Art and Psychiatric Spaces

This event took place on Wednesday 7 December 2022.

This event explores ways of engaging with art made by artist-patients in psychiatric contexts, through art historical, curatorial, and creative writing work. Each dealing with a distinctive context, speakers Katrin Luchsinger, Rose Ruane and Kaira M. Cabañas refigure relationships between art and psychiatry, working with objects, collections and practices in ways that expose discrimination in diagnosis, that open up ways of considering individual lived experiences of illness, and that rethink or disrupt dominant ways of delineating ‘art.’ [N.B. Please note that Kaira Cabañas was not able to join us for this event.]

Image: An art studio with participants painting at easels and Edward Adamson standing and observing. Watercolour and gouache by Mary Lorraine, 1967. ©Wellcome
Katrin Luchsinger, “Finding, Researching, Exhibiting Works by Artists from Psychiatric Institutions 1850-1930.”

The exhibition entitled “Extraordinary! Unknown Works from Swiss Psychiatric Institutions around 1900” in 2018/19 gave an insight in our research program at the Zurich University of the Arts where we had achieved a nationwide overview of the artistic work of patients in psychiatric hospitals from 1850 to 1930. 

Psychiatric care was established in Switzerland between 1848 and 1900. In this period 26 psychiatric institutions were built, whereas before there had not been any. Psychiatric theories therefore developed quickly. Anthropology and the so-called “primitivism”, photographs and various objects arriving from the colonies, fascinated modern artists as well as psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. Around 1920 almost every psychiatric hospital collected or at least stored artworks executed by patients. In our exhibition we showed 150 of the five thousand works we had inventoried in a database. In a varied accompanying program we discussed with the audience the complexity of these artworks and their relationship with art.

Rose Ruane, “The Garden and The Maze: Exploring the Adamson Collection through Creative Writing.”

The Adamson Collection is composed of around six-thousand artworks created during the 20th century in the first art therapy group in a UK mental hospital. The work in the collection can be understood as art. It can also be viewed as individual expression, but equally as therapeutic by-product and historical document. Creative writing is a practice of simultaneity, one which can hold these multiple interpretations and framings, and is at the core of my engagement with the Adamson collection. 

The collection’s history is riddled with lacunae, and I employ a combination of ekphrastic writing, erasure poetry and hybrid forms of fiction and creative non-fiction to interrogate how creative writing might acknowledge and explore those gaps and represent the lived experience of individuals who were compelled to live at Netherne Hospital. 

My practice examines the consequences of framing of work produced in art therapy as ‘art’ without the individuals who created it having consented to their work being labelled in such terms, and considers how medical and societal attitudes shaped interpretations of their identities and experiences, in the process examining how rigorously researched creative writing might provide a way of simultaneously considering the work and its makers within both therapeutic and artistic contexts. 

The Garden and The Maze combines writing around experiences of dailiness and the quotidian at Netherne, with writing about embodied experiences of place, distress and art making, acknowledging and examining the possibilities and limitations of my position as a writer engaged in the work of scholarship, who arrives from another time and place carrying various forms of unknowing.

Kaira M. Cabañas, “Estruturas vivas | Living structures”.

For “Estruturas vivas | Living structures,” I turn to the work of Lula Wanderley and the Espaço Aberto ao Tempo (Space Open to Time), a transdisciplinary space that Wanderley created in Rio de Janeiro in his search for a new ethics, aesthetics, and politics of caring for individuals who experience acute psychic suffering. Essential to his practice is his commitment to amplifying modernist artist Lygia Clark’s Estruturação do self (Structuration of the self) therapy by working with individuals whose diagnoses often converge with race, class, and gender discrimination. As a professional artist and therapist, Wanderley extends the entanglements of psychiatry and art that lie, I argue, at the heart of Brazilian aesthetic modernism. This study is thus not about “outsider art” or what Jean Dubuffet termed art brut. With his work, Wanderley instantiates a shift away from a modernist visuality toward aesthetic experimentation as key to the therapeutic dimensions of psychiatric treatment. This presentation stems from my book in progress, “Deviant Art Histories.”

About the speakers

Katrin Luchsinger, PhD is an art historian. She taught art history of the 19th century and modernism at Zurich University of the Arts and was a researcher at the Institute for Cultural Studies in the Arts (Zurich). There she conducted three research projects supported by the Swiss National Foundation in order to create an inventory of the artworks executed by the patients in psychiatric institutions in Switzerland – and collected by their psychiatrists – from 1850 to 1930. A touring exhibition in the Prinzhorn Collection, Heidelberg, the Lentos Art Museum, Linz and the Art Museum in Thun, Switzerland, gave an insight into this research. She is now an independent scholar of art and psychology around 1900, material cultures and inclusion.

Rose Ruane is an artist and writer based in Glasgow. Her debut novel This is Yesterday, was published by Corsair Books in 2019, with another to come in Spring 2024. She has made radio work for Radio 3, Radio Scotland and Radiophrenia. She is in the final year of a SGSAH funded PhD at the University of Glasgow, exploring the Adamson Collection through creative writing. She has written for Raw Vision magazine on the life and work of Gwyneth Rowlands and Mary Bishop whose works are part of the collection.

Kaira M. Cabañas is Professor in Art History Art and affiliate faculty in the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida, Gainesville. She is the author of multiple volumes, including Immanent Vitalities: Meaning and Materiality in Modern and Contemporary Art (2021), which received the Frank Jewett Mather Award from the College Art Association, and Learning from Madness: Brazilian Modernism and Global Contemporary Art (2018). Cabañas’s writings have appeared in numerous international museum publications and academic journals. In 2012 she curated and edited the catalogue for the exhibition Specters of Artaud: Language and the Arts in the 1950s at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. She is currently at work on a book titled, “Deviant Art Histories.” 

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