Cass Art college students’ ‘Bedlam’ psychiatry show at Whitechapel is madness
- Credit: Archant
The life-size statues of “Raving Madness” and “Melancholy” that were displayed at the entrance to the medieval Bethlem Hospital have gone on show at a psychiatrists’ college near the Tower of London.
An exhibition by MA students from Whitechapel’s Cass Art college in east London is running at the Royal College of Psychiatrists nearby in Prescot Street until May 9, showing the history of mental health treatment down the centuries.
It is the first exhibition since the Royal College recently moved from the West End to within a stone’s throw of the site of the medieval Bethlem Hospital, one of the world’s first centres for treating ‘madness’—historically and notoriously known as ‘Bedlam’.
But it allowed access to the public and casual visitors, providing a display of ‘madness’ as a municipal attraction that is now considered its most scandalous feature.
The exhibition draws on the history of the two figures to represent improvements in treatment through contemporary art, featuring newly-commissioned multi-media works by Mikey Cook, Travis Jeppesen, Jérémie Magar and Daniel Silver.
The original statues stood above the entrance to Bedlam at Moorfields from 1676 until 1815, designed to look down on visitors coming in and out.
The reclining figures represented the two faces of mental illness, manic and melancholic symptoms which lay at the heart of medieval and early modern understandings of mental health.
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Raving Madness is depicted in furious agony, writhing in hospital chains, whereas Melancholy is free of restraint but, expressionless and unengaged.
The statues are the works of the Danish sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber and were significant London landmarks of their time.
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Cass Arts student Travis Jeppesen gives an hour-long Spoken Word performance tonight at 6.30pm at the Royal College in Prescot Street about how treatment of mental illness has evolved over the centuries. It is open to the public free (Tube: Aldgate or Tower Hill, or DLR Tower Gateway).
Just last month archaeologists completed excavations of Bedlam’s ancient burial ground where Crossrail’s new Liverpool Street station complex is under construction. They uncovered 3,000 skeletons which are now being forensically examined before being reinterred later at a new burial ground.