Mental health nursing team collaborates with artist Alban Low to promote awareness into this often hidden world.

Alban Low

Artist: Alban Low ▪ Photographer: Bill Mudge


Earlier this month Alban Low exhibited his most recent artwork from his time on the simulated mental health ward at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London.  The exhibition called ‘What’s real is home’ included over 30 sketches displayed for one night only at the Scene of the Crime House at Kingston University. Alban said, “This work enabled me to delve even deeper into the mental health labyrinth and it has increased my appreciation of the people who help guide others through its twists and turns”.

Karen Mawson, a graduate of the BSc in Mental Health Nursing, said “I was intrigued by what the artist would see and how he would interpret the simulations into art.  I was fascinated by his interpretations and loved them.  I think he captured the essence of the deep thought and caring that goes into Mental Health nursing.  I think the exhibition has great potential for raising awareness as it depicts ordinary people with ordinary feelings.  It has the potential to convey that people with mental health issues are just the same as everyone else, but sometimes they are unwell”.

This time last year Alban took his first tentative steps into the simulated mental health ward; “I was unprepared for the process and theatre that awaited me. Since then my artistic life has dovetailed with the course, actors and staff”. The sketches from last year formed a successful exhibition, a film which was screened at the BFI London, a loan of work to the Recovery exhibition at the Institute of Mental Health (Nottingham) and a series of articles online and in print.

In addition to sketching, Alban also recorded the dialogue between patients and nurses on the simulated ward. These recordings of the voices of the ‘patients’ inspired two short films that have been embraced by the international film circuit. Low used these monologues as a creative springboard to explore a whole range of mental health themes. One of the most powerful sound recordings was from ‘Sandra’ who is played by actor Lindsay Shepherd. It is Lindsay’s voice which appears alongside experimental jazz trio Toy Rokit on the film ‘Ping Pong Paranoia’. The film explores the ever increasing anxiety and claustrophobia felt by the paranoid patient ‘Sandra’ as she voices her concerns about being stuck on the ward. ‘Ping Pong Paranoia’ was screened at the MORPHOS Immersive Video Dome Art festival in Los Angeles, USA. ‘What’s Real Is Home’ features the poetry of Robin Vaughan-Williams and premiered at the Filmpoem Festival (2014) in Antwerp, Belgium.

Alban low2

Artist: Alban Low ▪ Photographer: Bill Mudge


Alban said “It was both unnerving and exciting to be able to hang the exhibition at the Scene of the Crime House. It was one of those nights that seem very dark indeed”. Luckily, photographer Bill Mudge was on hand to capture some evocative images on his camera. See his full portfolio from the night here.

One part of the exhibition that brought a smile to everyone’s lips was the Train or Ward installation. This comprised of 48 vignettes that document one-sided conversations heard on trains from around the UK and within the Simulated Mental Health ward. Visitors to the exhibition were asked to guess where each conversation originated from Train or Ward?

The ‘Train or Ward’ instillation aims to break down the boundaries by taking Art out of the gallery and into public spaces but also by challenging attitudes towards Mental Health in the community. The ‘normal’ lines are blurred, it is impossible to detect whether a conversation has originated from the mental health ward or the local train. It is clear though that there is humour and pathos in abundance in both these environments.
Alban’s work has been an exciting development for mental health nursing. He has captured the experience of being in the simulated ward and has helped to promote the work of the mental health team.  Through his work, he has enabled others to take a peek into the mysterious and often hidden world of mental health without trivialising or demonising the experiences of those who experience these problems.
Alban returns to the mental health simulations in 2015 for the last time.
Further links: