Bethlem Friday Focus – Cohedia

As part of our temporary weekly programme Under Construction, every Friday Bethlem Gallery present artists’ work through film & video screenings, conversations, resources and online projects.


Installation view of Cohedia: wish you were here, Xavier White, 2015

A few weeks ago we shared Xavier White’s film Cohedia: a mind expanding cityscape and hosted a live conversation with the artist on twitter. Have a watch of the film here anytime, and have a read through an expanded conversation below.


Cohedia: a mind expanding cityscape

11:53 Minutes

by Xavier White and read by Paul Hilton

Cohedia is a mind map, a jewel of an idea, polished with time and thought…. Take a mental stroll in its streets, buildings and vistas to appreciate the full ambience of the settlement… Thought and effort are put into making an atmosphere that is coherent and conducive to the development of the human spirit, enabling the brain connections that bring about cognition…



This is such a rich world you have created, what has informed it?

Cohedia was my answer to the Foundation Art Course question, ‘What are your interests and obsessions and how would you represent them?’

So my ‘interests and obsessions’ have informed it I suppose: Being that I had my near fatal head injury in 1985 just when I was the right age to approach a more formal art education. My vision was to design and make, to model scale, a city dealing with social, environmental aspects that were my concerns of modern living.

It has always been my aim to be a methodical worker / maker/craftsman, with a broad understanding of many different media and associated making skills.

The best way to learn and good learning is in the making, I think, but my kinaesthetic learning strengths were disrupted post head injury which meant doing was my new way of learning, like William Morris said;  ‘all art is practice’.

Living with the consequences of my head injury has put me outside the norm’s of society for a long time, head injury has that effect , where I have had to relearn basic skills, like walking and talking even now, all those years later, I get really tired and frustrated when having to learn new things, but art has also been a massive part of my rehabilitation.

Learning and the sharing of knowledge are valued highly in Cohedia, it feels like a nurturing society. Is the film intended as a critique of our very individualised capitalist society?

I have long worked with capitalist societies waste, does this make me a parasite or a creative soul, I wonder? I like to upcycle things, reuse them, find new ways of looking and working with different things other people might call waste or see as rubbish.

It was strange when I started the Foundation Course they ask you to use found objects, we would search through skips etc. Something I’d been doing for years as an outsider for furnishing’s as well as art objects. Today it has become more common to be aware and conscious of the impact of plastics for example on nature and in Cohedia, that fine line between utopic and dystopic worlds tend to collide. What one person sees and takes from Cohedia is very unique and relevant in terms of layers of meanings only they will see, hear or register with.

Cohedia could be seen as an example for societies possibilities, like my research, taking and adapting idea’s, seeing how things fit together, or not, where and how society and individually people can make a massive difference to the twists and turns, swings and arrows of life and how we live with and within our environment. Environment can be nature and nurture, at different parts of our lives that shapes us, and we also shape our surroundings and others we come into contact with.

Cohedia is ‘A many sided jewell of an idea to turn in the mind’. Lovely metaphor! Ever since I first watched this film in 2015, the whole concept has been turning in my mind. Is it important that your ideas are carried out into the world in the minds of others?

Yes, crystals are cool!. Life is multifaceted, wherever you turn, things reflect and refract.

I enjoy working with glass, as a fragile yet firm material, another metaphor for the brain in many respects. It’s the same with Cohedia, where ever you look things reflect back and onto each other. A jewel of an idea is about our instincts, creativity itself, we all have it, but for some it gets dampened, whilst for others, engaging with art and creative making brings such vibrancy and colour to our lives.

Generally, I like to see what other minds bring to my work, their readings add depth. Perhaps I ought to capture more people’s reactions to my work. It’s their personal and private journey through Cohedia. I am pleased to have provided a platform to inspire thoughts, hopes dreams, and to stimulate others mind expansion.

But with Cohedia it feels more like an imaginative inhabitable example for people to think about, to reflect on the forms in our world and to arm ourselves for / with alternatives – whatever they are for that person, but to consider the impact on the big canvas – i.e. on the planet.

For me it’s still a work in progress, but it offers a portal to our imaginations around better or good living.

So less of a prescription and more a tool for others to build their own?

That’s it, the license to dream / work towards a better world…

I did intend it to be a kind of mind map, to find the buildings with stained glass window designs that I took forward through my Architectural Glass degree, which I went on to do from the foundation course where Cohedia hatched.

