Viewing single post of blog A Private Land / Tir Diarffordd

We are lucky enough to have the mentoring support of artist Mel Brimfield, with one meeting held at the beginning of the project and another to come later. For those not familiar with Mel’s practice, it represents a fabulous cornucopia of collaborative projects featuring painting, photography, installation and large-scale live performance events.

STAND, 2020, Mel Brimfield & collaborators

We were drawn to her as a mentor in the context of “A Private Land” because of her exciting projects that have a strong lean towards exploring mental health, such as her research residency at Bethlem Royal Hospital’s National Psychosis Unit and Kings College Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience which culminated in the touring exhibition From This World, to That Which Is to Come. The title is from John Bunyan’s 1678 parable The Pilgrim’s Progress, which describes a fictional pilgrimage from ‘The City of Destruction’ to ‘The Celestial City’, perhaps suggesting a parallel for the collapse of mental health and the difficult journey to recovery.

Mel’s obvious love of fictions drawn from popular comic strips (Tintin, Charlie Brown) to Kafka’s Metamorphosis abound in this project, which is another aspect we warmed to.  Involving over 100 collaborators including mental health service users and staff, the project was on an epic scale compared with “A Private Land”, which at this research stage is explorative, and has as its starting point a derelict rural psychiatric institution.

We spoke about the complexities at the heart of A Private Land, which make it at once problematic and for us compelling. At the time we were thinking of the culminating event as a procession/artist led walk from the Mid Wales Hospital up to the lovely deconsecrated church St Ellyw’s at Llanelieu, where we would have an installation.  This would mean re-enacting a walk that “inmates” (so-called in the registers at Powys Archives) from the asylum would have performed every week for their weekly religious service before the asylum chapel was built some years later.  However, this time the walk would be more activist and healing, drawing attention to taboos in mental health, challenging why over 1000 “inmates” of the Mid Wales hospital had been buried there in unmarked graves, for example.

Soon after the meeting with Mel we felt the weight of symbolic architecture overload, and wondered about the pros and cons of the isolated church as a venue. Given the rural nature of the site, the taboos, strong emotions and barriers all around us are much more entrenched; we realised we would have to tread much more carefully than we had thought hitherto. Would participants in the project welcome the idea of a procession and who would ‘own’ it. Would the experience be of moving between two sites of care or of oppression?

The session was very full and buzzing with ideas, the main themes we covered in the session were: what are our intentions from the offset? How can we use the project as a healing space for mental health challenges and treatment? Participatory practice; the sheer amount of essential work that goes in to finding your participants and project partners to begin with; if we wanted to, how would we make an enquiry through the gothic in relationship to asylum ruins in this particular project?

There were so many thoughts, interesting directions, books, articles, artists to follow up, it was really exciting, but it felt essential that we had to narrow down, decide what was most important, seeing as this is a research project with a very tight schedule, 8 months with both of us having other commitments.  In essence, inclusion and seeking hitherto silenced voices has remained central, I hope Mel doesn’t mind my extracting a sentence from her fantastic follow-up lengthy text packed with thoughts and ideas:

“….this comes back to critic Jan Verwoert’s ideas around invocation and evocation in place of outmoded modes of appropriation in contemporary practice. He describes the notional act of setting the conditions of a séance – it is an open invitation to those voices on the periphery that may wish to speak. …”