Susan Adams and I share deep interest in inner and outer worlds: the intersections between the visible world and the realm of imagination. In searching for a collaborative project in which we could explore these concerns further, we were drawn to the former Mid Wales Hospital, Talgarth, Powys, Wales.

After more than a century, its physical remains are falling into the final stages of dissolution, but it remains a site of intense and complex emotional resonance for many different communities and groups. Entering imaginatively into the site and the hidden stories it suggests, we will invite the voices of people who have experienced mental health issues there or do so currently in the community. Culminating in co-produced arts events/installations, we will form new narratives in creative ways before both site and memories are lost to us.

Our project will touch on important but sensitive issues and themes, and we are aware of the need for both courage and delicacy.  We are encouraged by the partners we already have and those we hope to have. We will work together with every-one involved to follow the project through with care. This blog will chart some of the processes, relationships, discussions and artworks arising through the project , but in the next post we will first say something about ourselves and what has led us to consider what constitutes A Private Land.


Gary Snyder writes of art and performance in relation to ideas of gift exchange (Back on the Fire 2007) and to me this captures the spirit of our Art Lab. This first image shows jam, made by Eve Thomas from blackberries harvested in the grounds of the old Mid-Wales Hospital, and given freely to people who came along. She also made jam-filled cakes, shared at the evening events, gave a wonderful reading of her own and other’s poetry, and spoke about the art processes behind some of the work she undertook during the project. Click here to read what she said and see some of her photos. And see her instagram post to read about what the project meant to her.

Here’s another of her works, inspired by human and natural ephemera found on the site.

It was hard to stop people giving their time and energy freely. As well as slides, weaving and thaumatropes incorporated in co-produced works, there were animations and free-standing sculptural pieces made during the course of the project accompanied by poetry and writings. Click here for an example, and to read one participant’s experience of the project. And click here for more poetry and animation).

Visitors added artworks through the drop in sessions and took videos which have been shared on A Private Land facebook pages.

Thanks to the warm and welcoming atmosphere at The Muse, people participated to the full at whatever level felt right to them. Some  of the 155 visitors stayed for the majority of both days, looking, engaging, chatting, having a cuppa and simply relaxing. 40 visitors gave written feedback, and many more commented verbally. People came mainly from a 30 mile radius, but also from Bristol, Cambridge, London, Newport, Cardiff, Hereford and the Midlands. Most moving was the way people came especially to share their stories and memories – of their own or loved one’s experiences of care at the old Mid-Wales Hospital and elsewhere.

The gift exchange continued with photographer Barry Hill’s donation of photographs he took of the old site in 2010, which were much admired and prompted many conversations. Powys Archives and Talgarth Museum have both benefitted from Barry’s generosity and his photos will now be available to the public through them.

Angela Morton was a poet who wrote partly of her experiences of mental illness, including time spent as an inpatient at the Mid Wales Hospital. Her daughter, Becky was going to read  from Angela’s collection the holding ground, (the collective press 2002) at the Art Lab but our dates coincided with a trip away, so she liaised with close friend and colleague, poet Graham Hartill, who read for her, shared his own memories of Angela and reflected on her poems.

The evening event proved to be the heart of the project, but the group discussion on Sunday gave us new insights into archiving, attitudes to historic records and artifacts, from casual disregard to intensely protective. About 25 people came along, including Brecon and District Mind members, Stella Man and Cerys from Glenside Hospital Museum, Psychotherapists, curators, historians, artists, participatory arts workers, a psychoanalyst and doctor. We scheduled the discussion for one hour, but the buzz and continued conversations afterwards showed us how much more there was to say.

Here’s just a little of the feedback we received about A Private Land and the Art Lab:

‘I feel a deep resonance between the works here and my own lived experience as someone impacted by mental health issues. Privacy, emotional intelligence, confidence and self expression explored and shared here in a nurturing space has been profoundly affecting. Thank you for this unique experience facilitating the unfurling of much of my vulnerability.’

‘LOVE this so much – the art feels really alive and so many different elements. Immersive, intriguing and fascinating reaction and response to a place – its’ history, stories and its’ demise. The way the artists have involved others in the creative process including at the exhibition itself is great – the slide making is a huge hit with my son! Thanks.’

