Sunday, April 19

And where were you?

I was very pleased to be invited to take part in And where were you? at Hastings Arts Forum. The show consists of work by thirteen contemporary and installation artists from the south east of England. Each of these artists bring a different engagement and interpretation to the reality or concept of absence.  The work is complex, often ambivalent, personal, visualising difficult, suppressed and unspoken feelings. The aim of the exhibition is to introduce thought provoking and challenging works alongside real social issues that affect our society.

Knitted Shreds (shredded photographs, staples, wooden knitting needles, 2012), previously exhibited as part of Telling Stories at HMAG and Tension at Kaleidoscope is made up of shredded photographs from my past, which have been stapled & knitted together to form a scarf-like object, thus reforming past memories into something comforting and transformative.

MedsHead (1930s hat-moulding stand, cotton wool, gold & black thread, red fairy lights, an illustration from ‘The Modern Woman’s Medical Guide’ (1950s), perspex box, 2015) depicts my experiences of being on medication for bipolar disorder. It shows the medicinal fog I felt when on strong anti-psychotic medication and the feeling of being distant, dissociated and elsewhere, but knowing that others still perceived my presence.

I was also pleased that aGender Arts & Education, which I founded in 2013, was the featured charity as part of the exhibition, as part of HAF's aim to work alongside other charities or in the community where they can mutually see an advantage and benefit to meet social needs in our community for 2016.

the lights are on at Rock House

The lights are a collective of artists working across an array of disciplines with lived experience of mental health issues. The lights are on is their touring exhibition, this being the third installation of the tour at the Art School, Rock House. The lights are an unfunded group, who plan to continue touring this and other exhibitions in locations around Hastings, London and Brighton.

The installation was developed from a 1970s Day of the Dead-inspired set, previously shown at the Towner Gallery, to one evoking the rise of nature over disused human dwellings, much like an abandoned asylum slowly being taken over by weeds and the disenfranchised - nature reclaiming madness. The contents of the set consist of memories and reflections of the artists’ experiences of mental health issues, while the back of the set is reminiscent of a derelict building, layered with years’ worth of graffiti with an existential twist.

For the installation, I developed Miss Havisham, whose previous incarnation was a testament to the women locked up for their mental health ‘disorders’ in the past, now transformed into a symbol of hope. Her previously dried skirt of bayleaves has been replaced with fresh ones, and she wears a wedding veil belonging to my great grandmother, her previously funereal garb replaced with bridal lace. Plath’s Lace consists of two drawings of vintage lace from the same lace collection, interlaced with Sylvia Plath’s poems Ariel, Daddy and Lady Lazarus, which address issues of suicide and family relationships.   

Thursday, December 11

The lights are on (but nobody’s home)

Seven artists’ explorations of their experiences of mental illness and the struggle for survival in an increasingly complex and mentally challenging world.

I was lucky enough to be invited as an artist alongside the temps, to take part in the Frames of Mind exhibition at the Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, curated by The Craftimation Factory as part of their year-long project in association with Recovery Partners. The project worked with adults with mental health issues creating stop-motion animations using hand-made sets and adorable knitted puppets as a means to exploring their experiences of mental illness.

© Amanda Jobson

Janey Moffat Laloë, who founded and runs the charity, invited seven artists including herself, with lived experience of mental illness, to create a life-sized animation set exploring their personal experiences of depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. As artists, we collaborated for two months in a warehouse space owned by Hastings Furniture Service in Bexhill, and came up with the idea of making a 1970s Day of the Dead-inspired set. We quickly found parallels in our ideas and themes of guilt, hope and redemption emerged in our work.

Janey’s piece, Feeling Wired, a life-sized puppet made of giant knitting, fairy lights and floral embellishments, depicts her experience of mania as part of her bipolar disorder. Initially conceived of as a playful puppet, the end result became a hauntingly disturbing figure depicting of the loss of control experienced by those in a state of mania or hypomania, characterised by racing thoughts, risky behaviour, excess energy and a decreased need for sleep.

© Xaverine Bates

My piece, Miss Mascha Havisham Cavendish, is a tribute to the multitude of women over the centuries, who have been vilified, incarcerated and executed due to mental illness and the myths surrounding it. Part auto-biographical, part historical, she represents the pain and hope I experience on a daily basis living with and learning to manage bipolar disorder. The black lace coat belonged to my great grandmother Mimi, and the bay leaves which make up the skirt represent bay’s many magical properties. 
Despire [1. to despise (Old French, Etymology: Latin dēspiciō) 2. to be aspiring and desiring 3. to desire and despise (urban slang)], my other piece, is a testament to the past eleven months of my life, from the nervous breakdown I experienced at the end of last year and my extensive contact with mental health services. The piece contains shredded blog-posts, written as a journalistic record of my journey, which were slashed and reddened to symbolise incidences of self-harm and suicidal ideations, sprinkled with drops of my own blood from one of these times. The white thread symbolises hope for recovery and acts as a shroud around my pain, while the gilt frame symbolises both guilt for the hurt I have caused and the glory of one day conquering and learning to manage the condition.

© Erin Marie Veness

Stuart Griffiths’ photographs, taken during his time serving as a young British paratrooper in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, show an image of a very ordinary reality in extraordinary circumstances. The young soldiers, some as young as 18 years old, were catapulted from normality into a hellish scenario with which many could not cope. Griffiths controversially depicted their lives off-duty, during which they indulged in illegal drugs and alcohol, as a natural means of dealing with mental trauma due to the events they witnessed in and around the streets of west Belfast in the 1980s. The photographs, drawings and letters written by Griffiths during this time, which are chronicled in his book Pigs’ Disco, were aired during his recent show at Sussex Coast College. He also included a playful drawing entitled The Black Dog of Depression, referencing Winston Churchill’s tender title for his chronic depression, now a commonly used term by those that suffer the condition.

