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By: Vanessa Bartlett
This blog documents my research into the relationship between psychology, the arts and technology.
It is also an archival record of one girl with depressive tendencies writing, art making and boozing her way out of a black hole.
Current activity includes starting an Mres at the London Consortium with a thesis titled: The dissolution of the linear mind? Archiving mental health symptoms using new technology.
# 40 [9 January 2011]
I have just read an extract from Emma Forrest's book Your Voice in My Head in yesterday's Guardian http://bit.ly/dKlamU. The book is published by Bloomsbury on 17th of Jan and gives an account of this successful female journalist's battle with depression.
What struck me immediately about this article is the wistful glamour that the author effortlessly attaches to her illness. Accounts of bulimia and suicide take place against a backdrop of quirky downtown New York and relationships with high profile film stars. The accompanying image depicts a beautiful young woman in a gorgeous yellow dress, her serious facial expression subtly alluding to the strain that her suicidal depression and self harm have caused her.
It seems to me that public representations of depression often take on this kind of glamorous form, especially when it comes to depression in women. Books like Shoot the Damn Dog written by Sally Brampton (former editor of Vogue) are often set against a background of wealth and resources that make the passage from symptom to diagnosis, treatment and cure a little more fluid. Sally Brampton says at one point toward the end of her book "money is there to be spent," a phrase that affirms her assured capability to pay for therapy in order to overcome her (admittedly horrendous) symptoms. I can't help question how this very one sided depiction of depression in women, might impact on the public's perception of mental health issues.
In August 2010 Janet Street Porter published an horrendously foolish article in the Daily Mail, which leveled the claim that depression was the new trendy illness in rich women. http://bit.ly/atC8MA Her claims included the assertion that women from poor backgrounds are simply too preoccupied with poverty and overwork to allow the word depression to enter their vocabulary. Only rich women, she concluded, have time to be depressed.
While I utterly refute Porter's claims and believe depression to be a serious health issue, her article does seem symptomatic of the current popular discourse around depression. We hear multitudes about depression survivors like Emma Forrest who battle with the depressive mindset in pretty dresses and high heals. Yet we hear considerably less about underprivileged women who bring up children in tiny council houses and are never diagnosed as depressives because they have too many other health and life issues to contend with first.
I'm very excited about the new direction that I have identified for my MA research and how I might be able to evidence some other platform for public perceptions of mental health issues, that oppose this glamorous female surviver model. My decision to look at artists making alternative archives of mental health symptoms, allows me to think about how other perspectives might be illuminated for a public audience. Its curious how the issue of gender looms large here and that I am proposing to focus on the experiences of men. I know that I people keep questioning the gender aspect of my proposal, but somehow the singular feminine perspective evidenced in books like Emma Forrest's continue to serve as testimony to its relevance.
# 39 [7 January 2011]
I've decided to propel myself into 2011 on a wave of optimism. This is based on the belief that it must be time for things to get a bit better. The past two or three years seem to have been Yin years, dominated by deep dark shadows, solitude and passivity. This year is going to be a year of Yang, characterized by light, heat and creativity. Obviously its all a part of Taoist philosophy that the two elements have to intermingle in order for life to exist. But in essence I think I need to become more dragon than tiger in 2011.... and start breathing a bit more fire.
I went for my interview at the London Consortium yesterday. As an interview performance it certainly wasn't perfect, but I do feel that I at least represented myself as an interesting, proactive and enthusiastic candidate. The interviewers (the amazing Steven Conner http://bit.ly/f8zCpy and his colleague Sarah) threw some incredibly interesting questions at me, including: can the pathology of the internet be seen as exclusively male? And what about the connections between women and the internet? It really does seem to be the gender issue that people pull out as the flaw in my proposal, so I perhaps have to reconsider or remove this aspect? My recent thoughts on archiving symptoms don't necessarily deal with gender anyway, so perhaps this aspect will fall away naturally.
Yesterday I stumbled across this article in the Guardian http://bit.ly/fQQelY. I wish I had seen it prior to my interview as it certainly would have been something to flag up. Its the story of Simone Black who posted a facebook status update on Christmas Day saying "Took all my pills, be dead soon, bye bye everyone." Its an online suicide note in ten words and its utterly chilling, especially given that out of Simone's 1,048 facebook friends, not one stepped away from their computer to go and see if she was still alive. She was found dead later that evening.
