Mental Illness Awareness Week
Coping through art
Presentation about creating with mental illness at Wrong Brain Oct. 4
Portsmouth Herald - 10/3/2017
This first week of October marks Mental Illness Awareness Week, and in celebration of this important subject, which still remains a somewhat taboo topic of conversation in today's society, Dover's Wrong Brain art studios will be hosting twoevents emphasizing the work of artists dealing with mental issues.
The art house, which is described as "a venue and outlet for unconventional, under-represented and emerging artists, writers and musicians in the Seacoast," according to its website, is a vital space for lifelong poet and 10-year veteran visual artist, Phoenix Mayet, to display her pieces regarding the connection between creating art and living with mental illness.
Mayet endured childhood trauma and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her early twenties. She believes art plays a significant role in helping her process these life experiences and it continues to help her progress, understand and live with her manic-depressive symptoms.
Along with fellow artist, Pope Jones, who deals with similar afflictions,Mayet is presenting an evening called "Art & Mental Illness: Creating to Survive/Surviving to Create" at the Wrong Brain studio on Wednesday, Oct. 4. The night will include a talk from a representative of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, the organization behind the awareness week, and will feature slideshow presentations from both artists, along with discussions, poetry and Mayet's first foray into filmmaking.
"What we're hoping is to give an opportunity to talk about the role that art can play in helping people with mental illness to cope with their symptoms, and also (for) trauma survivors to share and express their experiences. It seems to me, in my own experience, that having an opportunity to creatively express those things that exist, in many ways, outside of the mundane, daily life ... has been incredibly useful in articulating, often times, what's going on internally," Mayet states.
The role of art as a strategy toward betterment will be shown in more detail in Mayet's solo "Individuation" show starting on Friday, Oct. 6. Construction, reconstruction and deconstruction are central themes throughout her exhibition, weaving through four main aspects of the artist's journey: medication, talk therapy, self-care and introspection.
Mayet is quick to call out that the use of the word "healing" may not be the best choice in describing her path to recovery, as it innately brings up the dichotomous idea of being somehow "broken" from the start. Mayet counters the linguistic polarization, saying "The egg must be broken in order to fulfill its promise. ... Are we broken in a way that is perfect? It's a matter of perspective."
This issue is at the heart of the photographs in the "Self-Care" pieces of her show. Mayet uses deconstructed and reconstructed food to illustrate coming apart and realigning. The means by which each fruit and vegetable is put back together is different; sewing pins hold a clementine peel in place, while string envelops potato slices. Mayet specifically incorporated this variety to acknowledge that the path to, and through, recovery is individual. "Everyone's got to find their own method for holding it together," she says.
Deconstruction carries over to the "Medication" section in the form of the altars, which she created, photographed, and subsequently dismantled. These altars are shrines to Mayet's prescriptions, and the collections of small items, both found and self-made, represent the positive effects and new feelings of well-being the medicines provide her. It took Mayet a long while to finally accept that she would need drugs, and she believes this hesitation is fairly common in people who have mental illnesses. "Hypermania can be a really thrilling place to be. The idea that you have to take medicine to keep you from going to the extremes of excitement sometimes can be a bit of a turn-off for a lot of people," she explains.
The constructed images making up the "Talk Therapy" portion of "Individuation" are representative of Mayet's discussions with her therapist. "They are meant to be dialectical, so they are black and white. ... They are relationships between two things in the images," she says.
The collages in the "Introspection" section of her exhibit are the pieces Mayet seems to have had the most fun creating. She describes, "Getting to construct this alternate image has been really exciting. You use paper and scissors, real things, not a mouse or a stylus. It's been a way for me to explore that unconscious mind and allow a part of me that's not quite as verbal to speak."
Whether through talking or creating, Mayet believes an integral part of her recovery process is this ability to deconstruct something from both a physical and psychological perspective. "The idea of really being able to let go, literally, of pieces of your history in order to replace them with more self-fulfilling experiences, has been a very important one for me," she states.
The concentration needed during the iterative artistic process - from initial creation, through re-creation, to the production of a final piece, and in some cases to the dismantling of the entire project - has helped Mayet cope with her past traumatic experiences and on-going bipolar disorder. She finds assistance in "having an opportunity to stay grounded through a process of looking at how these symptoms arise. How can I address them? How can I stay safe and sane through that, as not only a psychic process (but also) as an artistic process? They really do relate for me," she explains.
Philosophical questions and psychological theories about what it means to be a person are at the forefront of Mayet's show, including in the choice of its name. The "Individuation" title is a reference to the Jungian theory whereby a person brings forth unconscious thoughts and beliefs to the conscious mind in order to become a whole self. Mayet is working toward this "whole self" idea, using the four categories detailed in her art show, with on-going results where she can now say, "I am a self. I am a person. And that is okay. Not that I am okay, but that being is okay."
The "Art & Mental Illness: Creating to Survive/Surviving to Create" presentation will be held at Wrong Brain, 1 Washington Street, Suite 459, in Dover, from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 4. There is a $5 suggested donation. The opening reception for Mayet's "Individuation" exhibit will be held at the same location on Friday, Oct. 6 from 4 to 8 p.m., coinciding with the monthly Dover Art Walk. The exhibit is free and runs through Oct. 29. For more information, visit wrongbrain.net or phoenixmayet.com.