Art, Power and the Asylum: Exploring the Adamson Collection

‘Retaliation’ ©Adamson Collection/Wellcome Library

 Art, Power and the Asylum: Exploring the Adamson Collection

“What is the value of art created in the asylum, who does it belong to, and how should it be used?”

Three questions, relating to the mainly anonymous artists of the Adamson Collection, recently posed to the general public and contributors from the fields of art, mental health, libraries and ethics.

We gathered at the Wellcome Library’s intimate Reading Room in July, for three seated discussions, to answer these questions. Organised by the Wellcome Library and Adamson Collection Trust, speakers included Dr David O’Flynn, Chair of the Adamson Collection Trust, Beth Elliot, Director of the Bethlem Gallery, and Marc Steene, Director of Pallant House Gallery, and artists and makers with lived experience of mental health distress.

©Adamson Collection Trust

The first discussion concerned creative control – who owns the art, how should it be used, and by whom? The second covered whether artists should remain anonymous or be named. The third straddled the ‘A Word’ – is the work made in asylums ‘art’, or ‘medical record’?

Together, we attempted to tackle both the overarching questions as well as the minutiae that sprung forth whilst discussing each far-reaching topic. The debate was cyclical, paradigms constantly shifting between patient, artist, clinician, context and setting.

While answers remain complex, and ideally dealt with on a case-by-case basis, particularly within the Adamson Collection, the debate also helped to make great strides towards how art made by contemporary marginalised artists in the modern world should be handled, and, most pertinently for Mental Spaghetti, in this ‘age of the internet’.

 About the Adamson Collection

The Adamson Collection, curated between 1946 and 1981 by Edward Adamson at Netherne Hospital, currently holds about 5,500 objects, including drawings, paintings, ceramics, sculptures and works with other media.

‘The Tear’ ©Adamson Collection/Wellcome Library

“Diverse and original, the collection holds a great number of works by female artists, including late sculptor Rolanda Polonska. Parts of the Collection were shown at major international exhibitions of Outsider Art, including two at the London ICA (in 1955 and 1964) and others in Egypt, Canada and Israel.”
– Wellcome Library

It is important to note that Edward Adamson was an artist, not a clinician. His involvement with Netherne and its residents was first initiated when he was a visiting artist giving lectures.The collection started circa 1946, when Adamson was given some drawings on toilet paper by one of the closed-ward patients. In 1948, Adamson was awarded a full time appointment as Art Director. Adamson continued to work at Netherne until his retirement in 1981.

Netherne was finally closed in 1994, due to dwindling patient numbers, and later redeveloped. What remained of the Adamson Collection was recovered by Dr David O’Flynn, psychiatrist and Chair of the Adamson Collection Trust, who housed the collection in the closest of quarters – his own personal storage space – until an agreement was struck with Wellcome Library to become custodians of the work.

The Heart of the Matter

This article is written from Mental Spaghetti’s standpoint. Included are quotes and provocations from other participants. To retain a level of impartiality we have kept the speaker anonymous, unless the speaker has gone on record elsewhere, in which case we will attribute a name to the comment.

1. Creative control: who owns the art, how should it be used, and by whom?

Primarily the art belongs to the artist.

Should the institution or individual take ownership of the artwork? Does the copyright position change if art objects are viewed as property of the institution? Did Adamson keep the artworks because it was one of the scant possessions residents were allowed? If the individuals asked for their artworks, were they allowed to keep them? Who benefits from the art and the archive?

The artwork was made in a liberating environment, described as ‘an oasis’, that encouraged artistic ownership and license by giving each artist a studio space, much like in a traditional college setting. The work was made in its purest form – art brut – by mainly untrained hands. The intention was not for the art to be sold as a commodity or inspected, digested and used as medical record. It is known that Adamson did not select artworks to be displayed in the art room, he did not want to encourage favouritism.