I find it interesting to consider the motives of such a public cry for help. Clearly Simone didn't have anyone around her that she could turn to, so she posted on facebook in order to feel as if somebody was listening. The problem is that her post prompted nothing but bickering and abuse among those who did respond with a comment. Maybe her facebook friends were just apathetic? Maybe the words didn't even seem real to them and were taken as an idle threat? Sometimes there is just no way of knowing the sentiments behind a person's posts if you can't read the subtleties of speech and mannerisms. Either way, I do believe that one of the driving forces behind this kind of internet suicide is the need to validate an individual life by sensationalizing it's destruction. Given that most people who commit suicide tend to think that their lives are meaningless, self publication offers the opportunity to elevate self importance and to make a bigger impact with one's decision to self destruct. I also think its about the perpetrator making others feel guilty and about spreading a general sense of futility......
Wahhhhh stop press I just got an exciting email from the London Consortium.... check out the image to your right....... I got in!!! Please excuse me while I stop writing intelligent and interesting things and break out into a one hour victory dance. Shimmy shake!!
Sorry dear readers, what an emotional roller coaster of a blog post! Yikes
# 38 [2 January 2011]
So it appears that I have taken a sabbatical from my blog! Thats a shame as its been an eventful month or two. As ever my non productivity has correlated with a very minor heartache (which I have made major because histrionics are a fundamental part of my personality.) But now thats over I'm sure I will regain my focus and start churning out some more writing as I have not produced nearly enough recently.
Two weeks ago I went to London and had an initial meeting about my MA application with Lisa Blackman at Goldsmiths. I warmed instantly to Lisa and feel that she will make a really great supervisor for someone like me who tends to need a lot of encouragement! Lisa said she is interested in supervising me, but that the proposal needs some work. I took this quite well as I can also see lots of room for improvement. I think the bad news is that it needs a total rewrite... implying that January is going to be a busy month for yours truly! I've been out of academia for the past five years so its not surprising that I need some pointers from Lisa to get my application really on track. I have been asked to consider issues around Affect, which has been a really trendy topic academically this year. Lisa also suggested I think about archives and how artists are producing alternative archives of mental health symptoms, particularly in performance. I find this second point really interesting as it tallies with some of my fascinations around the role of social media and how individuals use these media to create their own personal archives, particularly around things like internet suicides. These alternative archives can be viewed as a counterpoint to conventional archives of mental health symptoms such as medical records created by doctors and hospitals. It allows the patient to archive and articulate independently outside of mainstream medicine and also brings mental health symptoms to a more public audience. Lots of potential to consider.....
I'm off to London for another interview at The London Consortium on Thursday. I am more nervous about this one as it will be more formal, but I have earmarked the next two days for reading and pondering....
Today however, I have to go to town and return a £200 pair of shoes (I clearly can't afford) that I decided to buy myself as conciliation for the afore mentioned minor heartache. Does anyone else find it utterly bizarre how much a little stirring of the loins can cloud one's judgement? Or maybe I'm just too sensitive?
# 37 [13 November 2010]
I finally did it!! I finished my proposal, filled out the online application, gathered my references and pressed send. I have now officially applied for an MRes at the London Consortium. I am also waiting on Goldsmiths to confirm that one of their tutors Lisa Blackman http://bit.ly/cepOj4 would be interested in supervising my research. I am really glad that someone at Goldsmiths recommended Lisa as her work on Critical Psychology (which I currently don't know that much about) seems really appropriate. Its kind of a cross section between psychology and radicalism. Here is the Wikipedia entry http://bit.ly/dtzSZ3 (although obviously one should never reply on Wikipedia for proper factual info!)
# 36 [31 October 2010]
While I'm here and am seemingly having a bout of Saturday night insomnia.... I'll deal with the psychotic cats that I mentioned a couple of posts ago. Just so I'm not keeping you in suspense or anything......
A couple of weeks ago I popped over to Manchester and decided to buy the latest edition of Cabinet Magazine. I love Cabinet but it's hella expensive. Seven pounds a pop! However Brian Dillon is their UK editor who never fails to please... and there always texts on really interesting themes. My favorite in the current edition is an article by Adam Jasper on the nineteenth century artist Louis Wain. Initially a painter of upstanding and gentlemanly anthropomorphized cats, which earned him money and fame, Wain gradually slipped into schizophrenia during later life. This transition is evidenced by the enormous change in his cat portraits, which according to Adam Jasper are now used as a text book demonstration of the optical effects associated with psychosis. Jasper quotes Hans Prinzhorn in asserting that "such dense edge-to-edge work (was) motived by a kind of horror vacui, as if the confrontation with the void was being fought out on paper."
