Years of Bedlam

Ella Rhodes on a new Wellcome Collection exhibition.

A new exhibition of the Wellcome Collection, ‘Bedlam: The Asylum and Beyond’, will explore how the experience of mental illness and notions of madness have been shaped over centuries, and imagine what the future might hold. Emphasising the lived experiences of individuals, the exhibition will feature over 150 objects and archival materials, including patient art from Adolf Wölfli, and Richard Dadd, alongside works by contemporary artists, including Eva Kot’átková and Shana Moulton.

‘Bedlam’ will trace the rise and fall of the asylum and how it has reflected the changing attitudes of the society around it, from the early days of the Bethlem Hospital to the modern post-asylum. Visitors will encounter scenes from successive incarnations of Bethlem, as well as other models of care from elsewhere in the UK and Europe.

The exhibition will open with a large-scale installation, Asylum, by artist Eva Kot’átková. This 2014 work was inspired by conversations with psychiatric patients and features live performers, evoking the tensions between protection and restraint that thread throughout the exhibition. Visitors will also be introduced to the alternative model of care offered by the town of Geel, Belgium, where sufferers in the Middle Ages were taken in by local families and became ‘boarders’, part of the community, a tradition that continues to this day

‘Bedlam’ will run at the Wellcome Collection until Sunday 15 January. A parallel exhibition curated by Sam Curtis, ‘Reclaiming Asylum’, will be held at the Bethlem Gallery, from Wednesday 21 September to Friday 11 November.

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