© Erin Marie Veness

Amanda Jobson explored the now demolished Hellingly psychiatric hospital, built in 1898, which fell into disrepair after closure in 1994. Her photographs depict a haunting space populated by peeling wallpaper and abandoned hospital beds, hinting at the pain and despair of the patients who inhabited the space. Upon discovering that my great-aunt was admitted to Hellingly following a breakdown towards the end of her life, these photographs took on a particularly personal significance for me. Her smaller monochromatic photographs, Exeter Outer, including a ghostly winged figure, sit within silver frames and delicately question identity, reality and presence and/or absence of mind.

© Amanda Jobson
Susan Jean Lelliott wanted to explore her identity as a child, pathologised for her difference by her family, from a young age she was labelled as ‘mental’. The cage they made me is a poignantly delicate sculpture of a bird reflecting upon itself in a mirror within a vintage birdcage with a strewn joker playing card and sunflower seeds. By contrast, the paired piece, The cage I made myself, is an exuberant sculpture representing the strengths and limits of her adult self.  It is made of woven hydrangea flowers, vibrant yarns and a large wooden bird sits at the centre with a tiny bird headpiece bird fashioned out of wire and the artist’s hair.

© Stuart Griffiths
Rebecca Snotflower’s brains adorn one of the walls of the set. The first, an outline of a brain painted in garish neon pink, is contrasted with a meticulous monochrome drawing in her characteristically anarchic style of illustration which, on closer inspection, contains references to surveillance, Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining, religion, censorship and sexual imagery.
Erin Marie Veness’ monoprints, reminiscent of the raw, immediate style of Tracey Emin, depict lonely figures with slogans such as ‘Keeping ghosts alive’ and ‘We used to be friends’, which are largely auto-biographical, exploring her own personal experience with mental illness and contact with mental health services.
We decided as a group to graffiti the back of the set using slogans typically used by the general public in describing those with mental health issues. Entitled The Lights are On [but nobody’s home], we scrawled mental, schizo, two sandwiches short of a picnic and other such derogatory terms frequently used in common parlance about those suffering from schizophrenia, psychosis, depression and mania in vibrant dayglow lettering. The panels reference such controversial depictions of mental illness as a Hallowe’en outfit, stocked by a large chain of supermarkets last year, of a ‘mental patient’ in a straitjacket, which was swiftly removed after a campaign led by mental health charities.

© Erin Marie Veness
As a group, collectively known as the temps, who formed earlier on this year and collaborated on a street art project on the theme of mental health and mental illness around the streets of St Leonards as part of Coastal Currents, we quickly bonded and supported each other in our treatment of our own personal experiences and enabled each other to portray our issues in a safe and secure environment. The temps intend to continue their work as a group and hope to exhibit in Hastings & St Leonards, London and New York in the New Year.

© Mike Laloë

An edited version of this article can soon be found on Hastings Independent

For more information, see:

Monday, November 17

I am 41 but feel 14

I recently rediscovered my portfolio of drawings & paintings from my Art A-level & was pleasantly surprised by its contents. Contrary to my internal dialogue of never being good enough & never living up to the perfectionist vision in my mind, as well as the strict, unerring adherence to observation, measuring & composition imposed by our wonderful teachers, these drawings show a critical eye and unflinching commitment to detail, with all its imperfections. I can remember the precise moment each work was made, where I was, how I felt drawing it, almost (but not quite) what I was wearing & the smells that surrounded me. It was indeed a journey into past memories and a history buried for many years under beliefs of myself as an utter failure, which are helping me to consolidate my identity as an artist and enmesh my present with my past. It seems I could draw after all...

© xmb 2014

Tuesday, November 11


mourning the lost years
the agitated angst
of trying, trying, trying
to find a place
some place
of self
believing me to be bad
when really
I was simply

Saturday, October 11

the power of re:

One of the best things about mental illness, mental breakdowns, mental breakthroughs, mental experiences in general is the power of re:- re-examining, re-aligning, re-creating, re-living, re-purposing, although perhaps not re-peating if that is what got you into that state in the first place.

I am currently at a very raw place in my life. Having experienced all of the above, I am daily trying to re-place myself in the world. Having never really understood what my place is, this is kind of hard. I feel very lost. So I’ve been creating work that I feel reflects this feeling of disembodiment, of dislocation, of dismemberment. It’s similar to older work in that it’s autobiographical, that there’s an emphasis on process and repetition, but the difference is in its bloodied directness. 

I’ve never been in a place quite like this where I’ve been so flayed as to have no option other than to show my innards to the world. It’s not even unsettling to me as I’m so used to it. Perhaps it’s unsettling to others, I don’t know. I don’t actually care (all that much) what others make of it. It is work that simply has to be made as part of the cathartic act of healing. I feel so mired in lost-ness and unanchored-ness that it’s all I have right now that doesn’t jar, that doesn’t stir up seasickness and self-derision. So I will continue with it until it has finished with me, or finished me, whichever comes first...

triggered self (repeat)

Wednesday, October 8

states of mind - work in progress

[despire: 1. to despise (Old French, Etymology: Latin dēspiciō) 
2. to be aspiring and desiring 3. to desire and despise (urban slang)]

the falsity of facebook


headcase (detail)

triggered self

I'd give my eye teeth

I'd give my eye teeth (again)

I'd give my eye teeth (in passing)

día de los muertos

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