Another embodied artwork in the show that interested me was Labyrinth Psychoticia by Jennifer Kanary Nikolova. The catalogue make the rather grand claim that it is "a physical and mental translation of what it is like to be in psychosis”. Before entering you are asked to don a lab coast and then invited to discover your way through the large labyrinth by pushing at layers of material. Between the thick fabric your perception is altered by encountering strobe lights. For me the experience was hot and overwhelming and at times frighteningly claustrophobic. I’m not convinced my low level panic, combined with art excitement was in any way relational to the experience of psychosis, but it was a good talking point and hopefully people encountering it can think and read more on the subject.
The catalogue to the Group Therapy show is informative and engaging with many essays across the theme of society, creative practice and technology and how they relate to mental health in an increasingly unequal society. I'm aiming to take my time to work through it and give it the attention it deserves . I’ll be reading it alongside the next psychology book on my list ‘My Age of Anxiety’ by Scott Stossel, which was recently shortlisted for the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize.
Introductory comments by curators Vanessa Bartlett and Mike Stubbs place the focus of the show in our information-overloaded age of "constantly updated digital identities", challenging the idea of mental distress in a small cohort of individuals the show looks at pressures of work, status anxiety and common experiences of guilt and self doubt. The catalogue has essays by people from a variety of disciplines, formed by experimental conversations and a creative research process. As both a psychologist and artist I was especially interested in Vanessa Barlett’s point that art can be transformative and lead to individual and social change. She mentions Jill Bennett’s* notion that aesthetic experience is a “means of apprehending the world via sense-based and affective processes”. I think this is a good way to see both art works we encounter and our use of technology and social media – asking ourselves how does it actually make me feel at this moment? (and listening to the answer…)
*from Practical Aesthetics: Events, Affects and ART after 9/11
Last week I got to see the Group Therapy: Mental Distress in a Digital Age exhibition running at FACT in Liverpool. I’d read quite a bit about the show and been impressed by the event programme running alongside it. The show was curated across two large rooms one very dark and one containing a fabric labyrinth. More on that in a later post.
The main artwork I went along to see was the film Twelve by artist Melanie Manchot, who’s photographic and video work I’ve seen and admired for many years. Her multi-channel video piece, arising out of two years work with people recovering from addiction, was very compelling and at times even overwhelming. In the dark at FACT (the work will tour the UK to other venues this spring) three monitors are placed in a circle with chairs in between them so that installation feels intimate and echoes a therapeutic setting. Encompassing car washes, ferry journeys and window shots her liminal landscapes combined with spoken vignettes are enganged with, rather than passively received. One of the recollections of a women talking about her drug use on the night of her daughter’s long-awaited communion was so very sad. Speaking with Michaela Nettell in a recent a-n article the artist was clear she wanted to do more than retell the early traumatic circumstances that most people she worked with had endured as that creates “a sort of us and them, reinforcing the separation”; she also emphasized that the work echoes the addiction recovery process, which often “moves forward, backwards – it’s really not linear”
http://www.a-n.co.uk/news/melanie-manchot-we-defined-the-aesthetic-framework-together-but-the-content-is-theirs. For further information please visit www.twelve.org.uk. Group Therapy runs at FACT until 17th May