Fragmentary – Artist Talks event Summary and review

Welcome to another of my blog posts on mental health.  It has been a while since I have attended any art events.  So I thought that I should pop over to North London to visit the Camden Health Centre in order to attend an event called Fragmentary. This event was promoted by the Free Space Gallery.

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If you prefer, you can watch the video version of the blog.

The Free Space Gallery promotes health and well – being through the arts using their prominent position within the Kentish Town Health Centre and Queens Crescent Practice.  Please check out their site at http://freespacegallery.org/.

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So going back to the 5th of June 2015, what exciting art presentations was I expecting to hear and view?  Well before I continue, this event was called “Artist talks” and was presented by Fragmentary, which I ll also explain its website called fragmentary.org. Now this site helps to showcase artists work through the view of mental health, especially using photography as the form of creativity.  The website is at fragmentary.org

At the event we had 3 artists talk about their journey through mental illness and capturing their experiences through the power of art.  The event was chaired by Anna McNay who is a Writer, Editor and Researcher.  She Deputy Editor of STATEf22, which is a magazine about art and photography and she is also the Arts Editor of DIVAmagazine, which is the UK and Europe’s leading lesbian and bisexual magazine.  If you got time, check out her site at https://sites.google.com/site/annamcnay/.  Anna opened up the event by talking about her experience of chronic skin picking, which is a form of mental illness.

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Anna McNay

The three artists presenting their work through talks and images, where Daniel Regan who is also a photographer with service user experience, Liz Atkin another visual artist talking about capturing her journey through mental illness via visual art and we also heard from Antonia Attwood whose video presents an exploration of her mother’s illness.

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Daniel Regan presents his work

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First we heard from Daniel Regan, who briefly talked about his website danielregan.com and his book called “Fragmentary” which explores the dual perspectives of both the clinician and patient.  Daniel explained how he felt that photography works as a tool for recovery as he battled for years suffering chronic mental health difficulties.  Daniel talked about his “Abandoned” project when he was in  hospital a long while ago. He had the idea of capturing what an abandoned mental health could be like as he felt drawn to spaces.

Daniel’s main aim was in the purpose of sharing the pictures he took, but at the same time keep those pictures slightly hidden.

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Daniel also spoke about his Insula project which tries to promote a continuous cycle of recovery involving the idea of chaos.  He then talked how difficult it was for him to complete his MA project, because he was still dealing with mental health issues at the CMHT.

Every so often the CMHT would produce patient or medial forms, one being the CPA form, which Daniel felt emotional about because what was written about him.

Daniel mentioned how People questioned him about images and why he had kept them to himself.  Daniel talked about the use of exploration of the body and skin and what images worked together. I felt it quite interesting about his term of  over sharing or under sharing of his art and of how he described how people interpreted his work.

Daniel used the idea of medical notes and self portrait in order to explain the personal problem of sharing and breaking the stigma of mental illness.  Daniel used the perspective of fragmented reality of the consultants views and how he himself reflects on mental illness.

Antonia Attwood presents her work

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Next up was Antonia Attwood who presented her work called Mother’s tongue.  This video looks to interpret Antonia’s mother’s experiences of Bipolar, which is a mental health condition.  As I watched the video, I could not help but notice the sounds where unsettling and how the images used in the video seems to show the battle with mental health problems. The constant use of taking medication. The high pitched sounds and the person always sleeping during the video.

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Antonia explained about her mother’s experience with Bipolar disorder, which inspired her project. Antonia talked about the phenomenology (study of structures of consciousness) of mental illness and how it feels to be vulnerable. Antonia wants the film to make you question the idea of mental health.

Liz Atkin presents her work

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Last to present was Liz Atkin, a visual artist who uses art to present the mental health situation of skin picking, which she suffers from.  Liz suffered from an early age and this is when the condition first shown itself even when she felt this an unintended response, Liz thought that there was nothing strange about it, but after a while Liz struggled to fit into society.

Eventually Liz got interested in art and dance. Liz talked about her interest in Dance and how she got interested in the study.  However there was a feeling of dread when having to explore her body for the Masters course, Liz wondered if she was going to be exposed. Liz created photos where skin was being pressed against the glass, and how the skin could transform due to light.  Liz also experimented with a Scanner in order to capture her face moving and how the final image would form.

