The Wellcome Collection’s new exhibition, Bedlam, follows the history of mental institutions and different attitudes towards mental illness up to today, using a variety of artwork, artefacts and writings informed by patients of such institutions, doctors, artists and those today with mental illness to name a few.
The institution of Bethlem Royal Hospital in London provides the basis for the exhibition, which widely became known as Bedlam in the 15th century, even it’s nickname giving an idea of the social attitude towards those mentally ill at the time. Bedlam explores what the institution, and others in Europe represented, and the ideals they held which changed throughout history as scientific and therapeutic practices and ideas evolved. The exhibition also explores widely the experiences of those who lived within these institutions and those either caring for them or setting up alternatives.
It could be said the exhibition lacked a little in detail on some topics and jumped around a bit, or put things together that were not fully explained, such as pharmaceutical medicines and the idea that they should not be the only way of helping mental illnesses. However I felt that given any more to look at and I would have been swamped in things to read and think about. I greatly enjoyed the layout and it’s chronology, as well as the variety of sources and types of contributions that each part was made up of. The pharmaceutical drugs and ideas against them was the only place I felt a little more explanation would have been helpful, however perhaps this would take away from people questioning the debate for themselves.
I personally hugely enjoyed Bedlam, particularly after the Wellcome Collection’s States of Mind series of exhibitions which I feel were a great precursor. Having mental health and it’s history, largely a history of misunderstandings, as the focus of an entire exhibition was fascinating but also felt liberating, possibly due to mental health being something often only briefly mentioned throughout today’s general history and learning, perhaps due to the still lingering stigma of mental illness.
I also liked how the exhibition didn’t just leave me wondering over past happenings but at the end of it, with the help of Madlove: A Designer Asylum (http://madlove.org.uk/), it tried to ask what we should do going forwards, with contributions from a number of people with or affected by mental illness. This made Bedlam feel even more relevant to modern day issues and not just a particularly interesting history exhibition, but relevant to further understanding people and society today.
Overall, Bedlam was extremely thought -provoking and something I’d really recommend to anyone, especially as it does not take hours to go round, is completely free and there’s late closing on a Thursday :)
The Bethlem Gallery also has events throughout the year (http://bethlemgallery.com/whats-on/), collaborating with organisations and artists-in-residence, as well as the Bethlem Museum of the Mind (http://museumofthemind.org.uk/)
Where: Wellcome Collection, Euston
When: Nov – Jan 15th 2017
Cost: Free :)
Long to go round?: Took me about an hour, reading and looking at everything