27 Sep 2019 — 16 Nov 2019



Tues-Sat 10am-5pm


A sound installation of women’s voices responding to the terrible failure of psychiatry to listen.


Hold Me in a Circle of Tender Listening, 2019
Immersive multi-channel sound installation
Duration, 50 minutes

This immersive sound installation reassembles five women’s voices from a British Library archive of 50 mental health testimonies, originally recorded on video in 1999/2000. The work uses only the sound from these oral history interviews and brings women’s voices together, away from the isolation and gaze of the psychiatric institution and archive, into a circle of communal listening.

The artist is driven by an ethics of entanglement – as someone with her own psychiatric experience and the daughter of a woman who has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for over forty years. This entanglement is a strategy, a way of working that blurs boundaries between the self and other; the material and immaterial; the past and present.  The work is also a response to the terrible failure of psychiatry to listen, which has been repeated again and again over decades and decades. Through an extended process of listening to and reassembling women’s voices, the artist asks how historic and current silences within psychiatry and the institutions of ‘mental health’ might be opened up to create empathic encounters where trauma is allowed to speak.

Trigger warnings: This sound installation contains the oral testimonies of five women from the British Library’s ‘Mental Health Testimony Project’ archive. The women speak about very distressing experiences including suicide attempts; violence in psychiatric hospitals; Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT); use of modified insulin therapy; forced medication; adoption and child bereavement, and, child sexual abuse.

This installation is not suitable for children.

Funding: Arts and Humanities Research Council / CHASE.

Artist Biography

Amanda McDowell

Amanda McDowell is an artist/researcher who works with sound, image and text to explore memory, trauma and transgenerational haunting. Practices of deep listening are central to her work, which is currently exploring the experiences of women in UK psychiatric institutions. Amanda has recently completed a PhD at the University of Kent. She has worked in the voluntary sector supporting prisoners and refugees, and at UK universities. She has a BA & MA in Social / Applied Anthropology and an MA Screen Documentary. Her MA film was nominated for a Royal Television Society Award (2009).