Sunday, 4 September 2016

The Air Loom in the Bethlem Board Room 2016

In the 1970's I was introduced to the life of James Tilley Matthews who was a patient at Bedlam or Bethlem Hospital from 1797. His insistence that his mind was being controlled by a machine called the Air Loom which he believed was a terrifying French secret weapon directed at the Houses of Parliament in order to bring about revolutions,terror and war was referred to in a lecture at the Institute of Psychiatry
and I followed my interest in the man to the Bethlem Archive and read the accounts in Bedlam Apothecary James Haslam's book published in 1810. The illustration of the Air Loom had lead to a model of the Air Loom being created and this remains in the Bethlem Archive.
In 2003 Mike Jay published The Air Loom Gang and this was revised as The Influencing Machine in 2004.
In 2002 artist Rod Dickinson fulfilled a Commission and constructed the installation and audio soundtrack accompanying it for the Laing Gallery Newcastle. The audio soundtrack is available on Google Play and Rod's website on the link above enables the app to be downloaded as well as illustrating the installation.
When the former administration building was transformed to form the Gallery and Bethlem Museum of the Mind it was hoped to allow public access to the Board Room; the installation of The Air Loom coincides with the opening this autumn of the panelled boardroom which includes a chandelier from Bridewell.
The Air Loom was introduced to visitors on 3 September 2016 by Rod Dickinson in a talk about the influence of James Tilley Matthews on subsequent generations.
Essentially Matthews conceptualised a desktop with two giant levers and black and white keys which an operator could manipulate to influence an individual or group of people. Rod pointed to the use of desktop and desktop icons some 200 years later. He also showed a succession of concepts of Influencing machines in the 20th century including ken Adams designs for the set of the 1965 film The Ipcress File.
Although the installation has travelled to Germany it seems strangely at home in The Museum of the Mind and has attracted great interest this week. The installation in the Board Room will remain for six months;it remains to be seen what effect on the NHS Trust board who will continue to meet in the room will have on their governance of the Trust!
The Board Room contains the panelled walls removed from the Bethlem Hospital at Saint George's Fields (now site of the Imperial War Museum) a chandelier from the Bridewell and heraldic shields of the past Presidents and Treasurers of the bethlem Hospital since 1558.
The opening of the Board Room completes the  experience of the Museum of the Mind and Bethlem Gallery experience for members of the public and is another reason to attract the public to the collections conserved by the Archive. For details of opening times visit Bethlem Museum of the Mind