Natasha Lushetich

TALKS

CHEWING GUM

With its beautiful gardens, highly aesthetised yet functional architecture, enviable facilities, and the exceptionally rich occupational content, Bethlem Royal Hospital is the epitome of applied (‘ethical’) aesthetics in spatial, performative and relational terms. The politics of egalitarianism and the respect for differential presence are inscribed in all hospital regulations, daily routines, and the individually tailored approach to psychiatric care. And yet, this (utopian) construct is corroded by greasy fingerprints on the glass that separates nursing stations from wards, which, despite regular cleaning, act as a reminder of the time spent waiting for help or attention, by ubiquitous coffee stains which are a visible reminder of the patients’ impaired functions caused by the medication they are taking, by coagulated chewing gum on walls, in plant pots, under tables and under chairs, by the cuts in armchairs and sofas and the bruises on patients’ faces, necks and arms, which are the remnants of the more violent attacks.

Combining Nagatomo’s notion of the body as an actional-humoural process inseparable from the environment, Kristeva’s abjectness as sub-/ob-ject-ness in exile, and Rozin’s theory of core disgust – this paper queries the relationship between applied aesthetics, politicised sociality, and (covert) stigmatisation. It argues that stigmatisation occurs behind the scenes, in looped somaesthetic processes as a byproduct of sensorial, behavioural and environmental ugliness. In acknowledging this paradox, the paper articulates the relationship between the (vulnerable) somatic body and the vulnerability of the neoliberal institutions of care.

→ Somaesthetics of Vulnerability