‘Bedlam: the asylum and beyond’ interrogates the original ideal that the asylum represented – a place of refuge, sanctuary and care – and asks whether and how it could be reclaimed. This blog series intends to showcase as many different voices and perspectives from people with lived experience of mental ill health and explore their ideas of personal asylum.

This post is from the Artist Taxi Driver, an artist and social protestor who showed work in Bethlem Gallery’s ‘Reclaiming Asylum’ exhibition.

The Artist Taxi Driver is the persona of artist and prominent political and social protestor Mark McGowan, whose YouTube channel “chunkymark” has attracted over 50,000 subscribers. In his videos, McGowan films himself and occasional invited interviewees in his taxi discussing political and social issues. Past interviewees have included Frankie Boyle, John McDonnell, Mhairi Black, Noam Chomsky, Caroline Lucas, Charlotte Church, David Graeber and Russell Brand.

For the Bethlem Gallery’s exhibition ‘Reclaiming Asylum’, McGowan was invited to contribute a response. The resulting video utilises his usual Artist Taxi Driver format, but focuses on his experiences as a past patient of Bethlem Royal Hospital during the ’90s.

Recounting his experiences and stories with humour and humility, McGowan, a naturally gifted orator, takes us on a rollercoaster journey through feelings of nostalgia to feelings of fear and oppression whilst he describes scenes from a drug and addiction service.

McGowan’s video is an honest and very personal account of his life at a time when he was unwell that provides us with a sense of life on a psychiatric ward and the kinds of comradeship and humour that we may need to survive turbulent times.

Bedlam: the asylum and beyond‘ is on until 15 January 2017.

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