Last Sunday, a wet and miserable April day, about 70 people gathered at St Nicholas' Psychiatric Hospital in Newcastle to bear witness to Devising Psychosis - a newly devised piece of collaboraitive theatre.
Gathered in the Jubilee Theatre - a wonderful example of a Victorian proscenium arch theatre completed in 1899 and a grade II listed building - were academics, artists, medics, therapists, service users, service providers and philosophers to name but a few. We were wanting to start a dialogue and a process of cross-pollination of interest and activity.
For me, it had been a long journey. Last year i took an idead to Alisdair Cameron at Launchpad in Newcastle suggesting we should celebrate 100 years of schizophrenia as a diagnosis. Much dialogue ensued - not least - should we be celebrating it at all? I was of the opinion that we definitely should celebrate it - but perhaps not in the traditional way.
From that moment on it become a group project. It really is the most collaborative and egalitarian project i have ever worked on. For starters there was no leader. We took the responsibility we were best able to take. We learnt as we went along, we skill shared, encouraged, mentored, we stumbled and picked ourselves up. We didn't actually get anything together in time to celebrate the 100 years and thus Psychosis 101 was born. We all liked the multi levels of references within this title.
Eventually there were about a core of 10 of us - this lead to millions of e-mails and loads of meetings. This is the price of working in a manner none of us had worked before - we were in unchartered territory driving at night with no lights. But because we all pulled together in the same direction for the common good, no egos over-riding anyone else's we got there. We sourced the funding, got the early intervention in psychosis team on board, recruited an evaluator, found a venue, drew on a lot of good will and - take a deep breath - finally got to perform.
The devising psychosis artists- myself ( Aidan Moesby), Tess Denman Cleaver and Sean Burn and we worked with the staff and young people who access EIP. The process took 10 weekly workshops where we exchanged skills and showed different approaches to making theatre, writing, oral narratives etc working towards a devised, and improvised, piece of theatre. By the end of the process we were all leading, we were all participants, there was no us and them as is usually the case in 'community' based projects to some degree.
We have much to learn from this process but we believe it can work with similar groups in similar ways. We want the project to have sustainability and have a legacy. We do not subscribe to the parachute in - parachute out model of engagement. We hope to train some of the young people we worked with as peer leaders to pass on the skills again. Critical to the success was also the buy in from the managers and staff of the early intervention in psychosis teams in newcastle. In fact the staff would have liked the process as training for them.
The event can be seen with some photos here http://www.facebook.com/events/319741064751527/
A performance of new work from the Devising Psychosis group will be presented. Comprising of mental health service users and staff from Newcastle and Gateshead Early Intervention In Psychosis teams, the Devising Psychosis Group have been collaborating with artist Aidan Moesby, theatre company Tender Buttons, and playwright Sean Burn over the last 2 months to devise a new piece of theatre. Performed against a backdrop designed and created by artist from Newcastle and Gateshead and North Tyneside Arts Studios, the piece is reflective of individual experiences and those gained together during this unique collaborative process.
Also performing areSean Burn will read from tattooing lorca - a sequence about sectioning and post-sectioning recovery.
A talk given by Dr Mark Cresswell, lecturer in the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University.
Family therapists from Newcastle Early Intervention in Psychosis team Kevin Hawkes & Alex Reid will talk about their personal journey as mental health practitioners in working with families and psychosis.
The event will also feature two participatory art installations by Aidan Moesby based around personal and cultural notions of well-being, and visual art from North Tyneside Arts Studio and Newcastle and Gateshead Arts Studio.
I'm doing an Engage Residency at Dundee Contemporary Arts. This is a post in response to something that happened - a small everyday occurence. But sometimes it's the small everyday occurences that trip us up.
It’s a constant dilemma, but mostly i know where i stand. If someone asks me how i am then i tend to answer truthfully. Mostly i know people aren’t actually remotely interested in ‘how you are’ - it’s a social construct - they just want you to say fine, or good, so you can move on. People (mostly) don’t want to know where you are on your own anxiety scale, or how close to the edge you are, or how well you are coping - well enough to be out but not to fully integrate with the world - well enough to be out and only do the things in your safe zone - well enough to be out but don’t want to be ambushed by new things in an already unsteady and unstable world. I’m sure you get the picture.
Yesterday I was on the well enough to be out as long as i mediate my interactions in the world really, really tightly. I was introduced to someone whilst talking to someone else. I was the proverbial rabbit in the headlights. I know the social mores etc - say hello and shake hands - except i didn’t - couldn’t - face that personal contact - and such was my level of anxiety that i couldn’t really engage even on a superficial level.
