We’re excited to announce the five artists we have commissioned to create new work as part of our 2023 programme. They are Bircan Birol, Jamie Bolland, Jen McGregor, Keira McLean and Joey Simons, and Lilith (Lea) Cooper.

Inspired by our theme of ‘revolution’, their projects will agitate for revolutionary approaches to mental health care, document struggles around mental health from our past and an imagined future, and ask what it might mean to build a revolution around communal self-care.

The commissioned work – which encompasses live performance, film, printed materials and audio recording – will be shared on our relaunched website at mhfestival.com/explore and at live events during the festival.  

Since we announced our theme this year would be ‘revolution’, we have been struck by how much it has galvanised the artists and communities that participate in the festival. People are excited to explore how art can provoke change and revolutionise the way we think about mental health.

Our artist commission has been no different and received an incredible response this year. We are delighted to support this group of artists to create such varied and provocative work as part of our programme.

We would also like to say a huge thank you to everyone who applied to the commission. There were so many innovative, exciting and impassioned proposals that we wish we could have supported – we hope that we can find ways to support your work in the future.

About the commissions

Bircan Birol: ‘we depend on each other’

Bircan Birol is a documentary filmmaker who explores intergenerational connections, community relationships, and often-overlooked personal stories in her films. we depend on each other is a collaborative project with co-directors Bircan, Zozan, Lydia and Virginie.

This short documentary, which will premiere as part of festival event Moving Minds (Glasgow, 15 October), unfolds at a unique tea party. Four immigrant women discuss the challenges they faced after arriving in Scotland and the misunderstandings by the mental health system regarding their PTSD and related depression.

The film uses 3D scans of the women and their belongings to visually show parts of their journeys. These pieces, seen and spoken, come together to show healing as a shared journey. The story of a strong sisterhood finding comfort, laughter, and hope emerges.

This documentary is not only personal but also has a touch of humour. It shakes up the usual narrative about immigration and mental health, making it more relatable and personal while adding a lighter, more accessible angle.

It’s a truly collaborative and participatory project. We need more empowering and self-represented stories like this. I want this film to reach those who can find their voice in such stories, and also help others understand better.

Bircan Birol

Jamie Bolland: Untinned Animal

Credit Morvern Mulgrew

Jamie Bolland is an artist and musician based in Glasgow. Through their tin-foiled alter ego Mercuro-Chrome, they explore their experience as a survivor of the mental health system, agitating through poetry and performance for alternatives to ‘cops in crisis’ care.

For SMHAF 2023, Jamie will premiere a processional performance – acting as part soapbox-spieler, part zealot, part sage – as part of our opening event Manifesto (Glasgow, 4 October).

I was sectioned in 1999 and later diagnosed with bipolar. It has had a continuing isolating effect on my life. In the past few years though I have become more aware of other mad activists. It has been wonderful to discover people sharing similar livid experiences with the mental health system.

In particular, the successful campaign (in 2021, England) to stop the wider roll-out of Sensory Integrated Monitoring (SIM) which criminalised people who were experiencing crisis. Let’s agitate for a revolutionary approach to care that is by the community for the community – with unity there is strength.

Jamie Bolland

Jen McGregor: Be Kind to Yourself You Little Shit I Swear to God

Jen McGregor is a writer, dramaturg and director, trained at Mountview and mentored by Rob Drummond through Playwrights Studio. Her play Heaven Burns won the 2018 ART Award. Jen’s work explores themes of self-invention, death fear/death drive, and finding your place in a world in which you don’t easily fit. 

Be Kind To Yourself You Little Shit I Swear To God is a humorous spoken word guided meditation for those of us who might know how to give gentleness but have no idea how to receive it. A new concept in mind-management for people who want to curl up in a ball and die of cringe when some soothing voice tells them they’re loved.

Humour, irony, and slant-telling the story of my own experiences with neurodivergence and mental ill health are the tools that have got me through a lifetime on the schizo-spectrum.

I’m very bad at self-soothing/being soothed, and often respond better to a little congenial antagonism than to more conventional forms of comfort, so I wanted to see whether I could make something that would feel right for others who struggle to be straightforwardly soothed.

Jen McGregor

Keira McLean and Joey Simons: The Flood and the Fire

Keira McLean and Joey Simons are both artists and community educators from Glasgow. Their work will consist of a mixed-media montage drawn from histories of revolutionary struggles around mental health and state institutions. This will be accompanied by a pedagogical workbook containing a series of DIY writing and printmaking activities.

This year marks the centenary of the death of John MacLean, the Clydeside revolutionary whose legacy has played an important part in our political thinking since a young age. His fight against the brutal conditions he faced in jail, their effect on his mental and physical health, is the starting point for our work.

We can’t think about mental health outside of the exploitative relations which still dominate our lives, and we want the montage and workbook to open up unexpected connections between histories of revolutionary struggle and people’s own experiences today. We hope these histories can help us to imagine the transformation of a still sick society.

Keira McLean and Joey Simons

Lilith (Lea) Cooper: The Mad People’s Uprising of 2033

Lilith (Lea) Cooper is an artist, zine librarian and researcher based in Kirkcaldy, Fife. They produce multimedia zines, prints, comics, writing, events and workshops. They will create an imagined fictional archive of downloadable posters from The Mad People’s Uprising of 2033, asking what a Mad revolution might look like, creating a space to imagine beyond the present day, and locating today’s Mad, survivor and mental health activism in a longer genealogy.

In creating a fictional future archive I want to create a space for imagining, a space to ask: What do we want? What would a Mad revolution be fighting for? What would it look like?

The posters are designed to invite questions about the visual cultures around Madness, mental health and neurodivergence, especially mental health stigma-busting campaigns which often don’t address the issues that Mad, survivor and mental health activists are currently fighting tooth and nail on.

In making the posters downloadable and printable, I hope to invite thinking about the spaces in which we interact with art in our day-to-day, and its potential to be part of political and social change.

Lilith (Lea) Cooper