Its funny how I can't stop staring at these crazy felines. They are fascinating... but maybe not the greatest thing for me getting obsessed with if I ever intend to sleep tonight....
# 35 [30 October 2010]
I had a wonderful time in London last weekend. The old red wine monster got me big time on Saturday night, followed by the gin and curry monster on Sunday. By the time Monday arrived I was feeling bloaty and green with overindulgence and lack of sleep- not exactly the perfect circumstances for sitting down to the Art V's Rehab conference. Yet bravely I soldiered on and spent pretty much the the entire time wedged in a corner of the conference room... saying very little. My networking with a hangover skills could use some work!
I'm very glad indeed that I braved it though, as it was a super event.
The format was well crafted, with three very interesting speakers presenting followed by group discussion on questions that had been posed by all delegates. I was happy that my question came out as one of the first to be discussed: 'What role can art institutions (galleries and theatres) play in mental health rehabilitation'. This provoked lots of interesting responses - both positive and negative. It was widely felt that an official public space such as a gallery lends a sense of legitimacy to participatory projects for groups who may come from the position of 'outsider' due to long term hospitalisation etc.
Its interesting though, that the language around 'mental health' remained cemented in quite a conventional 'us and them' type of perspective. As in 'how do we the artists work with... them.. the mentals.' Not that the conversation was in any way disrespectful at all, but I was relieved when Jacqueline Ede flagged that the term 'mental health' can occasionally be problematic because it brackets an experience outside of normal life. I've struggled with this in my own writing and tend to try to use the term 'emotional and psychological disturbance' where possible. However even this falls short of the mark. I wonder if artists might have a role to play in finding language to better express the fact that the human brain varies incredibly from person to person and that bracketing certain psychological behaviors as 'illness' can be detrimental.
On this subject, I'm lucky to be in possession of a catalogue from the Extreme Bodies: Extreme Minds Festival that took place in Zagreb last week. Its really engrossing and I've just tackled the first essay called How Did We All Become Mad? which deals with the idea that many aspects of everyday life are becoming pathologised as a result of the actions of the pharmaceutical industry. Its also got a really interesting perspective on mental health issues as 'natural selection' due to the excessively complex structure of our brains. What is particularly lovely is the author's assertion that:
'the world is extremely heterogeneous and everyone ought to be able to find some niche in which he or she can thrive in their own particular way, according to their own particular criteria. Todays' evolutionary biologists are increasingly revealing that the creation of specific niches is just as important for survival as natural selection, which means that we ought, instead of adjusting to fixed circumstances, change these circumstances in such a way that they respond to the needs of our different brains.'
Zoran Roško How did we all become mad?
For more on Art V's Rehab please visit artvsrehab.tumblr.com
# 34 [18 October 2010]
Blimey look at this.... its been a long time since I wrote anything on here. This I conclude...... is a good thing. There is something about sitting around writing about 'mental health' that breeds such a sense of intensity in the mind that its probably not very sustainable for longer periods. Taking a break from my blog is probably mentally healthy.
On Monday next week I am going along to a seminar called Art Vs Rehab and its all about uses of art in mental health treatment. The thing about it that really caught my eye is Hannah Hull's proposed presentation about how the methodology of 'conceptual art' is useful in rehabilitation practice. Here is her blurb she can explain it much better than me:
Artist Hannah Hull uses a conceptual art model when working with people with backgrounds in mental health. She suggests that political, social and therapeutic aims are implicit to conceptual art, and that this model allows for a more attainable social inclusion.
I like this because I find that 'conceptual' art methods are often deemed to be alienating to anyone who has not been to art school. The fact that more conceptual (rather than just visual) approaches can be considered therapeutic within treatment is really quite progressive, I think. Read more about Hannah's work here http://www.hannahhull.co.uk/
Also there is a really interesting festival happening in Croatia at the moment called Extravagent Bodies: Extravagant Minds which has got loads of interesting work about mental health and a super looking exhibition, which I am very sad to be missing. Carlos Larrondo's video work about a psychiatric hospital that launched its own radio station sounds particularly fascinating. http://kontejner.org/lt22-radio-la-colifata-englis...