Now my dilemma comes because when asked how i was by the ‘introducer’ i said ok - but that was because i didn’t want to expose myself in front of a complete stranger in a situation where it would be inappropriate to divulge your inner psychological fragilities. But then that lead to the further awkward exchange and me not shaking hands - which makes me appear just a bit rude - not vulnerable. So today i feel i have to go and do some apologising.
So should I have been emotionally honest and exposed myself emotionally in front of a stranger? Should i have explained myself? Should i have stayed at home? I don’t know. It’s fraught. And i guess it has a salience to the residency which is why i am blogging about it here. Maybe i should think of doing some contextualising rather than apologising and maybe engender a debate around this and similar issues.
After having had a bleak first part of the year - as is well documented here - i now find myself flitting from one thing to another. I am pleased, really pleased. about this - but i know how fragile it all is in this current climate.
I am doing an Engage Everyone residency at DCA in Dundee. It's got a fab print room. I am looking at issues of engagement - why don't people access or engage with contemporary art. - people with disabilities that is. Another artist is looking at physical disabilities. Needless to say I am looking at the mental stuff.
In an attempt to normalise mental health I thought I would do a series of newspaper headlines from my fictional paper 'The Daily Compulsion'. Man puts left shoe on first. Very tame I know but it gives you an idea (if my right shoe goes on first I have to put them both on take them off then put them on properly with the left shoe first.) but I want more stories about significantly impairing, embedded etc.
I am looking for your input in the form of your stories about the things you do. Not just the C's from OCD but the rituals we have around the day to day or special. I will make you anonymous and immortalise you outside the DCA as a newspaper headline to a fictional paper. I am also thinking of making a book of them too. There are the - man checks front door is locked - normal stuff everyone does but which can be a behaviour of something else. If you would like to contribute please send to mailoto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com. It will be greatly appreciated.
It has been quite interesting getting people to look at things from a mental health point of view - i engage with spaces psychologically mostly - and then physically. I have already written on the nature of engagement with a space at http://engageeveryone.tumblr.com/
I return to DCA for another 2 weeks at the beginning of October. Meanwhile I am currently installing my solo show at The Art House, Wakefield which opens tomorrow - 28/9 and is part of the Wakefield art walk.
I’m not whingeing. It’s just a fact. It’s hard and no denying it. This has been the hardest, year I have had since being a freelance artist. I am in the hinterland, on the cusp, of being emerging and emerged – whatever emerged means. It’s like some kind of spurious notion like somehow things will be totally different when you have emerged. I am not some kind of butterfly who is in the process of artistically cocooning himself in the studio to break out that chrysalis one day and .....Da Dahhh!!!! Fully formed emerged artist and successful to boot! Hooray. Thrice Hooray.
I know artists – as I keep saying and keep encountering – always talk up their game about how busy they are. Well, Grizedale residency – over 100 applicants, Halle 14 over 130, Knowle West over 100 and I could go on. I remember back in the day when you would apply and be unfortunate if 20 or 30 others applied. So I presume not everyone can be really busy – working on this, planning that, something on the back burner here, fingers in pies there.... I have had very few paid days work this year in relation to previous years. I work every week – I put proposals in, I make new work in the studio, I try to keep busy, moving to avoid drowning in the fatigue of not having purposeful activity.
Let’s face it – work gives us many things. Not just money. It gets us into the world, it keeps us socialised, it can help our esteem and confidence, it can contribute to our well being quite considerably. Up until the end of June I was suffering from rejection fatigue. Absolute poverty was snapping at my heels. My moods were seriously affected, I was very very low – although as my not very helpful psychiatrist would tell me – I was not ‘clinically’ depressed. Then he would helpfully throw in that not every low mood is to do with me being Bipolar. My partner is an artist. Both self employed. How do you get benefits or help to get you through the lean times. You fall between the cracks of the welfare state.
I have had exhibitions this year and I have more lined up – but they don’t put food on the table. They are definitely jam for tomorrow. So how do you get out of it? How do you get by? How do you keep motivated? How do you keep swimming against the tide? I was considering doing what I have never done before – take a non art job to support my art. Fortunately I never had to act on the decision. One day work came through my door, visiting like a long lost friend and bold as brass. I am enjoying it but I have one eye on the door wondering when that friend is going to walk back out.
