Archive for June, 2009

Last few weeks: Wellcome Collection’s Art and Mental Illness

Guest post from our resident art expert, M! Enjoy:

The Wellcome Collection exhibition – art and mental illness

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Nothing helps put your neurosis in perspective quite as successfully as considering those of others.  The Wellcome Collection currently offers two exhibitions to this end – Madness and Modernity, which explores the development of artistic and medical interest in psychoanalysis at the turn of the 19th Century, and Bobby Baker’s Diary Drawings, a series of notebook sketches tracing the artist’s slow recovery from an almost complete mental breakdown.  These shows juxtapose the treatment of nervous disorders in terms of both time-period and perspective.  The former demonstrates the 19th century’s growing interest in introspection and the attraction of turning to sanatoria to cure nervous disorders brought on by the stresses of modern life, whilst the latter offers a most personal account of a patient being turfed between doctors and day centres in the hope of regaining her sanity.

Neither show is extensive, so a visit will not be a whole afternoon event.  In its limited space, however, Madness and Modernity manages to explore both the medical world’s almost cataloguing approach to mental illness, in which they saw afflictions of the body as indicative of the physiological condition, and the ways in which artists interpreted this new awareness of the psyche.  This is best demonstrated here by a focus on portraiture, a genre which previously relied on the artist’s adherence to aesthetic precision and the demonstration of wealth, fame or position.  Now, in this “nervous age”, artists such as Egon Schiele and Max Oppenheim were turning recognisable sitters into monstrous personifications of inner turmoil with twisted hands and staring, vacant eyes.  The only shame here is that none of the Schiele self portraits are originals, as this slightly diminishes the impact of the works.  Nonetheless, they still convey the unique contradiction of Schiele’s art; the low internal worth needed to convey the self as emaciated and contorted, and the incredible narcissism that led the artist to show the public over and over again just how low he was.

In contrast, Bobby Baker is open and articulate about the ways in which her illness manifested itself.  She has divided the exhibition into stages, so helping the viewer to understand how different treatments and events led to her recovery.  The majority of the sketches are self-portraits in different scenarios, but there is none of Schiele’s self-importance here.  Nor is there a sense of performance from this usually performance-based artist, save for a short video clip at the show’s entrance in which Baker welcomes her visitors.  This is mirrored just a short distance away in Madness and Modernity by a video of someone pacing the corridors of Vienna’s Purkersdorf Sanatorium, passing cabinets of human and animal skeletons that were as much a curiosity as the living patients behind the closed doors.  Whereas this highlights the claustrophobic nature and aesthetic control imposed upon these complexes, Bobby Baker’s welcome adds to the sense of the viewer being invited and encouraged to explore the very corners of an unhinged mind.  At times both moving and shocking, Baker provides a view into a world few of us will enter, and in doing so campaigns for a better understanding and acceptance of mental illness in public life.

For anyone with an interest in the age of Freud and in the changing nature of the medical and public view of the human condition, and especially for anyone who has ever contemplated their own sanity, these exhibitions will both eliminate the sense of being alone in neurosis and raise any number of questions.  Leave your preconceptions at the door, for some of this madness is in all of us.

Madness and Modernity runs until June 28, and Bobby Baker’s Diary Drawings is on until August 2nd. It’s FREE. The Wellcome Collection can be found just across the street from Euston station off Euston Road.

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See Stonehenge the right way: up close and personal in a druid party

If you’ve been to Stonehenge already, you’ll know it pretty much completely underwhelms expectations. We’ll all seen the glorious pictures, the video from helicopters of the stones standing out starkly against the landscape, unearthly and mysterious. Then you get there and it’s a giant car park, a depressing visitor centre, and then the stones very much roped off. You can walk around them at some distance, which is mildly cool, but that’s about it.

Then, there is this completely other thing that happens during the summer solstice, in June. Suddenly, the Stonehenge owners (I think it’s English Heritage) for night only open up the stones for free and a peaceful party, complete with druids, occurs all night until the sun rises. You literally are amongst the stones, can touch them and appreciate the whole mystical nature of them. This year, I’m going to risk the weirdness and check it out – I’m sure it’s going to be pretty unforgettable. It’s all going down next Saturday night (June 20) to Sunday morning (June 21). See this link for more details, including the mild respectful rules about the stones and the night.The car park opens around 7pm and closes around noon the next day, with sunrise at 4:45am.

As public transport out to Stonehenge is unfortunately pretty challenging (buses schedule from Salisbury is appalling), I recommend you find someone with a car or rent one, as I’m going to do. Round trip cost for two people to rent car plus petrol is around 50 pounds – split both ways that’s 25 pounds, which is probably cheaper in the end then a train ticket. See you there! Don’t forget your pagan goddess fancy dress outfit!

