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Psychosocial curating: a theory and practice of exhibition-making at the intersection between health and aesthetics
  1. Vanessa Bartlett
  1. Art & Design, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2021, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Vanessa Bartlett, Art & Design, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2021, Australia; info{at}


A recent Manifesto for a Visual Medical Humanities suggested that more in-depth analysis of the contribution of visual art to medical humanities is urgently required. This need perhaps arises because artists and curators experience conflict between the experimental approaches and tacit knowledge that drive their practice and existing audience research methods used in visitor studies or arts marketing. In this paper, I adopt an innovative psychosocial method—uniquely suited to evidencing aesthetic experiences—to examine how an exhibition of my own curation facilitated audiences to undertake psychological processing of complex ideas about mental distress. I consider the curator working in a health context as a creator of care-driven environments where complex affects prompted by aesthetic approaches to illness can be digested and processed. My definition of care is informed by psychosocial studies and object relations psychoanalysis, which allows me to approach my exhibitions as supportive structures that enable a spectrum of affects and emotions to be encountered. The key argument of the paper is that concepts from object relations psychoanalysis can help to rethink the point of entanglement between curating and health as a process of preparing the ground for audiences to do generative psychological work with images and affects. The case study is Group Therapy: Mental Distress in a Digital Age, an exhibition that was iterated at FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), UK and University of New South Wales Galleries Sydney, with an emphasis on audience response to key artworks such as Madlove—A Designer Asylum (2015) by the vacuum cleaner and Hannah Hull. It is hoped that this paper will help to reaffirm the significance of curating as a cultural platform that supports communities to live with the anxieties prompted by society’s most complex medical and social issues.

  • exhibitions
  • cultural studies
  • medical humanities
  • psychoanalysis
  • internet

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  • Funding This study was funded by University of New South Wales, University International Postgraduate Award.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval provided by Human Research Ethics Advisory Panel B: Arts, Humanities and Law at UNSW Art and Design. Approval number HC16612.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available on reasonable request.