INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects
'BEDLAM' AT THE OLD VIC TUNNELS
INTERIORS + DESIGN INTERVIEWS

In conjunction with this year's Frieze Art Fair (London, 9-21 October), Lazarides Gallery joined forces with the Old Vic Tunnels to bring 'Bedlam' to the London underground.

Named after London's Bethlem hospital for the clinically insane - formerly housed on the site of the Imperial War Museum - this pop-up exhibition used a matrix of disused railway vaults to plumb the depths of the human psyche.

Sarah Roberts joined an inquisitive crowd to find out how 'Bedlam' portrayed a history of London's mad.

Walking through the pitch-black entrance hall I expected to find an exhibition describing the history and nature of the Bethlem institution, which has been part of London life since 1247. But there were no scores of text or writhing patients as we entered the cavernous interior of the Old Vic Tunnels.

The 30,000 square foot underground space was damp and oppressive, water running steadily down the Victorian walls to form pools in various corners.Then through the dark space bright lights radiated out from the installations turning the interior into a place of wonder, a cave full of curious things. The installations cast their white and neon glare across the puddles, a nervous excitement rippled up from the floor, and I accustomed myself to the space.

'Bedlam' used the tunnels to replicate the recesses of the mind and the history of insanity in Britain, so that the interior space itself became part of the exhibition. The installations began with The Wind in the Willows by Artists Anonymous, and from the start the mood was set as eerie figures moved inside of TV screens, imitating thebehaviour of the 'mad.'
Further into the space, the glowing figures of Tina Tsang's Lady Psychopomp:Innocence emerged, arms outstretched like the Virgin Mary. Video images replaced the figures' faces, moss grew at their chests, moths fluttered over skin. A golden tree branch pierced another through the chest.

In the main tunnel, the shadow of a swinging cage cast its silhouette across the back wall bricks. A man lay inside, his body leaving an unnerving shadow. Is this really an aluminium chair made from recycled military materials or some kind of medieval contraption? I asked myself. Either way The Noosphere by War Boutique left me bewildered as I watched a shadow I'd never seen before.

In the next tunnel, Bedlam Beat by ATMA hung from theceiling. A metal tube inflated the huge heart-like sculpture, constructed from mobile phones, wires and nubs that clustered around a mechanical pumping system. The robotic heave of the heart accompanied each beat and sounded like a drill, bringing with it associations with afore-used methods of dealing with the mad.

Video installation was used throughout to stimulate audience participation. At the centre of the space, Nevada Desert Experience (Death by remote control) by Del Naja filled the ceiling with kaleidoscopic graphics that moved in repetitious loops. I lay down on a cushioned block and watched the monochrome video transcript of a US military drone operation inPakistan as it mesmerised and manipulated the space between viewer and installation.

An empty electric chair stood before another video installation of replicating shapes. Brainwasher by Doug Foster was afloor to ceiling screen. Set up before the chair, the viewer sat facing thescreen, a viewing room complete with control panel behind him, so that others, in turn, could watch the person in the chair. The leather straps for the hands and feet lay open and at times, a visitor sat down before the screen. The viewers in the control room were then given a choice. Did they dare to playwith the buttons? The invitation to participate was ongoing throughout the exhibition, the question of when and how the viewer chose to do so, their actions disguised by the dark, could only be answered by the individual.

Bedlam challenged, invited and enticed the observer to experience insanity within the darkest of interiors, the forbidden realm ofsubterranean London. As I walked through the show, I became dizzy, disturbed, and discombobulated. I felt drunk on the macabre air.

In the recesses of Bedlam's forbidden world my perception of madness distorted, my own mental state grew confused. The thud of trains rolling into Waterloo echoed above and I realised that I was lost, wrapped up in a personal journey through Bedlam. There was only one question left to ask ... "how the hell do I get out?"

Sarah Roberts, Assistant Editor