We live in difficult times. The National Portfolio funding came out – a few of the organisations we are all familiar with suffered. Arcadea – my local disability arts organisation didn’t get any funding at all. Geof Armstrong is at the helm and steering through the storm admirably.
How can the Arts Council claim to be promoting disability and disabled artists in the region (let alone nationally). How can it just ignore a whole cohort of artists, audience, producers etc in the North East? This decision leaves Manchester or Liverpool or Wakefield as my ‘locally’ funded organisations. But enough of that.
I was fortunate enough to meet Elinor Urwin from the Art House in Wakefield to go through some of my rejected applications. This was a brilliant – if not a bit difficult – use of an afternoon. There was so much material – so many rejections – to choose from. To have some simple pointers and some incisive analysis on my approach was invaluable. It is difficult to get feedback from applications, though I always try. Yet it is so contradictory. 'Too conceptual'; 'not conceptual enough'; 'too prescriptive'; 'not prescriptive enough'; 'too flaky'; 'too detailed'. How do you make sense of it? Well, having the objective eyes of Elinor reflect on this brought some clarity. So thank you Elinor – and congratulations to the Art House on their continued funding.
Why is it that artists (I have not always been an artist) have to say they are busy, or working on this or that. Why can’t they just say "it’s really REALLY hard out there and I’m struggling." I know why. You have to boost your own stock. No one wants an artist who isn’t busy etc etc. So I am blessed with all this time and cursed by the low moods of under employment. The irony is that I have a few exhibitions on and coming up – which is fab – but jam for tomorrow doesn’t put food on the table today.
I have just installed ‘Do you think we can talk about this?’ - a solo exhibition at the Centre For Life in Newcastle, which opens next weekend – the 16 April. It is a collection of pieces which reflect on my personal experience of diagnosis 'Bipolar Disorder.' and weaving in elements of the personal and cultural agenda surrounding mental health.
It runs for a couple of months. Can we talk about mental health? At once we are fascinated by those perceived as kooky, off beat, crazy and then we tire of them and vilify them and perpetuate the stereotypical images and viewpoints of those living with an enduring mental health condition. I hope we can talk about it. I hope we can get a right good open honest discussion going.
As ever, I have left it to the last minute, I want to first post before the year is out. Whilst I like to think of time more in terms of a continuum I can’t help but be lulled into some re-appraising of the year and thinking of the coming months. Sometimes it’s good to draw a line under something and lay it to rest, though I am not sure about this stop-start of a New Year thing.
As Brecht said ‘However, they won’t say the times were dark. Rather, why were their poets silent?’ These are dark times and getting darker – particularly in the worlds of disability and arts. There is little meat, let alone fat, on the bones to trim and – let’s cut the metaphors - seemingly more applicants for fewer opportunities.
As I ‘emerge’ and move towards ‘mid-career’ (these amorphous distinctions bemuse me) I think about career development. This leads to me a host of things which I will no doubt discuss in future posts. For instance where does the disability arts movement of today fit into the same movement that started out as a much more socially engaged movement?
From where I am sat they appear to be totally separate agendas now. What is disability arts now? Where do I fit into it all? How do I develop a career as a professional artist? Is there room for any more disabled artists? Does disability arts have ‘ranks’ to come through? If so how do you come through them?
As a socially engaged artist I am committed to inclusion in my work and strive to work within an milieu of equality. Sometimes I don’t always feel an equal within social or professional hierarchies be that the mainstream or the disability arts world. I find this contradiction interesting, disappointing and annoying. Sadly, I know I am not alone in this.
Living in the North East of England disability arts has been poorly served recently, thankfully Arcadea has a new Director and some fire being breathed into its’ slumbering belly. I look around the country for opportunities and see the work that Shape, DaDa, Dash et al. are doing.
I lament at times geographical restrictions/limitations of applications. Should I be more creative with my living arrangements? Unfortunately it has gotten so that I barely work or exhibit in my home region and I am grateful to opportunities such as Outside In at Pallant House for showing me in the Biennial of Outsider Art or the curators of the 40th Anniversary of the Disability Act exhibition for inviting me to show at the Houses of Parliament.
2011 is looming. It is likely to bring many challenges – cutting DLA, New Horizons, Arts Council cuts, the southern drain of lottery money in the run up to 2012, keeping food on the table. Thankfully I have woken from my own slumber, I am awake, inquisitive, re-politicised and ready to explore, engage and create an uncertain future in these uncertain times.