The art should be used as it was intended – as art. How do we know what the intention was? Adamson, as previously mentioned, was not a clinician, he was not pathologising the output of the individuals he worked with. Although some of the art was analysed by other Netherne therapists, in an attempt to see patterns in colour schemes or symbolism in subject matter, thankfully we have moved beyond making assumptions such as “schizophrenics make poor colour choices” or that depicting blood equates a predilection for murder. Adamson played a huge part in moving away from those practices in art therapy.

In the case of materials used and on whose property, often, like places of work, anything created on site, any materials purchased by the staff, is property of the organisation. In some cases this even extends to intellectual property. The example of ownership of patient and clinician co-authored medical records was given, that there is an argument that the organisation provided the materials, therefore own the notes. Surely this is the perfect catalyst for mental health art practitioners to create meticulous contracts protecting the future ownership rights of inpatients and service users?

What in the event of the artists’ death? If there is no instruction for how the art should be used, in what context, and by whom? We can learn many things from how the Adamson Collection Trust handles the work of their artists. Best endeavours have been made to trace back living relatives. It would be invaluable for art organisations and trusts, going forward, to have access to guidelines written on the back of their experiences, from recovering the collection to negotiating its new home at the Wellcome Library, and everything in between. Should any custodian or trust should be arranged for an artist, decisions regarding when, where and how to show the art and represent the artist should always remain in line with how the artist would have wanted.

2. Should artists should be named, or remain anonymous?

We started the debate with a provocation on the the power of naming; pet names, nick names, being called by only your first name, or your full name. Different names, different meanings.

If your parents call you into a room by your first name, it’s usually a lot less fearsome than being called in by your full name. Does that analogy underline the argument against using an artists’ full name? Possibly, but it can equally be looked at in a different way.

Using a first name only smacks nursery school, team building weekends, Ministry of Justice regulations, and tea time at the basket weaving centre. It’s infantilising and patronising. Using a full name gives that person a stage, a more rounded identity; its formality is aligned with professionalism, commands respect, and is as good as a title or the letters after the name.

On the other hand, the art itself is the communiqué to the world, meaningful as a window to peer in to and take something away from. It brings people together, art is a tool for discussion, escapism, understanding and disagreement. In that sense, the art becomes bigger than the artist.

‘…But All He Does Is To Dig Out My Heart’ ©Adamson Collection/Wellcome Library

Why do we need a name? Furthermore, why do we need a name if we have no back story on the artist? It is notoriously difficult, due to privacy restrictions, to trace back deceased artists from asylums. I argue that naming an artist helps us to build a visual image of them in our mind. Accurate or inaccurate, it puts a face to a name. A name allows us to form a figurative representation, a way to remember that artist, what we’d imagine they’d look like, what their interests were, how they lived and what they saw and did.

Adamson wrote the artists’ names on the back of their work. Some of the patients chose to write their names on the front. Are we to to interpret this is a sign of consent? Does not naming the work encourage one to view it as clinical content, to dehumanise the artist, turning their output into data. As one participant commented, “They were anonymous in life, don’t they deserve to not be anonymous in death?”

If you’re of the view that naming an artist is a breach of confidentiality, how staunch you are in that opinion dictates a) whether you should even be taking part in the discussion, as there is no where for your view to go, and b) removes agency from the artist in exactly the same way. To name or not to name – two cheeks of the same backside.

The discussion was, at times, fitful and impassioned, new ideas and opinions jumping out as the topic volleyed back and forth. Above all discussed, what resonated loudest to me, in terms of loss of agency, was the process itself; having the discussion was where I most acutely felt that uneasy feeling of discussing what’s best for someone like they aren’t actually there, though they are. Oddly enough, like a ward round.

3. The ‘A’ word – is the work made in asylums ‘art’, or, ‘medical record’?

How should the collection be defined? Should it be attributed to Netherne and containment? One belief is that the collection is essentially political and subversive. Edward Adamson had a strong anti-discrimination agenda. Should this conversation be continued, and should the art be used to this day in a political context? Does exhibiting the artwork behind the toughened glass of a museum in the art world jepoardise its subversive potential?

