out from heavy shadows feel almost accusing. What is perhaps blood running from wounds in his forehead or tears from his eyes has been left to stream down his face untouched, perhaps because he himself is helpless, or does not notice or care. He does not appear in anguish from his wounds, his lips aren’t parted in a cry but are instead held defiantly together. His expression is in fact surprisingly benign given his horrific state. The stark wounds around his forehead remind me of those that might be inflicted from a crown of thorns, and in turn a Christ-like acceptance of them. The wounds might also be perceived as an attack on his mind, they appear aggressively drawn compared to the rest of the picture.

“The artist, Dan Duggan, who has had a long history of mental illness and has “witnessed the nature of a variety of institutions”, has said he wants “to engage with the vision I have of the conditions under which I have been kept safe”. He does not specify whether his vision is a negative or a positive one, but to me this picture communicates assault and pain, either inflicted internally or externally, where the victim’s emotional reaction is muted. I find this picture incredibly haunting.”

Dan Duggan Cipher Series 1

Dan Duggan – Cipher Series 1

Hollow Space and Outgrowth: extended chance to see

The Bethlem Gallery’s Hollow Space and Outgrowth exhibition formally closes to visitors today, and the Gallery won’t be open in its regular hours until 29 August. However, the Archives & Museum will be open as normal throughout the summer, from 9.30am to 4.30pm Mondays to Fridays and also from 11.00am to 5.00pm on Saturday 4 August and Saturday 1 September 2012. For the next month (until Tuesday 13 August), Archives & Museum staff would be willing to take any visitors who ask to see Hollow Space and Outgrowth over to the Gallery for the purpose – subject to their availability and other commitments, of course. In the meantime, we are delighted to publish the comments of our guest blogger Susan Slater-Tanner, Professor of Art History at the State University of New York, Orange, on the exhibition.

“What I found fascinating about Hollow Space and Outgrowth at the Bethlem Gallery exhibition was that the artists did not make ‘literal’ visual responses to the artefacts and objects; rather they took an emotive approach responding to and reflecting personally on incidents, experiences and events of their own lives — without agenda or guile. For example, the “prevention of self abuse; anti masturbation device” literally as an object evokes serious ethical issues of human restraint and control. One even might consider bondage connotations. The artistic response Collar of Shame, an upright anthropomorphized dog, was so unexpected, so lyric, so funny yet not without deep thought, consideration and serendipitous artistic response.

“For me, the exhibition and its curatorial theme is not about finding similar shaped objects, or like-minded colours and textures — it is about how we all relate to and cope with our world, our challenges, our fears and our hopes.”

Hollow Space exhibition
Part of the exhibition. The dog is in the bottom right corner of the left-hand case. The anti masturbation device is above it.

Hollow Space and Outgrowth: New Exhibition at the Bethlem Gallery opens this week

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:

Opening Event: 13th June, 3 – 6pm

Exhibition continues: 14th June – 13th July
Opening times: Wed, Thurs, Fri, 11am – 6pm

Gallery and Museum open Saturday 7th July, 12pm – 5pm, for the Bethlem Sunfayre.Hollow Space image