What unites the multimedia installations is the desire to speak about taboo subjects such as grief, mental illness and the shame that accompanies these experiences. The exhibition is ambitious and brave as the artists share their own and others’ vulnerable states and emotions. It does not shy away from asking the visitor to fully commit to the work, allowing themselves to feel the strong emotions portrayed and experience others’ raw emotions. It is important for Ort Gallery to bring difficult topics to the community as these are experienced by many people. The mental health charity Mind estimates that “approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.” It is therefore vital to speak about and share these experiences.
Antonia Attwood is an international artist working with moving image and photography. Antonia’s body of work has developed a focus on illustrating and visually interpreting how mental illness ‘feels’. Using still and moving imagery and sound, it depicts the affects of chemical changes in the brain and the experience of mental illness. Her work explores how it feels for particular individuals to be vulnerable and overwhelmed by the world living with a medical condition.
“I am particularly interested in the discomfort and often taboo and jarring subject matter that periods of mental ill health can create. My process involves collaboration and conversations with people who have experienced very dark places in their mind.
My motivation derives from personal experiences of living with mental health conditions, both in terms of my mother’s management of bipolar disorder and my own episodes of mental illness.”
For the multi-screen installation Nothing is further from who I am (2019) Antonia interviewed a mother who experienced post-natal depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The volunteer interviewees she works with always remain anonymous so that they feel comfortable opening up about subjects that they are dealing with when in altered mind states. They are primarily motivated by ensuring people who may also experience taboo thoughts and feelings may not feel alone. They have often never before shared these honest experiences — not even to health professionals. This is due to the fear of what may happen as a consequence. In turn, this has increased feelings of guilt and shame in response to their thoughts and experiences. An important element of Antonia’s work is the revealing of this subject matter, in order to interrogate the complexity and paradoxical process of sharing.
Antonia works with actors in order to explore the way in which we can change the interpretation of experiences by changing the person who tells the story. This raises questions and challenges how we might patronise and stereotype mental health patients.
“I want to challenge the way in which people may be dismayed or empathise with the narrator.” The actors of differing ages, backgrounds and genders, perform the exact same piece imitating not just the words but the tone, accent and intonation, which add to the meaning of the words. The work questions how the viewer’s reaction to the script might change with the different voices.