The La Nau Cultural Centre of the Universitat is hosting a major exhibition on madness care in the city of Valencia throughout six centuries

  • Office of the Vice-Principal for Culture and Society
  • May 11st, 2022
La Nave de los Locos (“The wing of the insane”) exhibition. Espejo del mundo (Miror of the world) Sala Oberta.
La Nave de los Locos (“The wing of the insane”) exhibition. Espejo del mundo (Miror of the world) Sala Oberta.

For a few months madness will occupy the seat of reason and science, the University. The La Nau Cultural Centre of the Universitat opens up the exhibition La Nave de los locos, una odisea de la sinrazón (The wing of the insane. An odyssey of unreason) organized and produced by the Universitat de València through the office of the vice-principal of Culture and Society. The exhibition invites reflection on the relations of the Valencian society with their mentally ill through the spaces of care for the insane, hospitals and asylums in which they were cared for. All of this through the testimony of science, the media and arts. The exhibition takes place in the Centre’s two main rooms: Acadèmia y Estudi General, although it extends to other spaces of La Nau as the Sala Oberta and the Cloister, and the Institute for the History of Medicine and Science at the Palau de Cerveró.

The inauguration of the exhibitions will take place the Thursday 12 of May at the Cloister of La Nau at 19:00 and will be open until the 23 of October. The initiative was announced in a press conference held this Wednesday at La Nau, with the participation of the director of the University Culture Service, Adela Cortijo and part of the curatorial team: Cándido Polo and Ana Hernández La Nave de los Locos (The wing of the insane); Enric Novella and Javier Balaguer La piedra de la locura. Una historia de la terapéutica psiquiátrica (The stone of madness. A history of psychiatric therapeutics) and the artists Patricia Gómez y Mª Jesús González Espejo del mundo (Mirror of the world).

La Nave de los Locos. Una Odisea de la Sinrazón (The wing of the insane. An odyssey of unreason), curated by Cándido Polo and Ana Hernández, uses Sebastian Brant’s ‘Stultifera Navis’ —one of the main works of the Renaissance Humanism— as a literary argument for the rejection and social segregation of madness. Following this metaphor of the wandering aimlessly boat, the singular relation of the city of Valencia with its alienated people over six hundred years is analysed, from its pioneer contribution to a more humane treatment in the Christian West. The exhibition gathers valuable historical and scientific documentation, jealously guarded century to century since 1409, including several publications, relics, objects and plans that allow the reconstruction of the architectural remains that have been preserved. A varied collection of scientific production is exhibited, as well as diverse artistic representations: paintings, ceramics, literature, cinema, architecture and comics to illustrate the cursed universe of the asylum. Thanks to the contributions of more than 60 public and private lenders, including those from the Diputación Provincial de València, the exhibition allows us to illustrate the many faces of madness. This includes works by classic artists such as Joaquín Sorolla, Francisco de Goya, José Vergara and José de Ribera, and contemporary artists from Equipo Crónica, Artur Heras and Manuel Boix to Genovés and José Mª. Gorrís.

The Sala Acadèmia exhibits the stage related to the first two centres that took in the mentally ill in the city: the Innocents Hospital and the General Hospital during almost five hundred years: Una larga y accidentada travesía. Del mito primigenio a la exclusión social (1409-1878) (A long and eventful journey. From primordial myth to social exclusion). Thus, stigmatized people came to be regarded as sick and were no longer mistreated and expelled, but were placed in asylum institutions inspired by charity and Christian values under limited medical care. This welfare initiative in late medieval Valencia would soon be followed by several other cities, until it became a model for the western world and colonial America.

The Sala Estudi General continues with this journey through materials and objects from the contemporary period, that began in the last third of the XIX century with the provisional transfer to the Franciscan Convent of Sta. María de Jesús until the construction of the Betera Psychiatric Hospital. This room is divided in two periods: El manicomio de Jesús: caridad, beneficencia y reclusión durante un traslado provisional (1866-1989) (The Asylum of Jesus: charity, charity and confinement during a temporary transfer), and A contracorriente: la empresa más ambiciosa. El hospital psiquiátrico de Bétera (1973-2009). (Against the tide: the most ambitious undertaking. The Bétera Psychiatric Hospital). The first phase covers over a century, determined by the adverse circumstances that accompanied the The Asylum of Jesus from its opening until its controversial closure. It was not long before The modern Bétera Psychiatric Hospital followed a similar process. It began its progressive dismantling after only a decade of operation, when the WHO confirmed the crisis of the hospitalocentric model and the failure of the institution. Meanwhile, the local corporations preferred to look to the past looking for the remote splendour of the P. Jofré foundation and the legimitacy of the 600 años de solidaridad (600 years of solidarity).

At the Sala Oberta, the artists Patricia Gómez and María Jesús González present the installation Espejo del mundo (Miror of the world). They started their work in 2017 which delves in the memory of the last Psychiatric Hospital of Valencia, the Padre Jofré Hospital of Bétera. The project enquires into the particular history of this centre to address a reflexion around the asylum as a miror of society demonstrating its failure as a isolation structure. This project recovers a total of 113 original mirrors from the Bétera centre through which the socio-historical conception of insanity as a condition symmetrically opposed to reason is questioned.

Finally, the Palau de Cerveró will hold the section La piedra de la locura. Una historia de la terapéutica psiquiátrica (The stone of madness. A history of psychiatric therapeutics) a curated exhibition by Enric Novella and Javier Balaguer. The exhibition shows the evolution of the conception of insanity at a therapeutic level, from its first remedies such as phlebotomy and treatments of plant origin until the appearance of psychiatry as a medical specialisation. Many years later, the 1950s saw the emergence of psychopharmacology, with the successive introduction of various drugs for the treatment of states and conditions such as mania, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety. As is well known, these drugs are nowadays among the most widely consumed medicines in the population.  In addition to objects such as a trepanned skull —trepanation was possibly used sometimes to treat mental disorders— or a a magneto-electric apparatus from the mid-19th century, when electricity was considered almost a panacea. The exhibition gathers almost all the models of electroshock apparatus manufactured by the Valencian company Millás Mossi in the middle decades of the 20th century: Electroconvulsor JR, Millás Apparatus, Altershock, Smallshock, Shocket and Petit-Shock.

The exhibition is complemented with a splendid catalogue of more than 300 pages containing articles by specialists in the different thematic areas covered by this project. Finally, during the period of the exhibition there will be a varied programme of complementary cultural activities, from conferences and debates to film cycles, audiovisual screenings and theatre, in collaboration with the different classrooms that make up the Servei de Cultura Universitària.