Department of Health and Social Security, Ian Breakwell
Naomi Hennig and Ulrike Jordan
1—20 September 2019

Visual artist Ian Breakwell and musician/composer Hugh Davies worked with the Architecture Unit of the Mental Health Group of the DHSS’, visiting high security psychiatric hospitals such as Rampton and Broadmoor among others.

Ian Breakwell subsequently started a full placement, working with the architecture unit on a research project in Broadmoor. The team around architect George Miles was concerned with the question of how the built environment adversely affected the people within it, and sought to influence the planned renovation of the hospital. Their ‘Broadmoor Community Study’ was based on interviews with staff and patients, and proposed more flexibility in the use of space in the building, in addition to aspiring to reforms in methods of treatment. However, the study was rejected by the hospital management and the DHSS and remains effectively censored under the Official Secrets Act. The censorship of his research material did not allow Breakwell to openly address the depressing conditions he had witnessed during his placement. However, he did find ways to publicly present his observations at APG events, readings, exhibitions and art publications. He contributed – uncredited – to the two-part TV-documentary ‘Secret Hospital’ (Yorkshire Television, 1979), which unveiled the scandalous conditions and mistreatment of patients in Rampton, causing a public outcry. His photographs featured as the only visual evidence from the inside of the prison-hospitals.

Ian Breakwell was considered suitable to work with the Mental Health Group due to his previous visual and performance work questioning notions of normality and sanity in contemporary society, which was also an underlying theme in his on-going artistic diary observations. Breakwell and his long-term collaborator Kevin Coyne had investigated the nature of institutions in earlier performance works. Coyne also features as the main character in their collaborative film (‘The Institution’, UK, 1978), produced as a direct result of Breakwell’s experience in high security psychiatric hospitals. His series of 32 printed panels titled ‘Estate’ (1973–76) is another take on the surreal aspects of private and public life, mixing portraits, newspaper articles and personal diary notes.


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