The New Apothecary's Cabinets
Health and Well-being


‘The New Apothecary’s Cabinet’ is part of a sustained programme of research, ‘The Cultural Value of the Arts for Health & Well-Being’, which employs methods and processes across Art and Science, designed to test and transform perceptions of what it is to live well and be happy, raising public awareness and engagement, to stimulate sustainable, social and cultural debate and significant public dialogue. This research is linked to previous projects, including ‘Beyond the Gallery and into the Community’, 2014 in collaboration with the Silk Mill, Derby Museums & Galleries, to investigate the role of culture in improving health and well-being in the belief that museums and galleries can change lives as both spaces and places of effective, collaborative engagement as loci for the health and well-being agenda. Professor Alison Oddey, Professor Christine White and Dr. Heidi Sowter designed an innovative, scientific experiment, using clinical and biological science methodologies, to measure, assess and evaluate how reverie, meditation, contemplative thinking and reflection can contribute towards positive health and worthwhile life of the individual, in order to assess the cultural value of this activity with evidence-based practice. In our enhanced data study, ‘The Cultural Value of Art and the Consequent Immuno Boost’, 2015, we aimed to investigate if contemplating prescribed art works improved mood and boosted the immune system, as we had previous data that proved this as part of both contemplating artworks and making them.  As Laura Waters, the Head of AirArts, Derby Hospital Trust, UK (where ‘The Cultural Value of Art and the Consequent Immuno Boost’  was located), stated: ‘We know it works; we just can’t prove it with big data.’ Further to these research projects and the evidence-based practice of these scientific experiments, we confirmed that the contemplation of a cultural exhibit can improve mood and a sense of well-being; that the contemplation and meditation of an artwork in the museum and gallery can support positive health for the individual in the highly significant result of many user-participants receiving an immune system boost.

‘The New Apothecary’s Cabinet I’ is a devised art installation, which focuses on investigating how the individual can self-care as a part of their everyday life, embracing nature connections through the natural landscape, plants, flowers and mineral resources. Oddey’s work as a holistic health practitioner took the 1950s Gerrix kitchen cabinet as a starting point for experimentation, where the viewer is invited to explore and engage in the possibilities of self-help and self-care.  It serves as Nature’s medicine chest and Nature’s table; as a provocation to the individual towards a culture of prevention, so that it becomes ‘second nature’. It interrogates how an individual can boost their own immune system in relation to specific respiratory system problems, such as, the common cold, flu, throat infections, sinusitis, bronchitis, asthma, catarrh and chest infections. Through nature connections, stress can be relieved and mental health can be supported, particularly in terms of improving focus, concentration, calming the mind and lowering blood pressure.
‘Nature patiently waits and we have only to turn back to her to find relief from our suffering.’ Dr. Edward Bach.

Oddey’s research as practice of ‘The New Apothecary’s Cabinet I’, 2015 was developed further within the wider context of the impact of cultural activities on health and their contribution to eudemonic wellbeing.  Oddey creatively interrogates how to live well and be happy, based on the Foresight Project’s ‘Five Ways to Well-being’, an analysis by a panel of 400 scientists, which concluded that five steps incorporated into daily life can fortify mental health and can contribute to a more productive, fulfilling life, as well as a UK survey published by BUPA in 2015 that it is the simple things in life which make us smile.

‘The New Apothecary’s Cabinet II’- of Mind-Body-Spirit, is a devised, interactive art installation, the second in the series, which investigates what a new apothecary’s cabinet would be as a contemporary piece of furniture, created in collaboration with designer, Chris White and maker, Steve Smith, using machine-made systems, different types of materials and wood, reflecting old and new. The focus is on preventive health, self-care and creativity.  By incorporating the five simple steps into daily life to fortify mental health and to contribute to a more productive and fulfilling life, there are health gains within the sensory experiences of all 24 drawers contained in the cabinet, to enrich life, bring support, feel good, maintain mobility, appreciate what matters in life, feel satisfied with confidence boosted and the rewards of helping others to be happy within the community. The viewer is invited to be creative, to smile and laugh, to experience some feel-good moments in their day, in order to improve and maintain their health, to revive and restore their mind-body-spirit in smells, tastes, listening, touching and new ways of seeing.

‘The link between nature and wellbeing is multiple. At one level, it provides everything we need to live and so guarantees our survival.’
Aniol Esteban                                            

Esteban argues that the lack of connection with nature appears to be the underlying factor to explain depression and all sorts of mental related health issues. Nature contributes to our wellbeing aesthetically, recreationally and spiritually, delivering both physical and mental health benefits. There are societal benefits to connecting to nature, and not to have contact with nature, has health costs, both mental and physical.

Both physical and creative activities promote social interaction. The health gains from taking part in creative activities are well documented in publications such as the Foresight Project’s ‘Five Ways to Well-being’. Culture and leisure providers will need to work with the health sector to look at monitoring clinical outcomes to establish which interventions are the most successful in terms of improving and maintaining health. The delivery of good quality cultural and leisure services promotes a sense of community and common interest that combats social isolation; a key aspect for mental health and well-being. (‘Fair Society, Healthy Lives’, Marmot Review, February 2010)  Engaging in accessible, affordable cultural activity or contributing as a volunteer can play a major role in supporting independence, providing an opportunity for people to socialise, which is vitally important as loneliness can speed up cognitive decline and memory problems.