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The Changing Face of What Is Normal: Mental Health


The Changing Face of What Is Normal: Mental Health


A Temporary Exhibition on View in the West Gallery through Summer 2014    

Does what is normal change with time? How do we define, categorize, and treat those we decide are not normal? What’s normal can depend on when you were born, where you live, or the language you speak. Normal can be a highly personal concept—and almost everyone, from certain perspectives, can be seen as normal . . . or abnormal.

The Changing Face of What Is Normal: Mental Health is the first major temporary exhibition in the Exploratorium’s new West Gallery, which focuses on human thought, behavior, and social interaction. The exhibition’s collection of artworks and artifacts explore the notion that normality is a subjective, dynamic, socially driven idea. The exhibition offers visitors an opportunity to reflect on the idea of normal. Its artwork and artifacts highlight several key elements in our societal discussion of mental illness. It is not a comprehensive overview of the science or sociology of mental health, and doesn’t critique any therapeutic position or approach.

The exhibition’s intellectual core focuses on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM. Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals use this reference to diagnose patients. The exhibition’s heart lives in the belongings of past residents of Willard Psychiatric Center, a New York state mental facility. These prosaic items were discovered in a facility attic when the institution closed in 1995. A third component, Restraint, lets visitors explore and comment on the many ways that our thoughts and behaviors are restricted, by society or by ourselves. The exhibition features poetry by psychiatrist Karen L. Miller and images by photographer Jon Crispin.

The Changing Face of What Is Normal: Mental Health will be on display until spring 2014. A second phase of the exhibition, focusing on social behavior, will open in fall 2014.

We gratefully acknowledge the collaboration of the New York State Museum in the creation of this installation.