So, is the work made in asylums – or, to bring it in to the modern day, in hospitals or as out patients – art or medical record?

“I find the question irritating – I would like to know in whose interest the question is asked, and what are the consequences of deciding one way or another? What hangs on the ‘A word’? Privacy and consent are important. Is the question being asked because there is a subliminal, or even overt, concern about privacy and illness?”

The above comment from an artist and fellow traveller of the ‘mentally interesting’ highway. I choose to call the individuals ‘artists’, not ‘makers’, not ‘patients’. I do not mean artists with a capital A, they are not being unwillingly put on a pedestal, but they are making art and are therefore artists.

Another contributor, a disabled artist attached to an arts organisation, currently exhibition in central London, put forward the notion that all art is record of suffering, pain, anguish, joy and elation.

It doesn’t take containment to express deep depression or malaise, the wish for escape or transportation to another place. Is it perhaps unhelpful to create distinction between artists who lived in an asylum, and those who were at liberty? Does the expectation of liberty colour the art you make? Everything we see colours our art, social, political backgrounds, so it goes without saying that would have influence on work made.

There is a fear of art, a fear of the original, the power and danger. That fear drives us to categorise and contain art. Containment and categorisation, putting things in boxes, describing things, making them more digestible.

©Adamson Collection/Wellcome Library

I think of one young artist I know, who makes incredible trash sculptures, festooned with fairy lights and coloured glass. This particular artist sits somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Whenever I discuss his work with others I am in constant turmoil about whether the prefix the word ‘artist’ with ‘autistic’ or not.

Would someone not on the autistic spectrum make the similar artwork, aesthetically? Probably. Would he want me to put his output in the margin of autistic artist? Does his autism play a part in his artwork? Of course, but, still, how should I represent him and his work?

Or is the categorisation for the sake of selling and adding value? Is it a tactical move to give the art works value, and whose interest would that be in? Artworks from high security hospitals sell out within seconds of being announced. Is this not the sensationalisation of high profile patients to make a bigger profit?

We know that work from the Adamson Collection will never get to market, it is one of the protective measures that the trust has taken to ensure pieces are not sold and passed around as its value increases.

It was suggested that perhaps what we need is a new approach to taxonomy. The location, context and intention of the art can straddle more than one arena, it doesn’t necessarily have to be one presented in one context or another. These artworks can be seen as art, social history and medical record all at the same time, the compulsion to make art, and self definition being key. The work can be seen as all things in one place, or divided into different things in different places, but explanation and context is of utmost importance.

Above all, work created by any individual, that is visual or can be described with formal elements such as line, form, pattern, shape and texture, is art. Primarily that is the essence, the artist or maker is a conduit for the art to be created. Whatever other taxonomy you attach to a physical piece of visual art, it is, at its heart, art. My final thought on all three subjects is to handle people and art with care and sensitivity.

Further Reading
Click here for a more comprehensive biography on Edward Adamson.
Visit the Adamson blog, Mr A Moves in Mysterious Ways, here.
For more information about the Wellcome Library, click here.
To search the Adamson Collection at the Wellcome Library, click here.

A selection of Adamson Collection images, housed at the Wellcome Library.

Advertisements

Micro commission opportunity at The Horsfall

Commission FlyerThe Horsfall Micro Commissions 2017-18

Deadline Friday 5th May 2017

Applications are invited from artists and creative practitioners working in any art form for the 2017/18 Micro Commissions Programme with The Horsfall at 42nd Street.

The Micro Commission programme is a research and development opportunity for creative practitioners working across any art form. Designed to foster experimentation and innovation in creative practice within the realms of young people’s mental health and wellbeing, Micro Commissions enable practitioners to engage with an established mental health charity with its own creative programme and dedicated creative venue; The Horsfall.

