A drop in the ocean: Sarah Carpenter

‘Bedlam: the asylum and beyond’ interrogates the original ideal that the asylum represented – a place of refuge, sanctuary and care – and asks whether and how it could be reclaimed. This blog series intends to showcase as many different voices and perspectives from people with lived experience of mental ill health and explore their ideas of personal asylum.

This post is from Sarah Carpenter, an artist who showed work in Bethlem Gallery’s ‘Reclaiming Asylum’ exhibition earlier this year.

 

‘Torn’ from my ‘Emerging’ series.

‘Torn’ from my ‘Emerging’ series.

Having suffered for many years with depression, anxiety and eating disorders, I have found refuge in my art and cannot begin to explain how much it means to me to be able to produce my work.

Having spent a long time with so many things on my mind, my recovery has cleared space in my mind and life for more creativity. I now use art to proactively utilise my energy and in turn keep up the momentum of my recovery. It allows “me time” to do something that I enjoy and am passionate about as a way of self-soothing.

Through therapy from my eating disorder I began to realise how little I recognised and dealt with my emotions. My artwork has allowed me to really engage instead. On a very basic level, producing my work gives me a positive outlet for my frustrations, emotions and problems. I’m able to escape as I “switch off” and focus on the process of making the work. This process allows time to pass and emotions to calm, meaning I can deal with things from a much calmer place.

A strong aspect of my problem is an innate need to challenge myself and do better. Making my work helps me realise the interpretive nature of art and keeping this in sight allows me to be more positive and reward myself again. My illness can make me feel the need to gain control. Producing my work allows me to channel this in a much more constructive and positive manner.

I feel lucky to be able to communicate through my work. In my experience, the arts are a great facilitator for opening up lines of communication.

'Wallpaper' from my 'Emerging' series.

‘Wallpaper’ from my ‘Emerging’ series.

In the past, my artwork has not only facilitated non-verbal communication, it has given me the confidence to talk about my mental health. This all helped towards reducing stigma surrounding eating disorders which made asking for help initially so difficult for me.

I hope that through making my artwork, people who have similar experiences may take comfort in this kind of sharing, that it may help the battle to break down stigmas.

The work

Process to me is just as important as the final outcome. My piece, The Small Things (below), lets an audience in on my deeply personal daily practice of finding sanctuary through repetition.

I work predominantly as a graphic designer and digital photographer, therefore I wanted to share how a return to materials and hand craft can be used as a way to unwind and disconnect from our otherwise predominantly digital life. There is something very comforting about a return to traditional and simple roots. Using textile and fabric is a very satisfying practice for me as it adds another layer in the form of a multi-sensory and tactile experience.

The mark making itself is a process that creates rhythm and movement, which is a comfort to me as my background is in dance. This repetition can also lead me into a more mindful state.

Sanctuary & asylum

I recognise sanctuary and asylum as states of mind, emotions and feelings, as opposed to a physical place. It is an attitude and it is a lifestyle. We can find it within ourselves, but only if given the space, time and tools to do so.

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From my ‘Antique Postcard’ series.

There is a lot of focus on the type of spaces that should be provided in order for people to find sanctuary and asylum, but I feel that the most important facilitation starts with society’s attitude towards the ideas of “asylum” and “sanctuary”. These words have negative connotations and, as a society, we actually seem to frown upon the notion of asylum. People who seek help and support are seen as weak; not resilient or strong.

Some of the strongest people that I have met have been the ones who fight internal battles, become in touch with their own emotions and try to become better people by reconnecting and challenging their own thoughts; the people who seek sanctuary.

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‘Global Connectivity’, mixed media.

Allowing yourself the time and space, finding sanctuary and changing your thoughts and behaviours is not easy. As a society, we need to facilitate this, rethink the lifestyles that we have created where we ignore our own needs, show no self-compassion, do not give importance to taking time for ourselves and finding sanctuary and where actively seeking asylum is so very difficult to do.

