Ort Gallery presents Mother, a joint exhibition by Antonia Attwood and Daniel Regan of their separate practices. What unites the multimedia installations is the desire to speak about taboo subjects such as grief, mental illness and the shame that accompanies these experiences. The exhibition is ambitious and brave as the artists share their own and others’ vulnerable states and emotions. It does not shy away from asking the visitor to fully commit to the work, allowing themselves to feel the strong emotions portrayed and experience others’ raw emotions. It is important for Ort Gallery to bring difficult topics to the community as these are experienced by many people. The mental health charity Mind estimates that “approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.” It is therefore vital to speak about and share these experiences.
Antonia Attwood is an international artist working with moving image and photography. Antonia’s body of work has developed a focus on illustrating and visually interpreting how mental illness ‘feels’. Using still and moving imagery and sound, it depicts the affects of chemical changes in the brain and the experience of mental illness. Her work explores how it feels for particular individuals to be vulnerable and overwhelmed by the world living with a medical condition.
“I am particularly interested in the discomfort and often taboo and jarring subject matter that periods of mental ill health can create. My process involves collaboration and conversations with people who have experienced very dark places in their mind.
My motivation derives from personal experiences of living with mental health conditions, both in terms of my mother’s management of bipolar disorder and my own episodes of mental illness.”
For the multi-screen installation Nothing is further from who I am (2019) Antonia interviewed a mother who experienced post-natal depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The volunteer interviewees she works with always remain anonymous so that they feel comfortable opening up about subjects that they are dealing with when in altered mind states. They are primarily motivated by ensuring people who may also experience taboo thoughts and feelings may not feel alone. They have often never before shared these honest experiences — not even to health professionals. This is due to the fear of what may happen as a consequence. In turn, this has increased feelings of guilt and shame in response to their thoughts and experiences. An important element of Antonia’s work is the revealing of this subject matter, in order to interrogate the complexity and paradoxical process of sharing.
Antonia works with actors in order to explore the way in which we can change the interpretation of experiences by changing the person who tells the story. This raises questions and challenges how we might patronise and stereotype mental health patients.
“I want to challenge the way in which people may be dismayed or empathise with the narrator.” The actors of differing ages, backgrounds and genders, perform the exact same piece imitating not just the words but the tone, accent and intonation, which add to the meaning of the words. The work questions how the viewer’s reaction to the script might change with the different voices.
I’ll Be Seeing You
Daniel Regan is a London-based contemporary photographer captivated by the human condition and the exploration of complex emotional experiences. The thread of intimacy and the desire to connect with others and himself weaves its way throughout his practice. Daniel is a strong advocate for the arts as a therapeutic tool for exploring difficult life events.
Daniel lost his mother unexpectedly in February 2019. His part of the exhibition represents that first chaotic year of being a motherless child and the continuous search to navigate the spectrum of grief. Daniel has been on a journey of attempting to remain connected to his mother and this exhibition is a collection of these attempts.
“We shared a very complex and intense bond from a very young age and throughout our lives together. In my adolescence we would exchange letters instead of speaking as I struggled with my mental health difficulties. In my early 20s my mother was the foundation of support as I experienced a number of mental health crises, slowly benefiting from accessing mental health services.”
Daniel’s mother was a keen gardener which sparked off the process of producing botanical prints as a way to stay close to her. These works, without going through a chemical fixing process, will slowly fade away when left to continue exposing in sunlight throughout the exhibition, a metaphor for the loss he is experiencing. The simple and repetitive process has been an accessible process to him in the throes of grief and yields delicate and beautiful results.
“Shortly after my mother’s death I could not stop crying. It would come from nowhere, uncontrollably, and derail and destabilise me. I couldn’t understand what was happening when it hit.”
Daniel also worked with the microscopy department at Kings College London to create an image of his collected tears. This singular image symbolises an attempt of the artist to map out his journey of grieving at a cellular level.
Daniel’s self-portraits made throughout this grief period continue the exploration of embodying elements of his mother by drawing on cosmology. With a particular interest in
challenging our sense of scale he questions our sense of place and purpose in the world: the vast universe and the microcosms of our relationships and memories.
The exhibition is curated by Josephine Reichert, Artistic Director of Ort Gallery in collaboration with the artists. This exhibition is supported by Arts Council England.
Mother by Antonia Attwood and Daniel Regan will be on show at Ort Gallery from 1st February to 14th March 2020, Wednesday to Saturday 12-5pm, entrance is free.