Follow the rise and fall of the Bethlem Royal Hospital and explore how it has shaped the complex landscape of mental health today. Re-imagine the institution, informed by the experiences of the patients, doctors, artists and reformers who inhabited the asylum or created alternatives to it.
Today asylums have largely been consigned to history, but mental illness is more prevalent than ever, as our culture teems with therapeutic possibilities: from prescription medications and clinical treatment to complementary medicines, online support, and spiritual and creative practices.
Against this background, the exhibition interrogates the original ideal that the asylum represented – a place of refuge, sanctuary and care – and asks whether and how it could be reclaimed.
Taking Bethlem Royal Hospital as a starting point, Bedlam: the asylum and beyond juxtaposes historical material and medical records with individual testimonies and works by artists such as David Beales, Richard Dadd, Dora García, Eva Kotátková, Madlove: A Designer Asylum, Shana Moulton, Erica Scourti, Javier Téllez and Adolf Wölfli, whose works reflect or re-imagine the institution, as both a physical and a virtual space.
Guest curator, author and historian, Mike Jay says: ‘The Bethlem Royal Hospital is perhaps the oldest institution of its kind in the world, and has witnessed the entire history of mental illness and psychiatry. Its story is the perfect focus for Wellcome Collection to explore how medicine, art and culture define mental illness, and the big questions it raises about the individual and society.’
The exhibition takes place at Bethlem Royal Hospital, Monks Orchard Road, Beckenham, Kent BR3 3BX until 15 January 2017.
Image: Eva Kot’átková, Asylum, 2013, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view at Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, 2014.