I just submitted a few pieces to an open call for artists who have lived with mental illness. Having had some experience in that area, I felt compelled to contribute. Never mind that I saw the call on Monday and were due Saturday. I pulled it together just in time.The project is called Mindscapes New Brunswick, and is a yearly exhibit. This year it will be in Bathurst, NB. A place I’ve never been but it sure looks pretty.
I originally had aspirations of making something specifically for it, but when I started going through my old work, I realized I had a number of suitable candidates. More than suitable, even, because they dealt directly with my mental health problems/solutions.
This submission was a surprisingly engaging process. I was combing through my artwork for pieces that spoke to my mental ecosystem. How often do we organize our work by concept? It was enlightening.
It has made me want to categorize ALL of my work by idea. In this world where specialization seems to be the way to make a living, I feel constant pressure to identify my “area of interest”. But there are so many, and it hurts me where my tears grow when I think of giving up some interests for the sake of only one.
However, it might be nice to see what patterns have developed on their own. What sort of direction I am heading with certain topics. That kind of thing. Constructive categorization. I believe the study of oneself is integral to mental health.
I have long been thinking about making a private blog to store ideas. I would use a blog mainly for the ease of cross-referencing through categories and tags. My problem with the oodles of notebooks and ideas I have spilling out around the house is that I never go back to look at them. But the odd time that I do, I realize how many different directions each one could be taken. My ideas need to be under multiple headings at once, and most of all they need a search function.
Can you imagine a collective of everyone’s ideas in the whole world? Where you could be matched with people with similar ideas and borrow ideas as you pleased? What an innovative world that would be.
But I digress.
As part of the submission I wrote an artist statement that explained my history of mental illness and what part art plays in my life. It was interesting to take stock of how far I’ve come. It made me feel proud and sure of myself.
I’m feeling hesitation about putting the statement in this post. It seems overly personal, unprofessional. Somehow I feel it might make potential viewers think twice. But that just betrays how brainwashed I have been by society’s insistence that mental illness be hushed. That is what this exhibit is all about, open discussion on a difficult topic. And to be honest, if my humble trials and subsequent victories are enough to scare you away, adieu.
So here it is, my past, followed by the pieces I’ve submitted.
“For as long as I could remember, I hadn’t been capable of true involvement in my own life. It didn’t feel real, and so apathy was ever-present. This culminated in a deep paralyzing depression during my teenage years.
When I sought help, the offers I received were of antidepressants, to fix what I had considered a symptom. My body did not jive well with these drugs and I ended up trying many different kinds. Eventually one did seem to help. Unfortunately after taking it for a long time, I felt trapped by the emotionless state it imbued.
I decided I wanted to stop. Even with slow weaning I suffered withdrawals, namely the debilitating “brain zaps”, which are exactly what they sound like. Every day I removed one more tiny bead from the capsule, and at long last severed myself from this demanding drug.
It was an awakening. Having been numbed for so long, I had one of the more mentally tumultuous periods of my life. I wrote, I thought, I created art in swarms. One morning while staring at my ceiling fan, I came to a life-changing realization. In order to feel real, you have to push yourself into the world. Before that moment I had only tried to let the outside in. It has to be a two-way valve.
I believe art to be the act of putting your insides out. I try to engage myself and my viewer as much as possible by reaching for more challenging projects. There are no failures when your goal is to learn, and when I do have particular success I feel great pride in my ability to connect to the world outside.
These days I am learning to be a textile designer and mixed media artist at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design. I have shown work at my college and in various group shows and art auctions, and have recently completed several commissions. I was the winner of the 2010 NBCCD Scholarship for highest GPA, and this year won the Nel Oudeman’s Scholarship for a promising art student. I am feeling mentally sound and most permanently curious.”
Piece #1 :
9.5″ x 12.5″ x 1.5″ (including frame). Mixed media sculpture pressed between glass. Includes marbles, beads, plastic canvas, acrylic gel, tubing, paper, plastic wrap, and glue. 2011.
This piece was created to soften the memory of an incident that happened several years ago. I had stomach problems from anxiety and needed a gastroscope. I was given something so that I wouldn’t remember the procedure, but it didn’t entirely work. I was aware but could not move or remember what was being done to me. It was a disturbing memory but by creating this piece I have taken away some of its impact.
Bit by bit
12″ x 25″ (including frame). Collage of magazine clippings and glue stick. 2008.
This is what I would consider my first true artwork. Around the time I found a helpful antidepressant, I started my first art class in high school. This is a self-portrait I created, demonstrating my feeling of hope. The blue circle in my abdomen references a meditation technique I found quite useful for anxiety and insomnia.
12″ x 13.5″ (including mat). Letterform collage of magazine clippings and glue stick. 2010.
This piece is a good-humoured take on the act of following suit. For our own well-being we must all go our own way.
16” x 16”. Expandable soft book made of digitally printed cotton, fibrefill, polyester, embroidery floss, and metal snaps. 2012.
I believe the point of life is curiosity, creativity, and the forming of connections. In this piece I pay homage to all three. Each segment shows a different area of science. Counter-clockwise from the top we have quantum physics, chemistry, crystallography, genetics, biology, botany, neuroscience, and astrology. I have digitally constructed the pieces from scanned images of my pen drawings and acrylic paintings, as well as pages from a vintage science encyclopedia.
(I will go into more detail about this piece in another post)
Well that’s that. Quite a rewarding trip down memory lane. Wish me luck!