Project: Art in Large Doses

Image of a group of students stood in front of an exhibition

First year BA Culture, Criticism and Curation students are currently collaborating with Paintings in Hospitals, an organisation whose collection of over 4,000 museum-quality artworks in hospitals, care homes, GP surgeries and cancer centres across the UK bring comfort and reassurance to over 1.8 million people a year. Students will curate an exhibition, to open in early 2018, to support the wellbeing of patients at King’s College NHS Health Centre. This article, written by student Elizabeth Aisher, is about the research they have done on the project.

 

Our challenge was to work in small groups to create proposals for an exhibition comprising 10 artworks; five from emerging or mid-career artists and five from the Paintings in Hospitals collection. The winning proposal will be realised in a public exhibition opening in early 2018 at the King's College Health Centre, where a large amount of students come for mental health related issues. 

The project challenged us to explore the impact art can have on health and wellbeing, as well as the possibilities of curation. The setting of a health centre as an exhibition space is certainly not the most conventional, but it gave us a new context to think about. It has been very interesting to see how these two distinct fields, art and healthcare, can merge together, and useful to hear talks from different individuals working for charities, art foundations and hospitals.   

“When I first began studying at CSM, I would have never thought that we would be collaborating with a hospital. This project has allowed us to explore an entirely different context to that of a gallery or a museum, where you know that most visitors come to see art. In a hospital, nobody is expecting to see art, this changes the way you approach things completely.” - Koey (First Year BA CCC Student)

We wanted to gain a solid understanding of the topic of mental health and wellbeing and the wider implications that come with it, so we started our research by looking at ways in which the ideas around mental health have developed in the past fifty years and how the stigma attached to it has evolved, if at all. 

According to the NHS, up to six times as many people are now being referred for mental health treatment compared to fifty years ago. Also, a quarter of Higher Education students experience physiological distress, which is associated with anxiety and depression. Although the stigma attached to mental health has gradually eroded, it is clear that young people of our generation are struggling more than ever before. But is this rise due to a genuine increase in depression and anxiety-related disorders, or are we simply living in a time of much greater awareness and communication surrounding the topic of mental health? These are some of the questions we explored to gain a better understanding of this complex subject. 

Each group took its own path and here are synopses of some of the proposals we put forward: 

MIND + BODY/ BODY + MIND

In a conventional clinical environment, the mind and the body are often discussed as two separate entities. This proposal aims to bridge the gap between the two and encourage a holistic approach towards health by acknowledging the power of the mind on the body, and vice versa. The group is researching the impact of physical activity on mental health and in particular, the ways in which dance can help build trust and confidence. 

OASIS

This concept is based upon research into the benefits of nature and art. Viewing nature not only helps mental fatigue and stress but also has been shown to improve patient recovery. A significant part of the benefits derived from nature do not require being in a natural setting but merely having a view of it. Oasis is an exhibition proposal aiming to provide respite from the harsh urban landscape with its emphasis on the physical, by softening the clinical environment with artworks related to nature and organic processes, and engender a sense of calm and wellbeing. 

OUR STATE OF MIND

The State of Mind exhibition proposal seeks to challenge and destigmatise notions of mental health as taboo and the hospital as a sterile or dull environment. Stepping away from conventional approaches that promote health and optimism, this proposed exhibition will confront such issues through art that veers from the abstract or the overly positive. 

SICK, OF ART

Research shows that humour may have the ability to decrease stigmatising attitudes in response to mental health. Humour can also serve to as a way for people to cope with hardships. Through the use of irony and comedy, the aim of this proposal is to create a visually engaging exhibition that actively seeks to challenge current notions surrounding mental health. 

 

Photos of students working in groups at Central Saint Martins, and of the installation and final exhibition of student proposals, alongside selected works from the Paintings in Hospitals collection, at Menier Chocolate Factory Gallery, 13 - 17 June 2017.