The Lightbox, Woking : Exhibition, ‘Ways of Seeing’.

The Lightbox, Woking : Ways of Seeing Exhibition

The Lightbox is a gallery and museum built by the side of the Basingstoke Canal and almost in the centre of Woking.  It was designed by Marks Barfield Architects who were also responsible for the London Eye.  The Lightbox has two galleries, which host a range of various types of exhibitions, and it also has an interactive museum of the town’s history.

I’ve been several times but, on this occasion, (22nd January 2011) went to see ‘Ways of Seeing’ an exhibition curated by a group of people with mental health problems.  The brochure informs us that two years was spent working on this project.  The group visited a number of museums and galleries to learn how exhibitions are curated.  They then spent months looking at items from the Ingram Collection of C20th Art and deciding which of them they would like to respond to. A further six months were then spent working with artists in a range of workshop sessions, to produce their own responses to the chosen works. A selection of their new works is exhibited alongside the pieces by the major artists, together with a number of short videos of the process by the film-maker Lee Cavaliere.

The group members had produced paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints, providing new interpretations of the pieces and I thought there was some really talented work on show. The brochure contains quotes from some of the members and photography featured for many of them in their daily life.  I was a little disappointed, therefore, that there were no new photographs in the Exhibition.  I suppose there is something extra in the act of just sitting down with others, discussing and engaging with a piece of art in a more tactile way.  It’s just occurred to me that maybe more creative areas of the brain are in operation through this as well.  I’ll have to do some research on that.

I worked in the mental health field for several years and ‘art therapy’ has been around for a long time but this seemed a much more holistic way of engaging people.  It must have been really satisfying for these particular group members to see a project through like this.

Afterwards I went to have another look in the small museum.  It’s in different sections and really well put together through a multi-dimensional approach. Many of the people of Woking contributed their personal photographs and mementoes and also recorded narratives of what life used to be like for them.  The records are accessed by picking up various old telephones which are dotted around.  There are brochures and photographs of Brookwood Cemetery from 1900 onwards; film and photographs of the opening of the Shah Jehan Mosque (the first in Britain).  There is also  memorabilia from Brookwood Hospital, a large psychiatric institution opened in 1867 and closed not so long ago to make way for expensive new houses and apartments. This particular part of the museum has models of the mind and early definitions of mental disorder.  There are also various objects such as wrist locks and neck collars and a scale model of a special type of whirling chair which appeared to have the same effect as electric shock treatment.  There are photographs of staff and patients (some of them in art therapy groups) and what looks like members of the Friends of the Hospital enjoying a dinner and dance.

I left thinking about the use of photographs as  images of record and  for advertising purposes – “a wonderful new garden cemetery”.  I also had this query in my mind concerning photography as therapy which I want to explore further.