From the festival website

From the festival website

Open Garden Squares Weekend

Don’t miss open garden squares weekend – it’s on now! A ticket is 8pounds but that gets you entry to all of the gardens Saturday and Sunday. Most of the gardens open are ‘private’ gardens not normally open to the public, which of course makes them well worth checking out! With over 190 gardens open, this one takes some planning, but the best strategy is probably to pick an area or two and just garden hop for a few hours. I think my strategy will be to go out to Kensington and Notting Hill tomorrow, where there are a slew of private gardens open for display (and of course they are all quite nice, given that area!). On the website, click on ‘the gardens’ to peruse by area what’s open, with each area having a helpful little map. See the map for Kensington and the map for Notting Hill area. Be sure to start your journey at a garden with a pound sign – that means you can buy your tickets there. Most gardens appear to be places you can do this.

And the garden I’m definitely going to? Lloyd Square, (click on list of gardens – islington – lloyd square WC1) a private key entry only garden for residents around the square that I walk by every single morning on my way to work and wish I had access to every single morning. And though I the residents take great care of it to be honest I never or hardly ever see anyone in there enjoying themselves. Unlike me, who would be in there reading a paper or some such every morning. So there. No bitterness here, no…

lloyd

Story of London

Have slacked a bit on the two week challenge as A is now on holiday and C is ill, but will post a few extra today and tomorrow to get back up to 7 posts for this week!

In case you haven’t heard of it, there is a massive month-long collection of events happening all over London in June call the Story of London. Each area is holding a slew of local events, most of them free. Check out the website (http://www.london.gov.uk/storyoflondon/) and type in your postcode or area for a look – the problem is it’s almost overwhelming how much is happening.

For example, it’s film weekend at the moment and the amount of things to check out is rather making my head hurt. That could also be the flu I have at the moment, but you get the idea.

If you’re into costume dramas and people dressing up and re-enacting things, then don’t miss next weekend – living history weekend!

Or check out other weird and wonderful or cultural things – such as tomorrow night (June 14) the Wellcome Collection is leading a free walk around the West End called Pox and Pleasure about medicine, disease, and sex in Victorian London. Most boroughs are hosting walks around their borough that cover history and architecture – I’m thinking of attending Islington’s changing architecture walk in a few weeks, so see if your borough is doing it as well. Or snap up one of the free evening event gems, like this reading in Bethnal Green – London on London: London writers read their favourite London scenes.

Postman’s Park

May I recommend a slightly famous but often overlooked little gem of a park, Postman’s Park. Literally one minute walk from St. Paul’s, it’s well worth a look (it was also featured in the movie Closer, if you happened to have seen that). Postman’s Park is a tiny oasis in the middle of the city financial institutions. It was established by a Victorian guy who wanted to celebrate ordinary men and women, so in one corner there are all these tiles that celebrate ordinary heroes, mostly people who saved others from drowning or from fires. Their deeds are described in duly lurid Victorian prose, but it’s touching nonetheless. The park is a charming little spot – go on the weekend, when it’s not crowded with office workers on lunch – and the unique tiles (handpainted by the Victorian man who set up the thing who was an artist) are truly worth a gander:

Tile 1

pp2

pp3

Victorian quirkiness and sentimentality at its best. To get there, leave St. Paul’s tube station (or just leave St. Paul’s cathedral area, if you happen to go tomorrow while the tube strike is still on) and walk towards the Museum of London (should be signs). Postman’s Park has an entrance that is hard to see until you are right up on it on the left, just as the Museum of London comes into sight.

Hamley’s for all your summer fun

Now that we are into June we can almost officially call summer.  The weather here has sure felt like it lately, with just a few exceptions here and there.   With great weather comes the great outdoors.  For Londoners (those without cars or means and ambition to travel outside of their zone) this means tromping to your local park for some sunning, picnics and playful games with friends, families and even strangers.  For all those park outdoor activities i.e. frisbee, cricket, football, american football, etc, why not head to Hamley’s–the most famous toy store in London, located in the middle of Regent’s street almost equal distant from Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street.  If you go into Hamley’s, you will quickly see it is not just for kids.  Last year, my friend and I went there and bought our first frisbee of the season.  There are plenty of toys, games and outdoor play equipment to suit any fancy and even a broad selection of board games for that ever expected rainy day.  My next purchase I think will be a cricket set or maybe a croquet set.  Summer is just beginning, so go to Hamley’s then head straight to the park for a perfect afternoon.


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