Poignantly placed in the unadorned basement rooms of Summerhall, groups of profound and sometimes startling paintings and sculptures sit for Out of Sight, Out of Mind. The exhibition, which runs until the end of October, is a mix of works by professional artists who have experienced mental health issues, and self-made artists working with community mental health projects to learn to express themselves in art.
Underneath Summerhall, the atmosphere of the crumbling paint on the old cement walls feels like it’s from a long-abandoned place. It’s here where deep and difficult to express feelings are allowed to unfurl and give voice to themselves in haunting and imaginative colours, faces, and words.
The Chaplaincy Centre in the University of Edinburgh is not a gallery space, but serves as the second site of this multi-venue exhibition. Like Summerhall, it was not a place intended for art. However, on one wall are the stories of Gypsy/Traveller Carers in their own words, which make up the Moving Minds exhibition, while on the others hang canvas works for From the Heart, a series of artworks inspired by passions and created by people working with community health projects that use art for their mental wellbeing and recovery.
Rather than seeing a collection of symptoms to be treated, the paintings that make up From the Heart show people with passions, loves, interests and all the things that light them up despite the problems they have faced.
As I read the Gypsy/Traveller Carers’ stories of discrimination and social alienation, it added another layer of resonance to see their words hanging in the background of a room not designed for them. While I was there, students studied, ate, talked. In this space used by students to pass a few hours, Scottish Travellers are bearing witness to heart-opening and fierce stories, dealing with great pain and social stigma, and their love for family, the world and creativity. But always just in the corner of the eye, just out of reach.
In the dimmest and most distant room of Summerhall, down an echoing passageway, is the video from the Off the Wall project by Conversations for Change. The short film from this public art project in Edinburgh, aiming to start as many public conversations about mental health as possible, plays in a dark cement room that feels as thought it is as deep underground as it is possible to be. Outside in the hallway was a stack of posters asking ‘Is mental health a difficult topic for everyday conversation?’ for any visitor to bring to their own outside world.
In the centre of the basement was the room that held most of the works by the Gypsy/Traveller artists. A vibrant collection of paintings, photographs, objects and words that urgently showed flashes of the vital traditions, patterns and unique moments of their lives. After reading the stories of discrimination at the Chaplaincy Centre and being in this dim underground place, seeing the intense memories, experiences and expressions of different Gypsy/Traveller people stood out in brightness and depth.
Lastly, upstairs in the Summerhall Café the Attitudes illustration project scaled the full height of the wall. Using strong lines and a few bold illustrations to draw in onlookers. Though the wall was lined with café tables, it clearly didn’t recede into the background. It was heartening to see people in the café irresistibly walk to the wall and read the words written there about self-harm, created by teenagers with the help of illustrator Eduardo Iturralde.
In all the different projects that contribute to this multi-venue exhibition, the ferocity of feeling held by the people behind it grabbed onto passersby from the margins, from the corners and all those hiding places just tucked away from sight.
Written by Heather Lune
Out of Sight, Out of Mind takes place in venues across Edinburgh until Saturday 31 October. Find full listings and links to all the exhibitions here.