We invite applications from creative practitioners from any discipline who wish to explore one of the following:

– The intersections of their practice with young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

– How the history of The Ancoats Art Museum or 87 Great Ancoats Street (the site of The Horsfall) can inspire and inform our arts and mental health practice at The Horsfall (resources are currently being curated into an online collection and can be supplied upon request).

– Ruskin/Horsfall’s vision for Useful and Beautiful art and how this can be reflected in arts and wellbeing work with young people at The Horsfall.

– The natural world in the urban environment and its relationship to young people and mental wellbeing.

You can download the full application guidelines PDF here: The Horsfall Micro Commissions Application Guidelines 2017

About 42nd Street

42nd Street is an innovative Greater Manchester mental health charity committed to supporting young people aged 11-25 years with their emotional well-being and mental health, promoting choice and creativity. With an excellent 35 year reputation, our unique holistic service model combines therapeutic psychological interventions with advocacy and social care. We reach 2000 young people each year via individual therapeutic support, projects and activities, leadership, peer research and a creative programme.

About The Horsfall

The Horsfall is a new venue and creative programme for Manchester, dedicated to improving young people’s mental health and wellbeing and the opening programme of projects, workshops and events will see artists, makers and heritage experts working with young people to reinterpret stories from the past, interrogate their own stories and to imagine new futures.

About the Micro Commissions

The Micro Commissions will be reserved for practitioners who are 35 years of age or under on 1st May 2017.

As this commission programme is conceived as a period of research, testing and experimentation, the only set public outcome is a presentation or sharing about your commission for an audience to be determined by The Horsfall team (including young people and the Creative Producer) and the commission holder.

As well as having access to one floor of The Horsfall for the equivalent of one week, commission holders will have access to 42nd St staff and their expertise in the field of young people and mental health.

It is not necessary for the applicant to consider or plan any direct delivery with young people during the commission period, although we do welcome applications that consider the involvement of young people in some way.

The Horsfall is based in central Manchester and easily accessible by public transport. The building consists of three floors and either the ground or first floors are potentially available for the commission. The ground floor is fully accessible.

Structure

There are two Micro Residencies in 2017 each lasting approximately one week. This can be a block of time or individual days taken over an extended period. Commission holders will receive:

– £500 expenses

– Workspace at The Horsfall

– Support from the Horsfall programme team (creative producer, engagement officer and communications officer)

– Access to support and information from mental health practitioners as necessary and where possible.

Chosen practitioners must have a current DBS at the time of taking up the micro commission. 42nd Street is able to assist in this process if necessary.

How to apply:

Please send the following:

– A one-page statement outlining your practice, your interest in the Commission, and how it will benefit one or more of the following:

– Your work

– Young people

– The Horsfall

– 42nd Street

– Your CV

– Supporting material – This must be in the form of a pdf containing up to 8 images and no larger than 10mb in size. You can include links to work online and your website within this document. If you want to include moving image/sound work in your application please include links to your work online.

There are two commission time slots. These will be confirmed by mutual agreement with the chosen candidates and will be between June 2017 and January 2018.

If you have any further questions about any aspect of the application please feel free to e-mail Julie.McCarthy@42ndstreet.org.uk. Please send applications by e-mail to Julie.McCarthy@42ndstreet.org.uk.

Selection Panels and Timescales

The Micro Commission panel is chaired by Julie McCarthy, Creative Producer for The Horsfall at 42nd Street. The rest of the panel is made up of:

– Two young people from the Creative Agents group at The Horsfall

– A representative from The Kim Lindfield Trust

The deadline for submissions is Friday 5th May at 12 midday.

Successful candidate will be notified by Friday 12th May.

Eligibility

This opportunity is open to creative practitioners working in any discipline at any stage of their

career. The commissions are reserved for practitioners aged 35 years or under on 1st May 2017.

Students in full time education are ineligible to apply.

Feedback

We regret that we are unable to provide feedback on unsuccessful applications.

