The exhibition Francesc Tosquelles. Like a Sewing Machine in a Wheat Field retrieves the history of psychiatrist Francesc Tosquelles (Reus 1912 – Granges-sur-Lot, 1994), who was exiled to France from 1939 onwards. At the Institut Pere Mata in Reus, the concentration camp of Septfonds and, primarily, the Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole Psychiatric Hospital in France, Tosquelles would develop a radically innovative practice linking clinical practice to politics and culture. Therefore, under the Spanish Republic and fascist Europe he tackled the social root of mental illness, transforming the psychiatric institution through humanisation.
The title of the exhibition refers to one of Lautréamont’s phrases, a source of inspiration for Surrealists in the defence of the randomness of beauty: “As beautiful as the chance meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissection table”. With the expression: “Like a sewing machine on a wheat field”, Francesc Tosquelles, who drew upon writing, art and theatre as a basic instrument of therapy, synthesised his conception of psychiatry as the meeting of seemingly alien realities, bound to the land, the world of collective work, imaginative exploits and nature: the wheat field.
In Saint-Alban, avant-garde artists such as Paul Éluard and Tristan Tzara lived with residents and workers, questioning the traditional division between normality and pathology, opening the doors of the institution and advocating social bonds. Consequently, Tosquelles initiated a fertile field of activity which engendered the birth of Art Brut, as well as creating a space of inclusion in which “normal” and “marginal” people — the sick or, like Tosquelles, the exiled — find a common territory.
The show surveys Tosquelles’s biographical arc and his political, cultural and professional context by way of documents, photographs and recordings which expound his conception of psychiatric practice. Moreover, it displays pieces created by artists and mental patients from the Saint-Alban Hospital which are part of the Collection de l’Art Brut, in Lausanne, and other private collections, and with which Jean Dubuffet and other artists developed an art that was freed from the constraints of reason and formal education.