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Francesc Tosquelles. Like a Sewing Machine in a Wheat Field

Exhibition, debate and film screening
April 8 to August 28, 2022 / Opening April 8, 19h
Montalegre, 5
08001 Barcelona

The exhibition takes a look at the avant-garde practices that the psychiatrist Francesc Tosquelles carried out in the therapeutic, political and cultural field. Tosquelles transformed psychiatric institutions during the Republic and in fascist Europe. Today, he is an inspiration when addressing mental health policies in times of extreme crisis.


“Madness is inherent in the human condition” Francesc Tosquelles


Francesc Tosquelles. Like a Sewing Machine in a Field of Wheathighlights the figure, the work, and twho revolutionizedhe political and artistic environment of a psychiatrist the medical practices of his time and passed on an innovative and surprising cultural legacy that is unknown to most. Francesc Tosquelles set out to address the social root of mental illness and transform the psychiatric institution.


Francesc Tosquelles (Reus, 1912–Granges-sur-Lot, 1994) trained in the political and cultural experience of the Commonwealth of Catalonia and the Republic. After fighting on the Aragon Front and in Extremadura during the Spanish Civil War, he had to go into exile in France in 1939. At the Septfonds concentration camp and, above all, in the psychiatric hospital at Saint-Alban (France), Tosquelles revolutionized the functioning of the psychiatric centre with a practice that linked politics, clinical experimentation and culture.


The sanatorium at Saint-Alban became a haven for avantgarde artists, who lived alongside inpatients, peasants, nuns, doctors and nurses. Tosquelles opened up the psychiatric hospital to many different artistic practices, fostering the social ties of the inpatients and humanizing the lives of thousands. He was a pioneer in introducing tasks of self-management, commissions, and inpatient clubs; training for caregivers; theatre, film and writing experiment; the creation of mural periodicals and internal newspapers; and the introduction of printing and occupational therapy workshops.


The exhibition invites visitors to walk chronologically through the life and work of Tosquelles. The psychiatrist’s oral testimony accompanies visitors as he talks about the topics that interested him: the peasantry, Stalin, the fear that madmen arouse in psychiatrists, and many others. The exhibition features an extensive selection of previously unshown films, historical and documentary materials, surrealist avant-garde works and objects produced by patients at Saint-Alban Hospital, on loan from the Lausanne Art Brut Collection and other private collections.


Paul Éluard, Gérard Vulliamy, Tristan Tzara, Joan Miró, Antonin Artaud, Henri Michaux, Brassaï and Léon Schwarz-Abrys are some of the artists present in the exhibition, which also includes contemporary works and newly created projects, such as a film by Mireia Sallarès and interactive installations and pieces by Alejandra Riera, Roger Bernat, Angela Melitopoulos, Maurizio Lazzarato and Perejaume.


This project is the result of a research process developed by art critic, teacher and researcher Carles Guerra, and research led by literary critic Joana Masó (ADHUC-Universitat de Barcelona), which was financed by the Mir-Puig Foundation and produced the publication Tosquelles. Curar les institucions (Arcàdia), awarded the Ciutat de Barcelona Essay, Humanities and History Prize 2021.


The exhibition will be presented in adapted versions at Les Abattoirs. Musée FRAC Occitanie, Toulouse (until 6 March 2022); the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (8 April–28 August 2022); the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (27 September 2022–end March 2023), and the American Folk Art Museum in New York (April–October 2023).



April 8, 2022 / DEBATE Tosquelles: thinking with the feet, with Angela Melitopoulos, Perejaume, Sandra Álvarez de Toledo in conversation with Carles Guerra.

April 9, 2022 / FILM SCREENING AND DISCUSSION Potential history of Francesc Tosquelles, by Mireia Sallarès, with Joana Masó, Éric Fassin, Veronika Arauzo, and Marta Duran.


Carles Guerra,
Joana Masó
In collaboration with
Fundació Antoni Tàpies;
Fundació Privada MIIR-PUIG;
ADHUC-Teoria, Gènere, Sexualitat & Càtedra UNESCO Dones / Universitat de Barcelona;
Grup de Recerca Consolidat Creació i pensament de les dones (2021 SGR 01097);
Collection de l'Art Brut de Laussane;
Céntre nationale du cinéma et de l'image animée;
Hospital universitari Institut Pere Mata