Interview: Beth Hopkins on Elsewhere at Bethlem Gallery at Royal Bethlem Mental Health Hospital
We caught up with Beth Hopkins guest curator of Bethlem Gallery’s summer show ‘Elsewhere’ in Bethlem Royal Hospital home of mental health care in South East London. Expect to see eye-popping work from seven contemporary artists in the gallery and outdoors in the beautiful landscape at Bethlem Royal Hospital.
The works in the show are playful and highly personal and political, interrogate the notion of power and control over public space, its boundaries and limits. ‘Elsewhere’ is part of This is Croydon – London Borough of Culture 2023 and includes work from three artists from Turf Projects Croydon.
Elsewhere | Bethlem Gallery at Royal Bethlem Hospital – Eden Park/West Wickham | 24 May – 9 September 2023 | Free
Main image: Minister in charge of access to nature by the Right to Roam movement. Sunday August 7th, 2022. Photo by Max-Reeves
Tell us about Elsewhere at Bethlem Gallery. What should visitors expect?
Elsewhere is a playground of kites, oranges and paper cups. There are exquisitely detailed drawings of miniature worlds viewed through microscopes, a viewing station at the top of a metal ladder, viewable only through binoculars. The exhibition challenges the notion of power and control over public space, its boundaries and limits. It presents newly commissioned work from seven contemporary artists, their approaches are playful, highly personal and political. A bed of daisies sits alongside documentary photographs and film of a right to roam protest, a revival of folk traditions.
Imagining yourself elsewhere can be a way to escape the realities of here, whether it is because of lockdown, life under section in a hospital or being bed bound due to your health. One artist in the exhibition, Corinne, has been bed bound for five years – they make all their work from bed. Their quilt of daisies references Daisyland, an imagined utopia built with her imaginary childhood friend, Daisy. Daisyland is a safe space to be themselves, and where they were accepted for their gender fluid identity and not discriminated against.
For people who’ve never been to the beautiful Bethlem Royal Hospital site in Beckenham – please tell us about the history and significance of the hospital and grounds. What awaits people who make the trip to explore Bethlem?
Bethlem Royal Hospital is set in 240 acres of grounds. As you walk through the gates, the Gallery is placed right at the centre, and shares a building with the Museum of the Mind.
Bethlem Royal Hospital is one of the oldest psychiatric hospitals in the world, dating back to 1247. Today part of South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, it provides the widest range of NHS mental health services in the UK.
Visiting this summer you’ll come to a green site with beautiful walks through meadows and woodland. Our exhibition Elsewhere spreads out across the grounds with a trail of artist Daisy Young’s kites interspersed in the trees.
Most Saturdays (please check before you come) the GUTS cafe will be serving lunch, teas and coffees. Alongside the exhibition, there is art for sale and plenty to see, indoors and outside.
Who or what are your inspirations for the exhibition and your work?
My primary inspiration for the exhibition was the artists themselves and their thinking. We started with the concept of public space and from there the artists travelled in all kinds of directions, my role was to support them and do justice to the work that they created.
I am primarily an artist, so when turning to curation I looked to other exhibitions I loved. My background is in that hard-to-define region of self-taught art from artists who exist outside of the mainstream art world. As part of my research I met with Shamita Sharmacharja who curated Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan at Wellcome Collection. Souls Grown Deep Like Rivers: Black Artists From the American South was a huge influence on me too.
How do you think mental health and the arts can work together?
As a gallery within the grounds of a working psychiatric hospital, Bethlem is fairly unique. Some of the artists at Bethlem are adjusting to life in hospital long term. There is a OT art studio where artists can escape their current situation and go elsewhere by creating art – you can find a state of absorption and forgetting.
Art is not simply therapeutic, being an artist rebuilds a sense of identity which may have been shattered by mental illness. You take pride in your work. Making art is not always easy or fun, it involves hard graft and can make you go to difficult places. But that is where the most valuable and sensitive work takes place.
Exhibitions like ‘Elsewhere’ aim to create a space for a dialogue between the artist, the artwork and the viewer, who will bring to it all their own experiences, with mental health and the rest of life. The artwork begins a conversation which we hope will continue beyond the gallery.
What are your favourite London haunts? (To eat, to connect, to see arts)
I love a car boot sale, so my idea of bliss is Capital Pimlico Car Boot, then something to eat at Cave – a packed junk shop with a tiny gallery space and a courtyard with an old wagon which serves all sorts.
I am Joint Editor at To Do List. I like free, cheap & offbeat London, especially: cabaret, art, theatre, pop-ups, eating out, quirky films, museums, day trips, social enterprise & much more.