You are cordially invited to the opening of the exhibition “Check-In” on Friday, the 8th of September at 7pm at the Likovni salon Gallery.

Saša Bezjak, Adelina Cimochowicz, Sophie Hoyle, Andreja Kulunčić, Dorijan Šiško

The exhibition Check – In is a part of a multi-year international project Art and Mental Health taking place under the auspices of the Centre for Contemporary Arts since 2022 in the form of workshops, lectures, and exhibitions. The project investigates the occurrence of the issue of mental health in the field of art, and the potential offered by contemporary art practices for addressing the distress beyond the therapy sessions. We are above all interested in the methodologies applied by the artists working with vulnerable groups, how they translate their own distress into art forms, and the issues they deal with when addressing their mental health.

Central to the exhibited artworks is the underlined notion that mental health crisis cannot be addressed separately from the broader social context. The fact that the course of life does not depend solely on individual choice and that mental health disorders cannot be understood as individual problems, but that they are rather a reflection of the social configuration based on uneven distribution of power, was proposed by the late British theorist Mark Fisher who himself battled depression and promoted through his writings the public awareness of the political dimensions of mental health. The exhibition deals with mental or psychological distress beyond the intimate space and sheds light on the situations in which it appears. It frames the issue of metal health as a common problem pertaining to the entire society, and stresses the importance of connecting through public discussion and addressing of personal crises, in place of self-help.

In his series Burnout, the artist Dorijan Šiško uses the subversive technique of graffiti to express in a witty manner how difficult it is for any alternative notion to persist in the commodified Western society. Šiško uses the motifs of consumer society to present an environment that compels the individual to strive for comfort while at the same time fusing together life (or private time) and work in order to be ceaselessly productive. The increase in the incidence of burnouts in the Western population indicates that such expectations are difficult to keep up with. Also contributing to the burnouts are precarious working conditions that deny the individual her security, but rather keep her in an uncertain search of ways to survive. Precarity is particularly characteristic of cultural work, which is addressed by the artist Sophie Hoyle in her video Listen to Them – Don’t listen to Them (Scrawl). In her work, she presents her impression of cooperation in the field of art where, in absence of structural support, responsibility for success and the course of life is shifted solely to the artist and her creative potential, which results in concern, internal restlessness, and doubt about one’s own abilities and capacity. She also wonders how to navigate the numerous opportunities and liberate herself of the constant fear of missing out, and how to fully transpose the experience of life into an art form. In the video, her voice attempts to define, in an anxious rhythm, what matters enough to be said out loud and to be displayed, and what is worth talking about in the age of late capitalism when we are witnessing hyperproduction of art. The artist Saša Bezjak developed her artistic expression through her personal collapse as she received, in a time of her financial hardship during her studies, judgement by prominent teachers that her drawings fail to conform to the standards of the artistic system. Through constant criticism, she had developed a conviction that she was not good enough, although she felt she was capable of making a living exclusively with her art. At the exhibition, she is featured with drawings created during and after hospitalization, which indicate a style that is direct, deliberately naive, and carrying a clear message that is now one of artist’s hallmarks. The drawings that express the multitude of her feelings are a way of transforming personal anguish into a way of life. The artist also stresses that the response from her immediate environment that did not stigmatize her was crucial for the continuation of her artistic career. Fear of stigma due to hospitalization is also investigated by the artist Andreja Kulunčić in her extensive project Destigmatization that deals with the problem of discrimination by the society against people treated and psychiatric institutions. The project was created in cooperation with social pedagogue and psychotherapist Dubravka Stijačić and patients at the psychiatric hospital Vrapče. The exhibition features her installations On Schizophrenia (De-stigma) and Within. The work On Schizophrenia (De-stigma) illustrates how difficult it is for people with a mental illness diagnose to reintegrate into the society following hospitalization. Due to fear or prejudice, their environment rejects them, which in turn leads to an internalized sense of inadequacy as they start to self-restrict themselves with the label of illness and exclude themselves from social activities. The artist underscores that mental health patients are a part of the society and that reintegration into society is only possible with acceptance by the society. At the same time, she explores how they can become the agents of destigmatization and propose possible solutions that would make it easier for both the patients and their environment to facilitate their inclusion back into social life. The work Within deals with depression and it includes a recording of group therapy at the psychiatric hospital Vrapče. The group therapy participants emphasize that external circumstances such as economic pressure, unemployment, and patriarchal relations contributed to the deterioration of their mood and loss of any sense or purpose in life. In her work titled Natural State, the artist Adelina Cimochowicz addresses mental health distress from the aspect of gender and class, and points out the occurrence working/employed women living in poverty. The work is based on an interview with three single mothers who live in financial distress or deprivation despite having regular work; as a result, they live in constant fear and concern. Along with their personal accounts, the video features a dancing elderly woman on a riverbank, surrendering to light and deliberate movement in the moment, appearing care-free and relaxed. By juxtaposing pain and joy, the artist problematizes the pervasive forms of self-help, such as the practice of mindfulness that she sees as a misleading means of empowerment. In his book The Origins of Unhappiness, the clinical psychologist David Smail argues that an individual is essentially shaped precisely by power relations, which is why an improvement in mental health is only possible with simultaneous transformation of relations of power and authority.

Curator: Maja Hodošček
Text: Maja Hodošček
Supported by: Mestna občina Celje, Ministrstvo za kulturo RS

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