Jane Fradgley’s first solo show runs at the Bethlem Gallery from 13 April until 7 May 2011. This exhibition of photographic works is informed by a deep fascination with the poetic power of folds and textures. The materials, objects and voids in these images reveal and conceal; the apertures and folds invite the viewer to peer beyond the surface towards other forms and vistas, evoking doorways to the unconscious or passages to another world. Having previously pursued a successful career in fashion, life changes and different states of mind led Fradgley to leave this industry and pursue her passion for photography, which she has used as a cathartic tool, a vehicle for expression and a pathway to professional practice.
The artist explains: “This exhibition is a personal poem encompassing some of my feelings. I see objects and colours as metaphors for my life experience. Themes of slits, holes and folds appear in front of me, buzzing with energy, wishing I capture their existence as clues for inquiry to understanding myself.”
“My story began and continues with creases and scars, baggage and bondage. Sadness and solitude make way for rebirth and possibility. Recent research into the Victorian ‘strong clothing’, at the Bethlem Archive; along with my own thoughts around ‘constraints’ has led to the staged sepia images exploring feelings around freedom,” she explained.
‘Strong clothing’ was a rather euphemistic term used to describe certain forms of restraint used in late nineteenth century asylums. While chains, strait-jackets and similar garments were outlawed during the ‘non-restraint’ movement of the 1840s and ’50s, other methods of ‘mechanical restraint’ were permitted by the Commissioners in Lunacy (the government body who inspected and licensed asylums for much of the nineteenth century). “Strong dresses,” as described by Bethlem Superintendent George Savage in 1888, were “made of stout linen or woollen material, and lined throughout with flannel. The limbs are all free to move, but the hands are enclosed in the extremities of the dress, which are padded. … There are no straitwaistcoats, handcuffs, or what may be called true instruments of restraint in Bethlem.” Savage claimed that, by avoiding recourse to the use of sedatives or padded cells for violent or destructive patients, many “were thus really granted liberty by means of the slight restraint put upon them,” such as strong dresses and padded gloves. Others, however, did not agree, and the “principle of non-restraint” remained an ongoing matter of debate.
The exhibition opens on Wednesday 13 April, from 3 – 6pm, and continues until 7th May.
Open: Wednesday – Friday, and Saturday 16th April & 7th May, 11am – 6pm