Wellcome Collection explores what it means to be human through medicine, art and science. So when our Web Editor, Russell Dornan, saw someone doing the same in the form of a photography piece last year, he wanted to translate that in some way online. After meeting with the artist, Yuxin Jiang, they collaborated on this blog post in attempt to do just that.
In September 2015 I went along to the University of Westminster’s degree show of its MA in Photographic Studies course to see my friend’s work featured in it. The exhibition, The Pensive Image, was hosted in the Ambika P3 gallery in London and included students from all over the world. One of the pieces that really grabbed my attention was the work by Yuxin: I found it compelling and layered; immediately visually interesting, but something that took a few minutes of exploring to begin to understand.
I saw the strong affinity Yuxin’s work had with Wellcome Collection and wondered if there was some way to explore it online. After making contact and meeting up, we discussed how to showcase the piece in a blog post. A blog post, of course, is a linear medium without the ability to show nuanced relationships between individual images. The challenge was for me to present it in a way that ensured Yuxin still felt confident about the message and the integrity of her work, while respecting the differences between an online experience and a physical one.
I hope we’ve been successful! Now over to Yuxin to take us through her fascinating piece of work which, it turns out, was partly researched at Wellcome.
How do you represent the unrepresentable – unpresentable due to overexposure or lack of exposure? How do you represent that which has been drained of meaning, misrepresented to the point of saturation, yet under appreciated and neglected to the point of absurdity?
I came across these words in an exhibition catalogue by artist Jayce Salloum. I was drawn to them straight away as these were the same questions I kept asking myself when developing my project How often have you been bothered by any of the following problems?
There is an extremely rich body of work on this subject, at least in terms of the written word. From Darian Leader’s The New Black and Julia Kristeva’s Black Sun, to Raymond Klibansky’s collaborative work Saturn and Melancholy and Sigmund Freud’s Mourning and Melancholia, not to mention Michel Foucault’s discourse on the epistemology of medicine and earlier writers like Robert Burton and poets like John Keats and Sylvia Plath. In contrast to the abundance of written work around the subject of depression, the visual representation of it is more limited. The artwork Mood Disorder by David Horvitz shown in MoMA’s New Photography 2015 is a recent example which echoes the typical and omnipresent image of depression.
So how did I want to represent the unrepresentable; an agonising yet exquisite feeling, a confusion which seems to be unresolvable? The last thing I wanted to do was add further to the stereotypical images of depression and fuel people’s negative feelings about it.
Instead, I aimed to open up the understanding of ‘depression’ in its broad sense: to engage the viewer to reflect on their own understanding, experience and memory, and to build a space for contemplation.
The project title How often have you been bothered by any of the following problems? symbolises that moment, the first touching point, when someone has doubted or been doubted that their depressive emotion has become an illness. I researched and explored various resources and disciplines, ranging from ancient Chinese scroll painting to commonly-used antidepressants in the UK, along with a variety of photographic and printing techniques. The aim was for it all to come together coherently in an almost symmetrical form.
The visual starts with the central two text pieces (above), suggesting the coexistence of a precisely defined illness as well as the inevitable human experience; the institutional system of treating depression and the scattered personal memories. While the central part remains crucial, the narrative sequence begins on the very left with the small piece of wall text, which tells an open-ended semi-biographical story.
I want the work to be intriguing, urging the viewer to move on, piece by piece, their imagination flowing and feelings echoing.
Yuxin is a visual artist and freelance writer based in London and Shanghai and graduated with a MA in Photographic Studies from the University of Westminster in 2015. Her current research interests include the epistemology of “depression” and its visual representation since 1950s. Find out more on her website.
Russell is the Web Editor at Wellcome Collection.