Opening from Friday 29 November 2019 and running until Sunday 19 January 2020, City of Melville presents Tales of the Surreal, an art exhibition by Jo Darbyshire focusing on and inspired by mental health and the Heathcote hospital which existed on the gallery site (the Heathcote Cultural Centre) from 1928 until 1994. 

The art exhibition is the 11th iteration of TILT, a series of annual exhibitions where an invited artist is asked to respond to the unique history and landscapes of the Point Heathcote/Kooyagoordup-Goolugatup area.

In this year’s exhibition, Darbyshire was inspired by the history of the Heathcote hospital and how its past of mental health can be connected to today’s society. She found that the art style of Surrealism in the form of installation and sculpture became the perfect outlet to portray the history and tell the stories of this landmark. 

Produced in residency at Heathcote, the exhibition is the result of Darbyshire’s extensive historical research into the stories and artefacts of the former mental health institution. Darbyshire writes:

“As I read stories from past staff and patients, and listened to their oral histories – I allowed the ones that resonated to come forward. These stories had something of the surreal about them, a startling relationship with a material (feathers, hair, bone) or the unconscious. They made me identify with the patient or the staff member at the time- to be in their body, to inhabit madness and a place that both contained and maintained madness.”

The show is accompanied by a major new essay from award-winning writer Josephine Wilson. In her essay Wilson understands Darbyshire’s work through the prism of Surrealism, the art historical movement dominant in the early years of Heathcote Hospital.

Darbyshire’s artwork often draws on the social and environmental history of place. She has an ongoing interest in coastal and river settings and has created exhibitions that refer to underwater landscapes, frozen lakes, sacred and colonial wells. She is based in Fremantle, Western Australia, and studied Fine Arts at Curtin University (1981), at Canberra School of Art (1991), and completed a Masters in Cultural Heritage from Curtin University in 2003. Darbyshire exhibits regularly, and is represented by the Art Collective WA.

TILT is curated by Heathcote Museum & Gallery curator Jana Braddock. For Braddock, the art exhibition is an important opportunity to reflect on the position of mental health issues in society. She expressed that: 

“We are incredibly lucky to live in a time of ‘Are you OK day’, Beyond Blue, World Mental Health Day and many more mental health awareness initiatives, but we must remember that past generations were not so fortunate and although we have come a long way, this journey is by no means complete.”

Tales of the Surreal opens 6.00pm Friday, 29 November 2019 and runs through to Sunday, 19 January 2020.

For more information, visit 

Heathcote Cultural Precinct, 58 Duncraig Rd, Applecross 6153

Opening hours: Tue – Fri 10-3pm, Sat – Sun 12-4pm

Ph: 08 9364 5666  

Image credit: Jo Darbyshire, The Nurse Sat With Me Silently, 2019, found mannequin, textile, horse hair. Photo by Eva Fernandez.
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