 

Susan Mary Gratwick: New work, explained

029
Nelson: Colonisation, Consequences | ©Susan Mary Gratwick
040
Algorithms | ©Susan Mary Gratwick
057
The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding the Leviathon – Homage to William Blake

All words and images, ©Susan Mary Gratwick.

I first saw William Blake’s painting, The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding the Leviathon, way back in 2007, on a visit to a workshop in the Tate Britain. The image would not leave me. I saw the writhing bodies squirming in and out of the labyrinthine form of the Leviathon, the sea monster, the nearly naked form of Horatio Nelson standing on the back of a crouching black man. And I thought of all the suffering of these different peoples all around this planet of ours, in order to create wealth. Even the Tate itself, purveyor of art to the masses, would have not existed but for slavery, based in and on the sale of sugar, again based in and on the Slave Trade.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

“The statement means that in every interaction, there is a pair of forces acting on the two interacting objects. The size of the forces on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object. The direction of the force on the first object is opposite to the direction of the force on the second object. Forces always come in pairs – equal and opposite action-reaction force pairs.”

This is Newton’s Third Law of Motion, and I wonder if this can be applied to actions in political and economic history, such as Slave Trade. I don’t know, but I question it. It somehow feels as if we have built our civilization on moral quicksand, almost as if I had personally murdered someone in order to have the standard of living I now have. William Blake’s tempera painting, with the ‘spiritual form of ‘ Horatio Nelson, the loci of British courage, heroism and valour, standing on the back of a crouching African, reminds us what happened, ‘lest we forget’.

 “Firstly you must always implicitly obey orders, without attempting to form any opinion of your own regarding their propriety. Secondly, you must consider every man your enemy who speaks ill of your king; and thirdly you must hate a Frenchman as you hate the devil”
Horatio Nelson to a midshipman aboard the Agamemnon (1793).

I had been thinking about how Great Britain became wealthy in the first place, how this was via the slave trade, and how Horatio Nelson defended this power on the world stage. Slavery created great power and wealth for the powers that were [and are] so, in order to become a world power, to create wealth, someone benefits and someone loses. Slavery, devoid of morality, was a logical means of creating wealth and it was of course morally unsound. To see another human being as a lesser mortal was expedient. Wealth creation on that scale based on logic, rational and expedient thinking –  see today’s algorithms which control movement of capital in the stock exchange – but is immoral, as the consequences on the planet and human life and living standards of the ‘ordinary man’ are not part of the equation. Morality is not part of an algorithm.

038
Alone, stands she weeping | ©Susan Mary Gratwick

I love icons, they emanate something directly to my heart. I can deconstruct Christianity, see how it has been and can be used as a tool of politics and control, yet, Christian icons bypass the literature somehow.

I think of the dark side of Christianity and I think of the young girl from Nazareth, who, by a trick of history became a focus of veneration throughout the world, and, imagine that if she actually existed, she might just look on and weep.

055
Bird Pecking My Heart Out | © Susan Mary Gratwick

I think that this painting is about fear.

063
Alone Stands She Falling | ©Susan Mary Gratwick

This is a ‘What am I?’ painting and is just showing a physicality, and this one wonders what she is doing and where she is going.

065
‘Fish or Snake? That is the question, whether ’tis./Stasis’ | © Susan Mary Gratwick

Again, she is wondering what to do…

‘Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?’

I think that the fish represents Christian ethics and values and the snake, knowledge.

I look at the world today, at our cultural values, codes of ethics and the confusion therein. There seems to be a criss-crossing of multitudinous interconnections, inferences, influences, and so very much history and I wonder about it all.

Artist Information, ‘No Man’s Land’, exhibition in association with Mental Spaghetti

What: Group Exhibition – Simona Pesce, Bill Daggs, Terence Wilde
When: 23-26 November 2016. PRIVATE VIEW, 25 November, 7-9pm, all welcome.
Where: Islington Arts Factory, London

Mental Spaghetti is proudly supporting the work of Simona Pesce, Bill Daggs and Terence Wilde, in their new exhibition, No Mans Land. Mental Spaghetti art assistant, Simona, is a thoughtful, politically-minded artist, who we’ve built a relationship with over many years, following her journey back into her art practice to working with Mental Spaghetti, to the emerging artist she is in the present day. She also introduced us to the thought provoking work of Bill Daggs, with his installation, ‘A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TOILET 1981 – 2016’ at AVA Gallery, UEL end of year show, 2016.