I've had a couple of nice emails about this blog in the past two weeks...... I like it when this happens as its heartening to think that people take time to read and then feel inspired to get in touch. I'm really busy finalising my MA application, applying for a few other bits and pieces and generally sorting my life out at the moment..... But as soon as all the urgent stuff is out of the way I am going to settle down and write a post I have been excited about for ages...... about some psychotic drawings of cats.........
# 33 [26 September 2010]
I've been trying to design the perfect exhibition space for this project. I've even put work into it (or at least artists initials). There are still a couple of others who I would like to include, but these seem to be the essentials. I am not going to write the artist's names because that seems to be making assumptions about the fact that they would say yes!!
I need to start considering budget lines very soon. Here is my dream shopping list...
Publication- containing blog, emails, research
Library section (with books)
1 artist's commission including flights and research fee
Marketing - leaflet for conf & exhibition
Conference inc speakers fees & accommodation
Video camera for documentation of conference
AV technician for exhibition installation
While I am on to making lists, here also is my list of people that I would like to speak at my conference.. totally fanciful but one has to start somewhere.....
Nick Carr http://www.roughtype.com/
Kalle Lasn and Micah White
# 32 [26 September 2010]
This week I got an email from Hannah Hull www.hannahhull.co.uk about an event that she is running as part of her ongoing research into Art and Mental Health. It sounds interesting.....Its called "ART vs. REHAB: A seminar to explore and provoke new relationships between art and mental health
She says that 'the purpose of the evening is to discuss potential futures for rehabilitative arts projects.' And that she is inviting arts professionals to openly interpret the theme. I've drafted the following proposal as a responce... A bit different to my Masters Proposal but something I would be interested to talk about none the less. I thought that this topic would be most interesting for anyone in the audience who may be looking for positive and practical ways to use the arts and technology in mental health in their day to day working lives........
Group Therapy: Biopsychosocial perspectives on art and new technologies.
This presentation introduces the work of artists using new technologies to promote positive mental health through bodily awareness. Articulating from a biopsychosocial perspective, I advocate that social interaction and bodily experiences are vital constituents of mental wellbeing and that crosspollination between arts and technology can help to facilitate this holistic approach to health.
My case studies will include George Khut’s projects; The Heart Library and Thinking Through the Body and Tania Fox’s Posture Enhancers. I incorporate examples of these works exhibited in venues such as hospitals, in the hope that I might inspire healthcare professionals and artists to think about practical applications in their own work.
In order to strengthen my argument, I provide a context for the relationship between technology and mental health by introducing recent thinking on the hybridization of psychotherapy and technology from publications such as the Journal of Clinical Psychology, where Michelle G Newman has claimed that “when questioned about sensitive life issues such as criminal history and suicidality, clients will disclose more substantive information to a computer than a clinician.” I hope that this argument will affirm the potential of technology to make a positive impact on the ongoing discourse around the arts and mental health.
More Info on Case Studies:
George Khut http://georgekhut.com/heartlibrary
Thinking Through the Body Project http://thinkingthroughthebody.net/blog/
Tania Fox http://www.design-interactions.rca.ac.uk/tania-fox...
Vanessa Bartlett is an artist, writer and curator based in Liverpool, UK. She is currently performance programmer at the Bluecoat. Her blog Group Therapy documents her research on the relationship between psychology, the arts and technology.
# 31 [12 September 2010]
Just under a week ago I attended a symposium at University of Bolton called "Performing Arts and Health." The day long event celebrated a new research lab opening at the university which looks at the wider role of the arts in the the medical profession.
I met a lady called Jessica who works across theatre and health care and is writing a phd on (among other things) how theatre practice can release trauma stored in the body. http://www.jessicabockler.co.uk/. I must contact her soon and see if she wants to meet for a coffee.
During the afternoon I also took part in some workshops, when I made a collage and wrote a poem.
To complete the poem our workshop leader Jackie Hagan, who has been facilitating writing workshops in psychiatric hospitals for seven years, asked us to make a list of things that shine. Here's what I put.
foil sweet wrappers
the eyes of a kind person
milk bottle tops
the reflection of sunlight on water
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Vanessa Bartlett is an artist writer and curator, currently based in Liverpool. She is interested in live performance, video, gender and the relationship between communication technologies and psychologically transgressive behavior.
Vanessa has curated a number of independent exhibitions, including Slowness at Red Wire Gallery, which was highlighted by Times critic Rachel Campbell-Johnston in her top five exhibitions in November 2008. She was also part of the Berlin Biennale Curatorial Development Trip organised in an independent capacity by Clarissa Corfe, Programme Manager at Castlefield Gallery.