Sarah is an artist, photographer and designer with a strong interest in combining traditional craft with digital practices. Follow Sarah on Twitter and Instagram.

Bedlam: the asylum and beyond‘ is on until 15 January 2017.

Hamlet, the melancholic Prince of Denmark

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. We previously celebrated this anniversary by exploring the four bodily humours and their effect on some of Shakespeare’s most famous characters. Nelly Ekström now discusses Hamlet, arguably the most famous literary melancholic. 

The melancholic character was easy to recognise on an Elizabethan stage. Lean and pale; moving slowly; sad and brooding; perhaps suspiciously looking around for enemies. Black bile, the humour that dominated this temperament, was connected to the cold and dry element earth; to old age and all things dying and rotting. Having too much of this dark and dull substance in your body would make you as dark and dull in body and mind as the humour itself.

In Shakespeare’s comedies, like The Tempest and As You Like It, there is often a melancholic figure that acts as foil to the more optimistic leading characters. But in the tragedies they are more often the leading characters, generally elderly men. Ageing was in itself seen as a process of gradual drying of the flesh and cooling of bodily humours. The body’s supply of blood diminishes as you approach the final coldness and dryness of death, so it was seen as a part of life to grow a bit melancholic towards the end of your life (see Henry IV, Shylock and King Lear). Continue reading

How often have you been bothered by any of the following problems?

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.

Russell

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. Continue reading

Module Units: Hannah Buller

Module Units is an installation of young artists’ work from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and Central Foundation Boys’ School. This collaborative display of artwork was initially inspired by our recent Foreign Bodies, Common Ground exhibition and our permanent collections, and has been coordinated and curated by artist Verity-Jane Keefe. Hear from the artists who took part in the project as they discuss the project as a whole as well as the final installation of their work.

Hannah Buller, Central Saint Martins Progression group

My piece is about me locking myself away in my bedroom whilst dealing with depression. I would surround myself with comforting things like pillows and duvets, toys from my childhood and writing in my diary. I wanted to do a performance to help bring my piece to life. I wanted to do the performance myself and not someone else because it is a personal piece another person would not be able to replicate it in the same way.

Hannah during her performance piece.

Hannah during her performance piece.

Before doing my performance piece I was really nervous. I hadn’t done a performance piece before and had some concerns. Will people take notice of my performance? Will I step out of character? Amongst other thoughts. However, whilst doing the performance I just blocked everyone out. The more I got into the performance the more natural it felt.

Hannah writes in her diary during her performance piece.

Hannah writes in her diary during her performance piece.

I felt that 15 minutes should be enough for my performance, but I probably could have done the whole night. Doing the performance has really boosted my confidence and pushed me to put myself out there and take ownership of my art. I got great feedback from the other artists and viewers.

Read Hannah’s personal statement about her work and see an image that relates to the process of creating it here.

Contemporary votive illustrations: Lost within one’s self

Our exhibition ‘Infinitas Gracias: Mexican miracle paintings‘ has just closed, but we have a few more contemporary votive illustrations to share with you, based on stories submitted by visitors to Wellcome Collection and to our website. Just as Mexican ex-voto paintings were made by painters to tell stories of thanks, these contemporary stories of gratitude involve an exchange between storyteller and illustrator.

Amy Goh: Lost within one's self

Amy Goh: Lost within one's self

Amy Goh’s latest illustration is for this story:

I am thankful for having people around me who pull me away from the black hole of loneliness. London is one of the biggest and most populated cities in the world; however, it is so easy to be lost within one’s self. My friends and the people close to me have been able to show me the light and steer me away from my own near fatalities of depression. I give thanks for being able to see the light shown from the beauties my loved ones show me, and I give thanks to the one who once loved me.

Hina, London 2010. For Rav Lochab.

You can find out more about Amy Goh’s work and explore more votive illustrations on the Wellcome Collection website.