An Artist can show things that other people are terrified of expressingLouise Bourgeois
Art gives people the opportunity to express themselves, their feelings or internal thoughts where the spoken word feels uncomfortable; it is another form of communication. My practice looks at the themes of mental health through personal poetry, printmaking and installations. Over the past few years my work has evolved despite always having the recurring theme of mental health. I originally used printmaking as a platform to communicate and express my dark thoughts, anger and frustration using my lack of sleep as an inspiration; an unfortunate consequence of poor mental health. In the beginning I felt very hidden about opening up, to state ‘I Get No Sleep’ in bold, black hand stencilled printed text was an understatement but it was only the start of my artistic process.
After being advised to step away from dark concepts and make ‘lighter’ and ‘happier’ work I tried to approach my work differently, after originally being offended by the idea as to me this was allowing me to get my frustration out. It became very tiring personally by focusing on the negatives of mental illness, you begin to feel stuck in a rut. On a daily basis there is no escape and my platform that I used to escape slowly became delved in negativity. As a person who is already negative, with what already felt like every part of my life was falling apart, this didn’t help my situation. That is when I was inspired to write my own poetry. I only write when I feel inspired or typically when I feel low. I have been criticised when opening up about this method when I write as I was warned in order to make good art you can’t rely on feeling low. This is true, but for me, this is my voice. I can speak through my art where I would typically feel uncomfortable to communicate about mental health outside of artistic environments.
One of my earlier interactive installation pieces, ‘Bottled Up’, reflects the act of a person bottling up worries, fears and intrusive negative thoughts inside their own head. The bottle was put on display and open to the public to connect with the object and fill it with their own thoughts and worries.
By writing your thoughts, worries or concerns into the jar anonymously, it’s supposed to act as a release from the mind to push these negative thoughts into a contained environment freeing your mind from the pressure by essentially ‘getting it off your chest’. The bottle cannot be accessed or opened unless smashed, therefore trapping the thoughts forever
This was my very first project with connections to mental health and reflecting the build-up of thoughts in my own mind; moving to a new city, starting university straight from school with deteriorating mental health which I had no understanding of. I remember feeling terrified of publicly placing the jar out in the open for people to interact with in-case no one wanted to share their worries as I fully understood it is a highly personal and a daunting thing to do. At first, I released my own thoughts into the jar. Within over a week the bottle filled up.
This reminds me that it’s good to have chats and get your worries or darkest thoughts off your chest, even if it’s by writing them down, talking to a close relative, friend or even your pet. In the beginning it’s terrifying, it’s difficult to talk about something you don’t fully understand yourself. You feel there is no one to turn to, you feel so alone and isolated with your thoughts but in reality, you aren’t the only one experiencing this. This interactive installation is a gentle reminder that you are not alone. The bottle has featured at a Foolish Optimism event in Blantyre, Glasgow, my hometown, for a public event and will be on display to interact with at Blend Coffee Lounge, Dundee, on October 10th, 2019 – World Mental Health Day – for our Foolish Optimism: Hope In Action event. The response that this specific piece has received has been amazing. As an artist, I believe that if I can make a connection with at least one other individual then I have achieved what I have set out to achieve. I didn’t want people to feel they were alone in their plight, as I knew too well how draining and lonely that felt.
Another piece that is very relevant to society and mental health is my handmade book and poem, ‘Layer Me’. This explores the theme of the current NHS waiting times before being able to see professional help. People are being faced with a six-month waiting list. ‘Layer Me’ highlights the isolation and loneliness felt caused by our system and society whilst unveiling the daily struggle of painting a brave face on whilst feeling like everything is cracking and falling apart inside. This to date has been one of the most emotional pieces I’ve written as it exposes my own reflections of being part of the mental health crisis in Scotland. Nearer the end of the poem, ‘Layer Me’ expresses thoughts of suicide. The tense in the last line changes, allowing the reader to have their own interpretation of the outcome of the long enduring wait. I wanted to keep the book very personal in its making process from the binding, photography, poetry and handwriting. The personal element to this book is what makes it highly unique as I only made one original copy.
My artistic journey is reflected in my own journey. Only by becoming involved in the working group with Foolish Optimism, I feel more comfortable about speaking up about my mental health. This confidence translates into my art. I am working on an on-going print series called ‘Fifth Storey Flat’, inspired by a mental health poem I wrote whilst studying abroad in Nantes, France. I have had conversations on a national level and now an international level about mental health and hope, which is very beneficial to my art practice. I hope to continue to make art with personal themes that other people can relate to. They say all artists are ‘tortured’ but perhaps I’ve found a perfect way to communicate my inner feelings that other people may not necessarily be able to express otherwise.
Jacqueline is a current 4th year student at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design. See more of her work over on Instagram