A participatory artwork in the form of an audio tour in the city of Glasgow, She Stepped Backwards In Front of the Words Behind Her conjures artist Emily Furneaux’s own experiences of slipping into a state of psychosis. In our latest Q&A, we talk to her about why she decided to speak out.
Can you describe your own experience of psychosis?
Ooo very difficult to summarise because of its multifaceted presentations. I would say a quite magical, disturbing at times, fantastical adventure whereby our collective reality becomes mis-shapen. I fell out of the reality we share as humans, perceiving, and misinterpreting my minds thoughts as they played out in the environments I found myself in.
There is more stigma around psychosis than there is around anxiety or depression. What made you decide to speak out about it?
For that very reason. It’s fantastic we are living in a time where we are finally accepting, and have an awareness of, mental health difficulties but our conversations and awareness needs to extend to severe presentations of mental health too. It took me a long time to speak openly about my experiences – it has only been through the making of this project that I have become more confident in sharing my experiences and it hasn’t always been easy – there have been multiple occasions where people have asked what my project for SMHAF is about. And I tell them it’s about my own, personal experiences of psychosis and they will look to the floor, unable to make eye contact because they feel uncomfortable. We have a long way to go to break the stigma, to make people more comfortable and I hope my offerings will help to widen our conversations.
How did you come up with the idea of an audio tour, and what do you hope audiences will get out of it?
It seemed very fitting to make a project where you are taken on a physical journey as you listen to my fantastical, often humorous and sometimes bleak accounts. Many of my experiences, as I slipped into psychosis, occurred on a long walk through Glasgow on the day of my 30th birthday.
Tell us about the title, She Stepped Backwards in Front of The Words Behind Her. It’s very evocative.
Well it sort of mimics the feelings I had of being in multiple time frames and places within the same period of time – a huge component of the audio: “Determined now and content with her new capabilities to delve into the wealth of undulating trajectories oscillating in front, below, behind and above her. An intricate, chaotic cluster of collaged time and place, folds, creases, perforations, rips and tears, collaboratively ruinating and renewing on one infinite roll of paper, unencumbered by linearity. “
Have you made work exploring mental health before?
No I haven’t – this is a new journey for me! I never thought I would re-tell my stories – following my breakdown, I found it extremely difficult to reconnect with my art practice.
When I did finally begin to feel better it seemed very clear I needed to make an artwork about my experiences. And then, I spent months trying to write a project in which I could protect myself – sort of hide behind the work by using a fictional character. Something always felt jarring about it and then I realised I needed to be bolder and write my stories, as me.
How and where did you learn to be an artist?
We are all artists! I just happened to learn I was one quite early on. I studied in Brighton and Kansas City, USA before moving to Glasgow nearly ten years ago.
How would you describe the kind of art you make?
The form my work takes differs from project to project and is very dependent on the subject matter. I work in sculpture, video, collage, paper model making, audio and installation. I make work usually about a place or environment weaving fiction and fact to create new encounters and new narratives. My investigations into ‘place’ often become intercepted with personal encounters, gut responses and obsession that become woven and tangled in the environments they are played out it.
What are you working on next?
I will be working on a mockumentary for Glasgow International Festival. Set in 2022, it tells the story of my rise to sporting fame after winning the Boston Marathon in 2020 and then my disappearance, to make artwork, shortly after. In correspondence with the presentation of the mockumentary in April 2020, I will be actually travelling to Boston (by cargo ship and train) to run the Boston marathon, with the intention to win it (a wildly ambitious goal) so I can become a sports personality and then disappear to make artwork.