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Roving Diagnostic Unit

Daily Life Ltd. project

25 July 2015
Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, London

13 October 2016
William Morris Gallery, London

In their role as custodians of our heritage and culture, museums and galleries categorise, define, and label their contents. Roving Diagnostic Unit critiqued modern psychiatric diagnosis, which seeks to do the same things with ‘patients’; people experiencing mental distress. In doing so, the project exposed some of the absurdities of the mental health system, while highlighting the strengths and talents of people who have been 'diagnosed'. 

Led by ‘Dr Bobby’ (Bobby Baker), the Roving Diagnostic Unit had two iterations. The first was at Tower Hamlets Cemetary Park commissioned for Shuffle Festival in 2015. The second was a year later, at William Morris Gallery and park. For both, Baker invited contributions from other artists and fellow Experts by Experience of the mental health system.

For Shuffle Festival, participants were invited by Baker to consider the predicaments of the everyday objects in the park – did the litter-bin suffer hoarding symptoms? Perhaps the pond was delusional? The bench by the path seemed uneasy: social anxiety disorder? The event featured contributions by writer-performer-artist sean burn, artist Simon Raven, and singer-songwriter Dylan Tighe.

At the William Morris Gallery, pertinent questions were again asked in order to ‘diagnose’ the Gallery and its surrounding park, with artists commissioned to create participatory adventures for the public. Questions asked included, does the gift shop display hoarding symptoms? Perhaps the textile collection has family problems: generalised anxiety disorders? Are the toilets experiencing grandiose delusions? The artists involved alongside Baker were Rhiannon Armstrong, Sara Haq, Marie Louise Plum, Kate Rolison, Selina Thompson, whatsthebigmistry; singer-songwriter Dylan Tighe; and writer-performer-artist sean burn. 

By exploring the psychiatric diagnostic framework through an artistic and witty lens, Roving Diagnostic Framework questioned the assumption that our state of mind can be defined by an ‘expert’ and that people can be conveniently labelled as disordered. 

The Roving Diagnostic Unit at the William Morris Gallery was supported by Wellcome, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and London Borough of Waltham Forest.

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