‘An emotive exhibition which captured the negative and supportive lifestyle of people in the hospital.’

‘Evoked so many memories of people we have known and loved.’

‘We really enjoyed this show and loved the way it had interactive parts! Wonderful! Hauntingly Beautiful with a dose of playful innocense. Loved it! ‘

‘Thank you so much for the experience and the opportunities brought by this event. Words are not enough.’

‘A Private Land’ stretched my thinking, so many threads spinning on conversations had and no had. Thank you.’




This post is mainly about my own arts process intermingled with co-produced pieces, as shown in A Private Land Art Lab. Take a look at Susan Adams for the work she developed.

Although I no longer work as an art therapist, the underpinning theoretical frameworks from art psychotherapy and systemic psychotherapy, and the learning from the people I’ve worked for and with over the years still run deep in my art practice.

During this project, core questions for me have been: where do we – as an individual or as a group feel others position us? Do we agree, comply with or rebel against that positioning? Where do we position ourselves in relation to others, and what are the pressures that inform that position, perpetuate it or allow it to be changed? These ideas ripple through the work I’ve been doing, sometimes covert and at other times coming obviously to the forefront.

The artworks arising from these questions have coalesced into related but discrete bodies of work: sculptural forms in the shape of hides, shelters or traps: images of patients, drawn from the archives (1900-1923) and a video that charts something of my personal journey through the project.

All these works are a kind of mapping of outer and inner journey and experience, formed through walking, drawing, mapping, marking, performing: observing where I feel myself positioned in relation to geographical, societal and relational pressures. Am (are) I (we) where I (we) want to be? In our final events I hoped that  the artworks might communicate something of this and invite a kind of parallel experience.

So I was delighted when visitors to our Art Lab temporarily inhabited and animated my shelters last weekend. Some people found them spiky and felt off-balance whilst others found them comforting, reminding them of making nests in bushes as children. Other associations to them include human weaver birds, personal observation domes, non-waterproof deep-sea divers’ helmets. One person made a direct allusion to clinical / mental health issues when he said that his was a voluntary admission, but that he wouldn’t be staying long.

Made mainly from nettles, brambles, briars – plants that are slowly taking over the grounds of the former Mid-Wales Hospital, Talgarth – the shelters are patched with weavings done in workshops with members of Brecon and District Mind.

Another strand of work arose from the visit to Powys Archives, described in a previous post (12th May 2023)

It was an astounding experience to spend a day viewing the hospital records and reading accounts of people admitted between 1900 and 1923: where they came from, what kind of crisis led to admission and what became of them. Most extraordinary of all was to see photographs taken on admission, which spoke so vividly of their life experiences and emotions at the instant the photo was taken.

We were not permitted to share names or identifiable information, but it seemed important to honour their memory in the in the best way we could, through our artworks.

Many of the original photos had distortions introduced as part of the speedy photographic processing that makes them so lively. I tried to give a feel of this by drawing on photographic paper, then pouring water on them. To emulate the original records and the system they represented I used recycled manilla folders with redacted details of previous contents.

Over 75 drawings were supported by a structure, with a centre piece showing video of 130 slides made in workshops with members of Brecon and District Mind and Felindre Ward at Bronllys Hospital.

You can read more about how the slides were made in a precious post

They could also be handled and seen in slide viewers of different kinds and visitors could make their own to add to the collection.

A version of the Slides video can be seen at:

Thanks to PeakCymru, who lent us tablets to use throughout the project, the slides were also shown on a tablet (lower) alongside a series of photographs by Eve Thomas (middle) and an anonymous account from some-one who had memories and experiences of a short time in the the old Mid Wales Hospital (upper).

There were so many strands to our project, and it prompted so many visual responses in me. I had a wealth of images and ideas, that all grew out of the experiences we shared together, but sometimes the complexity was baffling. How did all the diverse elements connect? The second mentoring session with  Mel Brimfield was key in helping me find a way through this dilemma, and I started to put sequences of imagery and video together in Final Cut.

