WRITER: MEG NEARY
CONTACT: BECKY SOGLIN
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-6660; fax (319) 335-8034
Release: Dec. 22, 2000
UI Medical Museum 'Diagnostik' exhibit reflects early
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A new exhibit at the University of
Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Medical Museum captures the essence of early psychiatric
treatment and research in a way that begs for a second look.
The exhibit, titled "Diagnostik," examines psychiatric
care in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Visual artist Marguerite Perret
and exhibition designer Bruce Scherting, exhibit developer for the UI Natural
History Museum, used a combination of museum artifacts, photographs and textual
materials to create the intriguing display.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
little was known about mental illness. However, the Iowa State Psychopathic
Hospital, founded in 1920 in a section of the original UI Hospital, turned
its focus away from the custodial asylum and toward research, treatment and
prevention of mental illness.
Mental health professionals at the hospital were progressive
in treating mental illness. For one, they did not label their patients as
"insane," but rather "affected with abnormal mental conditions." This allowed
the mentally ill to receive treatment without losing their civil rights.
"I hoped that through the use of primary materials, such
as the 1920s admissions logbooks from the Iowa State Psychopathic Hospital,
literary sources and archived photographs, the viewer would identify with
the patients and empathize with their experiences," Perret said. "I hoped
to show that they are just like our friends and family
they are us."
The exhibit includes museum artifacts such as an early
straight jacket and electro-shock therapy device, as well as original artwork
by Perret based on the Rorschach inkblot test -- a tool used to measure patients'
feelings and interpretations by having them respond to ambiguous images. In
one series of digital images, patients and health care staff from the Iowa
State Psychopathic Hospital are revealed or obscured by inkblots.
"The Rorschach inkblot test was published in 1921, the
same year the Iowa Psychopathic Hospital moved into a new facility on the
west side of the Iowa River," Perret said. "I drew these two seemingly unrelated
events together to emphasize the focus on scientific applications in treating
The display also includes a continuously playing slide
show containing personal accounts of mental illness, historical quotes, photographs
of mental health facilities in Iowa and listings from admissions logbooks
from the Iowa State Psychopathic Hospital. Some of the artwork also uses light
boxes; other pieces make use of the mandala (Sanskrit for circle), which Swiss
psychiatrist Carl Jung used in drawing therapy for patients.
"Any opportunity where the museum can focus on mental
health is so important," said Adrienne Drapkin, director of the Medical Museum.
"And this exhibition presents such a unique perspective images that
are aesthetically lovely juxtaposed with the prejudices and ignorance of the
past. The slide show is especially poignant."
Perret holds a master's of fine arts degree from Southern
Illinois University. She has exhibited nationally, works part-time at the
UI Libraries and is a freelance art critic. She is interested in how people
with mental illness are treated by the medical community and by society.