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Liz Atkin also explained how she was fascinated on how scars presented in an art form and the process of scars healing as if the skin would try knit itself together.  She talked about the process of being alone in her journey and using art to reflect this and how it led her through the illness.

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Liz talked about overcoming her fear of insects in Japan when she was studying over there in which she felt that the insects made her skin crawl, but again due to being fascinated with the insects movement, she incorporated insects movement into her dance studies.

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As with many artists at the event, Liz has done some collaboration work and one of those works was shown where 7 of the artists exemplified the process of skin picking. Liz now does some work at the Bethlem and she recently presented her art at the London anxiety festival called “Culdeld” which was shown at the Ortus.

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Questions and Answers

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After the presentations, there was a Questions and Answers session from the chair Anna McNay.  Anna asked several thought provoking questions, one being on how the 3 artists felt about showing their work on their personal journeys through mental illness.

Liz at first was terrified about the truth coming out during of studies.  The art eventually became more important than the illness, a way for others to contact with her experiences.

As for Antonia her work is mainly about someone else, so it could have been difficult to produce this for others to see depending if someone knew who that video was about.  A lot also depended on Antonia’s close relative views.

Daniel was nervous about work he produced, since he did not want to share pictures with any one, until he actually understood the work he was making, but he eventually did share and present his art works, although he did wonder if he was stigmatising himself.

We had another interesting statement from the Chair who wondered if there was a fine line of under sharing and over sharing the art work.

Daniel felt as long as people ask him a bit more about the labels he was diagnosed with, he will try remove the labels. Daniel tends to obscure things to avoid the under and over sharing.  He tries to make art for others to relate to difficult days.

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Antonia tries to avoid the name of the person she is presenting her art about, but still some may know who she is presenting on.  An example of others not knowing the full background of the story related to it differently, which was interesting.

One last question raised by the chair was on the dual perspectives on how the camera shows things in another perspective.

Liz answered Anna’s question by stating that the camera is very important in her work and that she works with it often, the camera provides a way for her to record the illness, the sense of transformation is almost healing.

Daniel feels that the authenticity of the photograph could take ages to discuss, but it can be hard to centre on the illness.  The moment one takes picture of something, then the reality is gone.

Thoughts and reflections

Although i spent a lot of time writing up what was being said at the event, part of the time I paused as the artwork and photography presented caught my attention.  All 3 artist’s work were deeply thought out and left space for the viewer to try and connect to the art.  I noticed that the audience were required to think about what was shown in front of them as with quite a lot of art, nothing is often as clear cut as it seems, especially within the realm of mental health, which also can be difficult to explain if you are either service user, health professional or carer.

The thing is, I actually enjoy art where you are required to think, reflection and speculate, as long as you are not off the mark completely, we all our stories to tell and being invited into someone’s world where the experiences are very personal I feel should be held in high regard.   Some work I must admit can startle the viewer who has little idea of mental health, but most work slowly beckons the user to take a closer inspection and observe how art can actually health.  One of the most important things I can take away from the event and the three artist’s work is that I am learning more about mental health, I am learning from mental health survivors and I am learning from the world of art.   Education can be painfully slow if studying mental health, but learning through art can make learning a bit more appealing.

I loved how Daniel focuses on teasing the viewer on showing his medical records through artwork, but also obscuring the full view of those records, its like you just cannot fully read his medical records and it seems to come with a double meaning as in real life medical records and terminology can be difficult to understand or comprehend, especially from those using the services.

Antonia’s film got my attention from the get go, using the unsettling sounds and images, I felt I was closing in and experience what it was actually like go through mental ill health experiences, yet part of me knew I was not fully experiencing the affects, but her video certainly opened the door and I could feel myself slowly walk in.

With Liz Atkin’s photography it is always a delight to learn from her difficult journey and she teaches others through her work the meaning of skin picking.  The colour of her photography stands out and allows others to examine and learn.  Some images are startling, but to be honest I am not so naive to not expect this as I welcome presentation into her personal journey.

Overall I really enjoyed the event and look forward to the next art event.  If I had a hat, I would take it off to the brilliant artist who took the time to portray their difficult journey through mental health to produce pieces of photography and art for others to reflect and learn.

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