Tell us about the narration in the film, it’s really captivating, who is speaking and how did you come up with the script?

I wrote the script from the original wording for my first Cohedia exhibition and Paul Hilton a friend, neighbour and actor did the fabulous audio for me with sound effects too.

I never manage to get on top of reading really, and reading out loud, and being recorded is even harder.

I gave Paul the script, and asked him for a 1970’s BBC children’s / Oliver Postgate style voice over, expecting to have to work it up with him, but he nailed it.

When he sent me the finished script with sound effects too I was overjoyed to hear it the way I’d imagined it, – well not quite but better!

Then I edited it with the help of a technician at my degree in Swansea.
It is still amazing how it all began to fit together over time.

That’s what our actor neighbours are for!! So handy living next to a thespian. 

Yes, so grateful. Paul’s done a second audio for Cohedia, Wish You Were Here. Xx that movie should be out soon. It’s been 5 years gestating it’s time to get it out there!

We love the idea of the ‘Plying Plant’ that reproduces original works of art and sells them at a fraction of their original price. Is it important to you that art should be open and accessible to all?

The Plying Plant originates in a book I picked up at Deptford Market. I picked it up because it was called The story of X (can’t remember author or find the book now to reference that properly) but it turned out to be replicating original works of art perfectly through their Plying Plant.

My first solo show ‘A Head In Art’ at Blackhealth brain Injury Unit in 1999 was an exhibition of my reworkings of the concepts from 20+ icons for the history of art course, which I applied to my contemporary experience of the world post head injury. So, I could relate to the story, of X, and appropriated the Plying Plant for Cohedia.

It would give Cohedia a product to usurp the ridiculous prices paid for artworks freeing up the cash for making creativity accessible. Of course, this takes the craft practice out of making reproductions.

Fundamentally art is a way we view the world or what’s in front of us. It’s a means of expression that is really beginning to be seen as valuable for helping people cope with life, and to find their voice, place and contribution to the world.

Cohedia’s plant systems & the amazing ‘Escar Abodes’, the homes that grow as the family does, reference other utopian living models, i.e. the self-sustainability movement and radical architecture practices. What has and what continues to inspire Cohedia?

The world around us and it ‘s failure to address the real issues! My imagination and Bethlem Gallery’s staff and support, breathed life into what was an honorable failure.. as my life took a very different turn and grew in its own unique direction.

Cohedia was originally intended as a technical intellectual challenge, a fun one, and has become a signature piece in terms of me being able to work with and play with layers of ideas, concepts and interests – goes back to my passions and obsessions. Architecture and structures of the human form, human making, neurological influences, reference points, relationships, all collide and can become overwhelmingly problematic, so Cohedia helps me to make sense of things, through a representation of aspects and how the whole can be visualised yet each element is a separate entity when you dig deeper into its structural form.

We are still learning about how the Mind functions, and interacts with our bodies, emotions and activities. There is really so much more we are yet to find out. Fascinations and fickle interests, alongside passions and obsessions. We change all the time, and yet stay the same – it’s a conundrum and a puzzle, but we need to expand, keep moving, progress I think they call it… but at what cost?

Cohedia feels so uplifting at this time of crisis and inspiring as people start to talk about rebuilding. Not sure about honourable failure, more like inspiring lad from Peckham. X

Cohedia offers us an imaginatively habitable world, an alternative to the one we have focused on some essential issues of society…being in lockdown for some is a safe space, for others its restrictive and frustrating. That’s the issue with us humans, we rarely stop to think about our world and our impact how things look from other people’s perspectives and realities.

I can’t claim to come from Peckham, maybe nearly died and been reborn there. A bit of a Peckham Diamond – broken, yet more interesting for the cracks.

My friend wrote a song: Ballard of Peckham Rye. He includes the words – the vision of ‘Xavier Hilts White on his push bike that fateful night…. It’s on another of my exhibition montage movies Survivors: Guilt and Arrogance by Xavier White, Ballard of Peckham Rye song and music by Justin Likwid Anderson


About Xavier White…

Xavier is a motivated artist / designer / maker. This London born artist is mostly self taught, regaining life skills through creating in a post head injury (Peckham 1985) confused fluxus limbo state.

See more of his work here

And read an article by Anna McNay about Cohedia here