Reassembling the Self at GV Art

Filed in Reviews by on September 30, 2014

Reassembling the Self

GV Art Gallery

Until 11 October 2014


I have to juggle everything I am holding to write down the quote from the short documentary that discusses the schizophrenic condition. That is, that schizophrenia, ‘stops you editing reality, everything you see could have an important meaning’. Perceptions can be distorted, and it is these that are vital in forming the building blocks to your own identity. This is what those diagnosed with schizophrenia are having to deal with, in trying to make sense of their surroundings, of their own place in these surroundings. And this is what this exhibition explores, placing the scientific and psychological facts alongside visual interpretations of the condition.

Three pieces gleam under the gallery’s lighting. Upon them all a block shape of a skull, a pale and stripped down set of ribs, and beneath this highly contrasting images of the intestines, the muscle and sinew of one arm and the heart. Surrounding the skull is a hazy cyan and wiry like transmissions. The ink is a dense, matt black, and the presence of the blue reminds me of cyanotypes and early forms of photography and printmaking. Of course, the most relevant in this instance being the x-ray.

Printmaking plays a massive part in this exhibition. Downstairs we move to prints of hair, with thicker strands and tiny clippings etched into the plate, showing as delicate marks in the blue and black ink on the prints themselves. There are lithographs of photo collages that bring together different types of imagery. There is a mix of diagrammatic and photographic. Together they create surreal new bodies, where skeleton hands emerge from intestines, and everything is out of scale. The pieces are so abstract, yet each and every element can be related to each and every one of us.

Created by Susan Aldworth both during and after completing an artist’s residency at Newcastle University’s Institute of Neuroscience, the process of printmaking lends itself to the topic of research. When talking of the body, we think of corporeality, we think of direct mark making. Yet, what Aldworth is addressing is the very discomfort we have when we are being made to look inward at something we perhaps don’t want to comprehend, to muscle and flesh and tiny hair clippings that remind us of when people haven’t cleaned the bath. With printmaking, images are not direct; they are taken from something that has been worked on (for instance, the plate). Perhaps, there is something in this that relates to not wanting to look inward; maybe this stretches to mental illness.

Aldworth’s work sits alongside work by two fellow artists, Camille Ormston and Kevin Mitchinson, both who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Ormston’s work is delicate. Self-portraits are made with thousands upon thousands of tiny pencil marks, of faces that melt to reveal another, or are joined with a chessboard pattern to another. The imagery is Dali-esque. Her mandalas have such graphic precision, close up you see the repeated symbols, flowers, hearts, seeds, eyes, fish. They each have a different format. Looking at them, you sense it is a type of routine, a type of visual affirmation to be repeated. For all of Ormston’s delicacies, Mitchinson’s skills lie in bold and brash mark making, in using as few elements as possible to create something striking. There is a graphic quality in the simplicity of his work, in the eyes of a psychiatrist that bear down upon you, to the image of two parrots, perhaps chatting away.

For both Ormston and Mitchinson, there is a stream of creativity that allows them to visually represent how they cope with the world differently. Aldworth’s work sits alongside this, and from an outsider looking in, has produced work that looks to understand, that produces in the viewer similar feelings of confusion or uncertainty. If I came into this exhibition with very little understanding of the schizophrenic condition, I feel that I left feeling much more informed. I took away information from the documentaries and the leaflets on show, but also I took away a more empathetic understanding, because I was given the chance to explore the wholly disparate visual creations of two individuals who had been diagnosed. It is an enriching exhibition, one that confronts us with a stigmatised condition, but helps us to understand it. Which, in the light of World Mental Health Day (on October 10th) can only be a truly positive step forward.


Ann-Marie Rayney

About the Author ()

Ann-Marie Rayney is a printmaker based in London. Recently graduated from Goldsmiths with a Fine Art and Art History degree, she will most likely be found exploring London's cultural offerings or covered in ink at Sonsoles Print Studio in Peckham. To see some of her work, have a sneaky peak at her website here.

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