Eventually this became a 30 minute sequence with 6 chapters reflecting my own personal experiences through the project and something of how I chose to position myself in relation to its complexity and multiple challenges. Huge thanks to Lyndon Davies, for his soundpiece, amplifying and carrying the narrative. To see and hear a tiny clip, click here.

Lots more about the participant’s contributions can be seen on the A Private Land / Tir Diarffordd FaceBook page.


Participants at the workshops at Brecon & District Mind told us about a tiny but packed museum in the Old Post Office in Talgarth which they thought would have artifacts relating to A Private Land. So we made a visit and were surprised and delighted to objects, images, artworks and records from the Mid-Wales Hospital, donated by the community.

Whilst we were there we met people with fascinating tales to tell, many of whom had long standing connections with the town and the old hospital, but some who happened to be visiting. One chance encounter was with Dr Jacqueline Hopson who told us about her own experiences of and interrogation of issues relating to our project. Later she sent us a link to her recent publication ‘Stigma and Fear: The ‘Psy Professional’ in Cultural Artifacts’ which ‘explores ways in which the fear of madness, and the stigma which clings to sufferers and their professional carers, is perpetuated by a constant stream of popular cultural artifacts.’ 

Tony James at Talgarth Museum lent us books containing early annual reports from the ‘Brecon and Radnor Asylum’ as it was then called. He encouraged us to participate in Talgarth Festival and offered to lend items from the museum and request loan of archives in private hands to share with the public there.

We had been planning a walk and talk sharing event in Talgarth, so adjusting our plans to have a Festival stall at August Bank Holiday meant we were much more likely to meet a wide range of people – to let them know about our project and as another way of hearing memories and stories. We thought a lot about the kind of art activities to offer and wondered if we could manage to make 1000 flowers together.

Making flowers was intended as a tribute to all who lived, worked and died at the former mid-Wales hospital, but flowers, memory and forgetting have also been a strong theme through our project’s community workshops over the summer and reflect the importance of nature and community gardens such as those in Talgarth for our sense of well being. Susan and I were also aware that there was a link to past flower-making and procession in Occupational Therapy at the old Hospital (Purcell, Up Top 2018) but at our stall, people could make their own associations and engage at whatever level of meaning felt right to them. A special part of our day was meeting so many people who told us of their experiences there, how they feel about the site now and what they would like to see become of it.

Thanks to Tony and all at Talgarth Museum we were able to display some of the very few objects rescued from the old hospital. Many of our visitors were particularly intrigued by the paybooks, showing the tradesmen employed at the beginning of the 20th century and how much they were paid. Visitors recounted memories of family members who worked at or were admitted to the hospital, and told of how staff kept working through snowstorms, power cuts and the energy rationing of the Three Day Week of 1974. One person lookinmg at the paybooks was struck by the recurrence of Talgarth family names still familiar today, such as Bullock, Bridewell, Skyrne. Tony explained why all the stamps were in the records – signing on the king’s head on the stamps was a way of certifying or legalising the payment.

By the end of the day we’d made about 150 flowers and a group of us set off with them on a short walk up to the old hospital site. Starting in sun, we were soon drenched in torrential rain but at the gates we paused to read a poem from Angela Morton’s collection ‘the holding ground’ (the collective press, 2002). Angela had spent some time in the hospital as a patient, and ‘A visitation on the path’ was chosen for us by her daughter Becky because it spoke of hope and recuperation. The path through the hospital grounds is a private road through private land, and although people often do walk through, we had formally sought permission to do so as our walk was organised as part of the Festival. Permission was denied by the owners so the walk route was planned to the gates and back, but some people chose to leave the official walk and return via the hospital grounds.

This moment of pausing, discussion and decision-making enacted many of the dilemmas we have encountered in our project in relation to the nature of a collaborative project and how we respond to physical and psychological fences – and played out issues that impact on the local community everyday.


In the last couple of months our project has moved into a phase of intense activity with our project partners – and especially with Brecon and District Mind.

