Jo Darbyshire explores mental health history in ‘Tales of the Surreal’

Tales of the Surreal is a solo exhibition by Jo Darbyshire about the history of mental health, a response to Heathcote Hospital site and investigating the archives of the oral history collection from Heathcote Hospital which existed on the gallery site from 1928 until 1994.

Jo presents a body of work, installation, sculptural works and paintings, taking a surrealist approach, exploring some of the visual strategies used by the Surrealists and their ideas about madness and the erotic.

Surrealism officially began with Dadaist writer André Breton’s 1924 Surrealist manifesto. An artistic movement inspired by Sigmund Freud’s theories of dreams and the unconscious, who believed insanity was the breaking of the chains of logic. The Surrealists represented this idea in their art by creating imagery that was impossible in reality, juxtaposing unlikely forms onto unimaginable landscapes. The movement formed as early as 1917 inspired by the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, who captured street scenes with a hallucinatory quality.

‘Tales of the Surreal ‘ produced in residency at Heathcote as part of the annual TILT site-specific programme, the exhibition is the result of Darbyshire’s extensive historical research into the stories and artefacts of the former mental health institution.

Each year an artist is invited to respond to the unique history and landscape with the many-layered histories of Point Heathcote / Kooyagordup-Gulugatup by creating a new body of work. The Tilt annual exhibition schedule enables and supports local art practice, inquiry and arts practitioners. Providing artists with an opportunity to bring a range of ideas and practice to new audiences while engaging with a heritage site.

Jo explores some of the strategies used by the Surrealists, poetry and the use of found objects in artworks and delves into stories by past staff and patients from the Oral Histories collection of the former Heathcote Mental Reception Home in Applecross which is now a heritage-listed public space.



Within the exhibition, is a reference from the archives of a relationship between two women with a tragic ending. The event occurred in 1940 when homosexuality was considered mentally unbalanced, a perversion. The language used by the doctor during the investigation and by the account written in the newspaper The Mirror; is telling of the time before the modern movement of equality for the LGBTIQ people started. Describes as “her pal” rather than a partner or lover, and the event described as “a moment of insane sex perversion”.

Make the effort to go and view the exhibition before the work disappears into the void, it is an alluring body of work.

Visit this Sunday the 19th January 2020 from 1pm to hear Jo’s artist talk and join in with the closing celebration. The installation room filled with thousands of feathers collected from over 100 people around Australia will be taken down and given away to those present.

Tales of the Surreal runs until Sunday 19th January at Heathcote Cultural Precinct. Tickets and more information available from

Guy Gomeze

Image:- Daniel Grant (Detail of Light as a Feather by Jo Darbyshire)

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