I recently took a trip to one of my favourite places in Liverpool, FACT, where often go to catch a movie in The Box or wander around the latest exhibition. This time it was to check out Group Therapy: Mental Distress in a Digital Age. The showcase was a collection of multimedia artworks, from photography to workshops, all exploring the relationship between mental health and today’s technologically developed society and its political conditions.
What I liked most about this exhibition was how interactive it was. The leaflet I was given on my way in stated that Group Therapy aimed to “prompt visitors to reflect on their own mental state, by creating experiences that bring awareness to the body and mind” and it most definitely did. I believe allowing the viewer to physically and kinetically engage with artwork is the most effective way to encourage them to delve into a state of self reflection.
The showcase took over both FACT Galleries and also included a programme of workshops and screenings, which spanned over 14 weeks. It was a pretty mammoth exhibition but absolutely worth the three separate trips I had to take to appreciate everything there was to see, do, create, watch and feel. I couldn’t possibly do each separate offering justice in one blogpost so I thought I would just outline a couple of my most memorable highlights.
Writing this a good three weeks after visiting the exhibition, I can confidently say that the piece that has stuck fast in my memory is Lauren Moffat’s Not Eye. I know most people recounting their experience at this exhibition will probably say that the harrowing Labyrinth Psychotica installation was their most memorable but I’m sticking with Not Eye. Maybe it’s because I’m always drawn to filmic pieces, I don’t know, but I was certainly fascinated.
The piece is a comment on a surveillance-obsessed society and features a short film where a woman has built herself an ominous-looking headpiece with an attached camera. The camera sits like a headlight on her head and subsequently inverts observation by turning a lens on the cameraman who is quite clearly uncomfortable with the situation. I was interested in Laura Mulvey’s various theories of ‘gaze’ throughout university and I found I could apply a lot of these concepts here.
A safe place to go mad…
Right, I know I can’t put the words harrowing, labyrinth and psychotica in the same sentence and not explain myself so here goes. Independent artist Jennifer Kanary Nikolov(a) built a sizeable labyrinth made out of high curtains, ‘hallucination poles’ and ‘directional sound’ in order to emulate and explore the feeling of psychosis. Visitors were invited to enter Gallery 2 and put on a white lab coat. which was to be worn as they made their way around the labyrinth in silence. Unable to see ahead or behind as they were engulfed in curtains made of velvet, plastic, rubber and God knows what else, visitors had to make their way to the end of the course using sense alone. The experimental piece aims to induce feelings of isolation, distress and paranoia that one with psychosis might endure.
The Labyrinth Psychotica was also included in the LightNight 2015 programme last weekend which had the theme of ‘Looking to the New World’ – perfect collaboration as our ‘new world’ is hugely effected by the relationship between technology and mental health.
I just googled the exact definition of the word ‘harrowing’ as I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to use it in this context but after being informed that it means “acutely distressing”, I am 100% confident. Acutely distressing is exactly how I would describe my time spent in the labyrinth and had I not had company on my way around it, I think I would have, for lack of a better phrase, completely lost my shit. I’m by no means a manic claustrophobic nor have any psychological conditions that I’m aware of but this piece was pretty unnerving to say the least. In saying all of this, it was also pretty ingenious and definitely not something I’m going to forget anytime soon.
Meditation, Creativity, Peace
I couldn’t fail to mention Meditation, Creativity, Peace! I’m a big David Lynch fan so when I saw the screening of his 2012 documentary on the supplementary events programme I couldn’t resist. The documentary features a series of Q&A sessions and interview with Lynch in various countries, which function to explore how transcendental meditation and yoga has influenced his unique creative process. I have actually never watched the film before so it was great to have an insight into the weird and wonderful mind of this legendary filmmaker and the brains behind some of my favourite films.
Good work, FACT!
(Images aren’t my own)