Actually, though, Bedlam - or, Bethlem Hospital, as it was properly named - was not the frightful cesspool that legend relates. And an asylum is an inviolable place of safety: sanctuary.
Eva Kottkov, Asylum, 2013, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view at Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, 2014
The Wellcome Collection’s latest show, ‘Bedlam: The Asylum and Beyond’, aims to rehabilitate the notion of asylum, by exploring 700 years of Bethlem’s history - as well at our current post-asylum world, and the future of mental health treatment. Wading through the mire of mythology, the show charts out shifting attitudes towards those in mental distress - not just in terms of treatment, but through lived patient experience.
Rubberneckers expecting to see pictures of straightjacketed lunatics and scintillating accounts of psychoses will be disappointed. The exhibition is light, breezy and clean, with its roots in science. Visitors will encounter scenes from successive incarnations of Bethlem, as well as other models of care from elsewhere in the UK and Europe, revealing how each was founded in an optimistic spirit of humanitarian reform, but abandoned as therapies failed and ideas changed.
Historical accounts of treatments are accompanied by descriptions of modern medicine and holistic and alternative practices, such as mindfulness.
Richard Dadd, Sir Alexander Morison, 1779 - 1866. Credit:Courtesy of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
Which isn’t to say it’s dry - it’s full of imagination. We particularly loved all the patient art: Adolf Wölfli’s intricate drawings from 1910, aa photograph of 'incurable lunatic’ Richard Dadd this easel in 1850, accompanied by his wonderful artworks (above), Shana Moutons Restless Leg Saga film installation which depicts a character searching through television and magazine adverts to find relief from her condition.
We've reached a point in time when the discussion around mental health is louder than ever. This timely exhibition is a sharp, positive examination of a science which, compare with traditional medicine, is still very much in its infancy.
|What||Bedlam, Wellcome Collection review|
|Where||The Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London , NW1 2BE | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Euston (underground)|
15 Sep 16 – 15 Jan 17, Monday galleries closed Tuesday 10:00 - 18:00 Wednesday 10:00 - 18:00 Thursday 10:00 - 22:00 Friday 10:00 - 18:00 Saturday 10:00 - 18:00 Sunday 11:00 - 18:00
|Website||Click here for more information|