from the curators

Exhibition open to the public on
Fridays 2-7pm,
Saturdays 9am-noon
18th May - 6th July 2002
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Keppel Street,
London WC1E 7HT







Statement from the curators
Tony Fletcher and Pam Skelton

Why Hygiene?

Over the last three years we have been collaborating on an exhibition programme at the School. We work respectively at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, and have both been interested in what can come out of the “science-art” interaction. So far this collaboration has resulted in two student exhibitions ‘Foreign Bodies’ and ‘Foreign Bodies 2001’ held respectively in 2000 and 2001 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the selection of contemporary art commissions. These two shows both followed the pattern of introducing the artists to the diversity of work in the School, introducing them to some School researchers and encouraging them to prepare site specific work in response to their encounters. This they did with an impressive creativity and variety, reflecting their divergent interests. For the next show we decided to focus on a theme: “Hygiene”.

Hygiene has the appeal of being a word with many different meanings to specialist and lay person alike, and it is also perhaps a bit of an anachronism: for many it recalls a nineteenth century and early twentieth view of public health and health promotion. Indeed, because of the way the currency of the word has evolved the School was, last year, reflecting on whether to drop Hygiene from its name in favour of a more modern rebranding. The overwhelming view was to retain the name, familiar to so many. We are very happy about this, as there is a parallel between how the “Hygiene” in The School of Hygiene represents a diversity of academic practice and the diversity of readings suggested by the work of the artists in this show.

Hygiene has been associated through the ages with regulating procedures and practices concerned with cleanliness, purity, contamination and dirt. To the Ancient Greeks, balance and moderation in all things was hygienic and conducive to good health, and thus placated the Goddess Hygieia, (who mounted on her chariot provides the logo for the School). To the Sanitarians of the Nineteenth Century, hygiene of body and mind protected from the physical and moral filth that threatened to engulf industrialising Britain. To the founders of the LSHTM, hygiene was the science of public health, the key weapon to prevent infectious diseases that still killed so many at home and abroad. In the worst sense, the word hygiene has in the twentieth century been associated with eugenics and social Darwinism. Today's scientists understand hygiene as the set of practices that prevent infection, while today's consumers buy 'hygiene' products for reasons more connected to status, convenience and aesthetics than fear of infection.

Building the show

The work in this show explores the ambiguities surrounding the meanings of hygiene. This extends beyond personal bodily cleanliness, disease prevention, sewerage systems and other elements of Public Health, to racial hygiene and more generally to cultural desires and taboos, which can underpin notions of disgust, abjection and obsession. Thus “hygiene” touches us in many ways, some, but not all reassuring. We were reminded that a School of Hygiene is sensitive to the boundaries between what is “hygienic” (or unhygienic). Some images that refer in visual terms to that boundary might offend, and we have had interesting discussions with the artists about irony, censorship and cultural sensitivity. These tensions are reflected in some of the works. LSHTM is after all a working building, concerned with promoting good hygiene practice.

The artists we invited were those whose work we knew touched, however tangentially, on one or other of these readings of “hygiene”. In most cases they created new work especially for this site, responding to the context in terms of architecture, the work history of the School and people working here. This exhibition programme is an unfolding dialogue. These artists are not “representing” the work of the School, neither do we think they are “mis-representing” it. Our intention is that people in the building for whom “Hygiene” is just familiar as part of the name of the School may be prompted to take something away by reflecting on the work of the show. Visitors to the School and these web pages may also learn something of what the School of Hygiene is up to.

The exhibition and catalogue

People who see the show and ask themselves “What has that piece got to do with hygiene?”, may find something to help that question on these web pages. We hope that people who see the web-site and get an impression of the exhibition, will be inspired to visit if they can. The exhibition is designed to inhabit this building, which provides an unusual context to view and consider the sculptures, paintings, films, photographs and installations. The Art Deco architecture, the imposing white façade and somewhat austere interior, provide a superb framework for these works, so we would encourage those outside to make the effort to get to see the show if they can.

The vision of the show benefited from others’ ideas and comments both inside and outside the School and in particular we are grateful for the insightful contributions and suggestions of: Val Curtis (LSHTM), Polly Gould (CSM), Kelly Loughlin (LSHTM) and Shaheen Merali (CSM).

Tony Fletcher & Pam Skelton
May 2002

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