The first step in planning a series of workshops was to meet people in the Brecon, Hay and Talgarth Mind groups, to introduce ourselves and the project, to hear people’s ideas about it and what would be of interest to them. Some people wanted to share memories of their own or things they had heard about what it was like to be living in the old hospital. For other people, the site was simply a place they passed on their regular walks in the area while interestingly, some younger people were fascinated by it as a place that fired their imaginations. For still others, just the mention of the institution was disturbing and unwelcome.

We learnt about what helps people feel safe and relaxed in the here and now. For example, the positive impact of nature, perhaps through growing and tending plants or simply being in natural environments. Games and puzzles were important to some people, as a way of relaxing in company during Mind meetings, and we were happy to join in. All our encounters and conversations helped us devise our workshop plans.

Weaving with foraged plants. Nettles and brambles are taking over the grounds of the former Hospital. Usually they are seen as weeds that should be eradicated, but they have all sorts of benefits. They protect new tree seedlings and provide shelter for wildlife – and in the past they have been prized for their medicinal properties and as material for making baskets, weaving and cloth as well as a plentiful free source of blackberries. In previous times, fabric made from nettles was more valued than linen. And of course nettles and briars run through many of our myths and legends as having magical properties, and even as marking entrances to other lands…

Making a Thaumatrope. Through the ages, games and pastimes have brought people together, creating a space for both remembering and forgetting. We made thaumatropes – an optical toy that was popular in the early 19th century. “Thauma” is from the Greek “wonder” and “tropos” means to turn. Basically, a round disk is spun fast with a different image on either side and persistence of vision gives the illusion that they are parts of the same image. “A Private Land” has been a project about what is hidden and what is revealed, what is an illusion and what is true. The uncanny feeling of seeing something that isn’t there was echoed by using inkblots on one side along with monotype on the other. The thaumatropes offer a way of integrating seemingly irreconcilable points of view perhaps?

Making slides for viewing and projection, using flowers. Flowers have so many associations for people and planting or pressing them has long been a way of preserving memories. We used slide mounts to press them, which allows them to be seen in a viewer or projected large-scale. And of course the slide mounts and viewers themselves reminded some people of older ways of capturing a moment in time and the experience of being in a darkened room, watching slide projections.

Animation. We made simple stop frame animations using photos, drawing and natural objects. Some of the imagery was drawn from the old hospital site, but people brought their own ideas too. The animations were another way of combining different elements and bringing them to life in a shared space.

Painting, gilding and binding objects. Using materials gathered on walks in the hills and by the river, we experimented with painting with sticks, gilding and binding. Painting on a stone or object can amplify something of its particular properties and at the same time can suggest something quite different – water perhaps.  Binding – keeping something held in place – could be seen as protective or restrictive. Susan told us that on a recent trip to Japan she learnt that one meaning of the bound stones seen there is ‘Keep Out’. Gilding something can be a way of showing how much it is valued, or a way of hiding something less prized under a bright surface. Or it can be an unnecessary ornamentation of something already beautiful in itself.

In all our activities there was chance to hear more about the old hospital – things that we had not come across in books or the Powys archives. For example, we were told about artworks and videos made by and about people at the hospital and were given clues as to how these might be tracked down. Some people remembered good things about being there, or visiting others – such as how beautiful the grounds used to be. One person remembered witnessing something that should not have happened – and although a complaint was made, action was not taken to put it right for several years. We heard what people would like to see on the site now: one person said ‘I just want to see it full of life again’.

We’ve only been able to offer a few workshops and a number of people said they’d have loved more time, so we’ve been giving activity packs and a range of materials for those who want to develop the work more. It has been fabulous to see how participants come up with ideas we’d not have thought of, including how to extend the work and ways of sharing with the public in September. We’ve started to feel that the exhibition and events really will be co-produced.

We are so grateful to Mind members and Team members for their warm welcome and the energy they have brought to the project. It was Marie Davies, CEO at B&D Mind, who was instrumental in us deciding to go ahead with the project despite the sensitivity of the topic. Her reflective but positive approach, and the assurance that together we could support every-one involved gave us confidence to go ahead.

More information, photos and postings about forthcoming events can be seen at A Private Land Facebook page. If you have a link to the Mid Wales Hospital, feel free to post on that site too.