Art exhibition shining spotlight on mental health comes to Stirling

Mrs Robb asylum archive art work
18 January 2016

New artwork co-created by patients at Bellsdyke Hospital, inspired by patients of over a century ago, will launch at the University of Stirling this month.

‘Staring at the Ceiling, Looking at the Stars’ is an artistic response to materials from the Stirling District Asylum Archive – housed by the University Archive - and reveals the indiscriminate nature of mental illness.

Sound recordings and printed artworks produced by artist Sharon Quigley in collaboration with a group of patients and staff at the now-named Bellsdyke Hospital delve behind the case notes, patients’ letters and admission books to explore the identities of Asylum patients from 1906-14.

Launching on Saturday, 23 January, the opening day of the exhibition launch will provide the public with an opportunity to view items from the archive and take a guided tour of the exhibition.

The historical records of the asylum were transferred to the University of Stirling Archives in April 2012 as part of a wider NHS Forth Valley historical archive. University archivists have carefully catalogued and conserved these records, which are now widely accessible for the first time.

Hundreds of people were admitted to the Larbert-based Asylum during the late 1800s, including workers from Forth Valley’s industrial and agricultural sectors.

NHS Forth Valley Endowments funded the art project, developed in partnership by Artlink Central - a charity providing arts experiences within the NHS to improve patients’ experiences and environments - and the University of Stirling Art Collection and Archive.

Previously on display at the Forth Valley Royal Hospital, ‘Staring at the Ceiling, Looking at the Stars’ will be on display at the University of Stirling’s Pathfoot Building from 23 January to 27 May, 2016 and includes archive material which has not previously been on display as well as new artworks which will added to collections of the University Art collection.

Sarah Bromage, Deputy Curator of the University of Stirling’s Art Collection said: “The idea for this exhibition was sparked by the University receiving over 150 years of archive NHS materials relating to hospital care and treatment in Forth Valley.

“The Asylum records - brought to life through these innovative and thought-provoking works - are among the larger Forth Valley health board archive now fully catalogued and accessible through our archive reading room.

“We are delighted that as part of the project’s legacy, a commissioned exhibition piece will be added to the University’s Art Collection. This phase of the exhibition will include a number of new works never displayed before and I would encourage anyone interested in delving into these unique records and works to join us for our official launch later this month.”

Artist Sharon Quigley said: “After a period of research within the archive I embarked on a journey with residents, working in small groups or one-to-one, exploring our creative common language.

“Through discussion, recollection, drawing and sound recording we set out to produce a new archive which would reassert the patients’ voice. This new archive charts the people and the grounds of the hospital, past and present, whilst creating a response to its fascinating history and environment.”

‘Staring at the Ceiling, Looking at the Stars’ will be on display at the University of Stirling’s Pathfoot Building from 23 January to 27 May, 2016. The official launch will be held between 1pm and 3pm on Saturday, 23 January, 2016.

Background information

Stirling District Asylum opened to patients in 1869. It was established by Stirling District Lunacy Board under an 1858 Act of Parliament enabling district asylums to be built and maintained by county authorities. Following the Mental Health (Scotland) Act, 1960 the name Bellsdyke Hospital was adopted.

NHS Forth Valley transferred its historical archives to the University of Stirling in 2012. These include the now UNESCO-recognised records of the nineteenth/twentieth century Royal Scottish National Hospital (originally known as the Royal Scottish National Institution) for mentally ill children, which was also sited in Larbert.

A guided tour of the archive and exhibition, plus related seminar, will be held at the University of Stirling whilst the exhibition is on display there.  Further details in due course at University Art Collection

Artlink Central has been bringing creativity onto the wards of Forth Valley, for patients to get involved in and enjoy, for 27 years.

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