Simona contacted us recently to see if we could arrange for them to put on this group show with one of our favourite artists, Terence Wilde. Terence agreed, with apparent enthusiasm, making this his tenth exhibition this year. Search ‘Terence Wilde’ on our blog to see his varied output, it’s all excellent.

Read on to find out about the idea behing the exhibition, and more about each artist. We hope to see you at the private view, this Friday evening.

***

“In ‘NO MANS LAND’ we are forced to question our identity, to ask ourselves where we stand, where we come from, and where we will go. Sculptures scatter the landscape like relics hinting at the collapse of a past civilisation, or objects of an uncertain present, as if placed in a time capsule and left as a warning of how intolerance and fear can split a society in half.

Bill Daggs and Simona Pesce are two artists whose life experiences enable them to be open to diverse cultures. Bill Daggs, who was born in North West London, has been surrounded by different communities all of his life while Simona Pesce, was born in Italy where she studied, moved to Germany at a young age and has lived in London for the past 20 years. With these backgrounds and their sense of pride in London’s culturally rich communities.

Bill Daggs and Simona Pesce are preoccupied with the outcome of the 23rd June 2016 EU Referendum and the migration crisis of 2015. These two events have forced the artists to question the place they call home and where they stand in a society that they have described as a destructive social wreckage. With these events in mind ‘No Man’s Land’ was conceived not only as an exhibition but also a beginning of a collective which aims to invite other artists to discuss the situation of our life now.

Terence Wilde, British artist and pottery instructor within the Occupational Therapy Department at The Bethlem Royal Hospital, has been invited to be part of the exhibition. His approach to the emotional wasteland and social wreckage reflects experience of loss and rejection felt by the other two artists.”

BILL DAGGS

Uncle Mac’s Coffin, 2016 ©Bill Daggs

Bill Daggs’ work contains multiple references to distant cultures, remote in time and space from his own upbringing in 1990‘s London. By mixing imagery from these cultures with reference to his own past he suggests that culture and community can endure despite the hardships and challenges placed on them. There is a suggestion that these sculptures may be archaeological relics that have survived thousands of years in spite of their humble materials. Somehow they have withstood the advancements of technology and the perils of erosion and handling to survive as informative objects. The mythology in his work is playful and reminiscent of childhood games, influenced by super heroes and comic book worlds and remembers the masks we may have worn ourselves while lost in our own imaginations.

www.billdaggs.com

SIMONA PESCE

Untitled tryptich, 2016 ©Simona Pesce

In the last few years Simona Pesce’s work has developed ideas through sculpture and installation, but she also makes paintings and prints. She uses a range of traditional materials such as plaster, bronze and steel, as well as natural, found and recycled materials such as soil, wood, leaves and wool. For Simona, process is as important as the final outcome of the work because the process informs the work. Influences of Arte Povera are evident in her choice of material and minimalistic approach towards the work. Her work offers the chance to question and reflect on the bizarre duality of human solidarity and hatred, as well as the legacy that modern society is leaving to future generations.

www.simonapesce.com

TERENCE WILDE
Family Tree, 2015 ©Terence Wilde

Terence Wilde produces detailed pen drawings using black and white as his main palette and is a prolific potter. Often the drawings relate to his radical ceramics. The illustrations and ceramic objects are responses to different situations that he considers to be his ‘real’ life’s work as an artist. He uses experiences from different time periods and places which are organised in such a way to enable him to express his views. His visual language conveys a sense of history and how life is now.

www.terencewilde.com

For more information on the artists and exhibition, contact: nomanslandgroup@gmail.com