Having always been interested in how the human mind works and how mental illnesses impact individuals, I wanted to concentrate my self directed project on the issue within society that people with mental illnesses are often ignored or ridiculed for their illnesses because they are not visible. I’d wanted to raise the sense of empathy within those who didn’t feel these illnesses, and although this intention didn’t change, the way in which I chose to do it changed from being a generalisation to a very personal and concentrated look into the experiences of just one individual.
Mental illnesses are easily brushed under the carpet in society due to the fact that without experiencing them yourself, you don’t entirely understand exactly what these people are going through on a regular basis, the only way in which I felt I could induce genuine empathy in people was to create something which caused the person themselves to begin to feel as though they had this illness. A small, dark, closed off space was how I felt from the beginning this would be best achieved due to the sense of isolation and being trapped, it was meant to be representative of the mind of the ill person and how they couldn’t escape from it. Having the audio playing very loudly inside was the thoughts of the person, even though eventually this became an interview, but this appeared to work even better. I don’t think having the piece any other colour would have worked as this helped people to become completely lost in the experience.
Due to knowing in the beginning that I would be working with at least one person with a mental illness I wanted to get to know the illness in the best way possible, my background is knowing the psychological reasons for these like a need for control as a result of family life/education etc but I wanted to know more about the impacts in particular more about the impacts of stigma because when talking to someone about their illness I didn’t want to come across like I thought I knew everything about what they were going through just because I’d done a module on it at one point in the past, each persons experiences with these illnesses are different, I looked at the extent of stigma on sufferers in reports and was shocked to find that Time To Change had found that 69% of people had felt like they had been treated differently as a result of their illness. I did want to find out more about the illness itself, like the impacts it has and looked into shocking stories in the modelling industry about the extent the models go to in order to make themselves thin enough for the world they are in, but I also looked at Tracey Emins work due to being curious about how people react to installations which have quite a hard hitting message. All of these combined really developed my interest and passion about the project, whilst allowing me to produce an even stronger piece and relate to the interviewee in a beneficial manner to both the recording and them.
The most significant change was definitely the decision to concentrate on just one illness and one person, without this I think audiences would have become confused about what illness was which and would have been utterly overwhelmed with what was going on rather than becoming immersed in the experience as they seemed to. The interview being just one person allowed me to edit it together in an effective way and get some really hard hitting statements to flow in a really successful informative manner. Another being the decision to follow the tutors advise and move the artwork to the outside of the box, this pulled people towards the piece through sheer curiosity of the artwork and they were then drawn into wanting to go through the full process, which is something I saw happen a lot during the exhibition, I think it made the piece more approachable and better received. The piece was an installation, with audio playing through it and a blackout curtain which blocked out the goings on of the rest of the exhibition and allowed the person to become immersed. The intended audience was anyone who attended, as these were more likely to be young adults/adults who would understand the point of the project as opposed to young children, if the people were brave enough to go inside, they were the target audience.
I definitely feel like I achieved what I wanted to, the feedback alone is evidence of it being successful in allowing people to become lost in the experience, them beginning to develop more of an understanding of what someone with a mental illness goes through whilst also giving them information about one illness in particular, if any person walked away from today with a different view of how to react to/treat someone with a mental illness then this piece has been as successful as I had hoped it could be from the start. The piece didn’t just help those who listened to it, but it also helped my own understanding, it created more of a freedom of discussion and more trust between myself and the subject who is actually my best friend who has had an eating disorder for 5 years. It helped her by discussing something she has really only discussed with a few close friends and counsellors, it will help her recovery to know she is raising awareness and is brave enough to bare her most vulnerable side to an audience of people she has never met. The impact I hope will stay with people and the next time they hear a news story on the same matter will remember what they heard from the audio in the exhibition and remember their own experience in the box.
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