Simon Jay interviews Robbie Fraser, director of Final Ascent: The Legend of Hamish MacInnes, as part of the Talking Heads project at SMHAF 2019.

Nina Abeysuriya presents Being On The Inside, a new podcast which addresses mental health issues.

In this Talking Heads piece, reporter Amy Ortiz has used photography to capture Belonging, an exhibition hosted by LGBT Wellbeing Collective as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. 

Talking Heads reporter Louise Farquhar reviews Emily Furneaux's performance of She Stepped Backwards in Front of the Words Behind Her, a participatory artwork which had been running throughout SMHAF as an audio tour of Glasogw.

Emily Furneaux’s participatory artwork, She Stepped Backwards in Front of the Words Behind Her, which has been running throughout the festival in the form of an audio walking tour, took an unexpected and intriguing turn on its final day. The planned live performance, scheduled to accompany the end of the production, was driven inside by the inclement Glasgow weather. The story, normally heard through headphones as the listener follows a map through the city’s east end, was instead played out inside the bare white walls of Many Studios. In place of a cold and rainy walk, the event transformed to become a vibrant kaleidoscope of energy and insight, stimulating the senses and charging the mind well beyond all expectation.

The project centres on the artist’s personal experience of psychosis, returning to the day of her 30th birthday when she slipped into a psychotic state and embarked on a journey of altered reality. Although there is a growing awareness in society of mental health issues, where discussions are evolving and stigma is breaking down, the nature of psychosis is still sadly misunderstood - and even feared. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, one in every hundred people will have psychosis at some point in their life, with 80% of these occurring to people before the age of 25. Despite such staggering statistics, showing the commonality of the condition and the direct link to young people, there is very little education or information on the subject. Psychosis is notoriously difficult to articulate, with many who have a psychotic episode turning to artistic processes to communicate their experience. Emily Furneaux sees She Stepped Backwards in Front of the Words Behind Her as, “the most genuine method of sharing my experiences. The work is a true, honest, extremely heartfelt account - I wanted to contain it in a format to enable others to really feel what I was feeling - in all its intensity, complexity and emotions.”

The live indoor performance channelled this intention to great effect, thrusting the audience within the artwork itself, seating us on black and white metal chairs amidst large paper drawings stuck to the floor depicting locations including a bath and a bar. The room had a playful quality, like a nursery with activity stations to move through. We tracked the artist as she wove from scene to scene, speaking aloud the powerful narrative, poetically bringing to life the disturbance and confusion of her mental turmoil. Starting in “Glasgow, somewhere in the United States of America”, her psychosis ebbed and flowed, leading up to her party and then onwards to recollect time spent in a medical facility. From this “one shade of cold grey” she longed “to sit with the ones she loves” again.  We travelled with her through a myriad of hallucinations, delusions and thought disorder. Just as she was trapped that day in “undulating trajectories oscillating in front, below, behind and above,” so were we; unable to escape from the relentless blurring between reality and fantasy. What was true? We couldn’t know.

Initially, the third-person narrative placed us in a state of objective detachment, taking the role of quiet bystanders watching another’s story. Quickly however, the unyielding sensory barrage of arousal, pleasure, vivid colours and visceral sensations engaged our “outer atoms”. We were drawn into her psyche. Humour rippled through the tale as magical and fantastic imagery flashed across the narrative. But there was darkness too. Stress built to panic and anger, culminating in vocal violent outbursts, reverberating around the hollow space. Dropping through multiple layers of time, losing all sense of linear existence, we fell alongside her into recovery when she finally “lost her song”.

This artwork stretches the boundaries of how we think about mental health. Grabbing the concept of reality, it shakes our preconceptions of psychosis and demands we think harder about isolation and living a full life. The artist, when given medicine so she “stays on the pavement” questions whether “pacifying her personality” allows her to truly live. “Drab” days on tablets carry their own sense of loss. Emily Furneaux shares her deeply personal experience of mental health in a brave and astounding way. Her openness and artistic expression brings great beauty to an uncomfortable world, without asking for anything in return.

by Louise Farquhar

Louise Farquhar is a writer, covering the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival for the first time. She lives in Glasgow with her family and too many books. 

The Talking Heads project, in partnership with See Me, brings together a team of volunteer journalists to produce written articles and other creative responses to festival events. Click here to find out more.

I walked into the exhibition not knowing what to expect.  I got a little lost in the building and because I had drank too much coffee whilst in a state of exhaustion, my anxiety was through the roof and asking someone for directions would mean having to sift through the layers of paranoia and fragility to find my voice to ask the simplest of questions: “Where is gallery 2?”

I was struggling to hold on to the present and my mind was in several dimensions at once, the past and the future.  I was thinking of my upcoming birthday and the weight that it carries.  Will this be the year that my Dad sends me a birthday card?  It’s my 30th after all and the prime opportunity for him to reach out.  I was asked “What do I do?” at the weekend by someone that doesn’t know me that well, and it had triggered my anxiety. Luckily I had managed to navigate my answer fairly well so as not to give too much away about the flux of my mind, but it had left me questioning where I was at in my life and brought up feelings of inadequacy for not being in paid employment, despite the many other things I do that keep me alive.  I think it’s safe to say that I was containing an abundance of mixed emotions and feelings while standing in a corner of the stairwell googling the exact details of the exhibition.

I made it to the right place and was greeted by a volunteer for the exhibition.  My mouth produced words that I wasn’t completely aware were pouring out.  Something along the lines of, “I’m here – what do I do with the balloons?”, whilst pointing to balloons that visitors were asked to take off the blu tack the ribbon was stuck to and release it to symbolise letting go of any emotions we were feeling and to be present with the art, the artist, and our feelings about the pieces. There was a little scroll attached to the balloon and I awkwardly looked at the volunteer and he assured me that it was okay for me to take and read. My head was still zooming about like a cat trying to catch a red dot. I quickly read the message and scurried to the first piece to avoid having to make any more conversation.

I quickly felt at ease as I read the blurb about the piece.  The artist had described openly and honestly their experience of the loss of love. I felt connected to what they were saying and could somehow understand the piece more. As I made my way round the small exhibition, reading about people’s inner lives and seeing the diversity of their creativity (mixed media, illustration, photography, music, animation, intricate embroidery, poetry and more), I became more and more relaxed and the barrage of voices in my head had eased off.  I felt comfortable being in this space.  The honesty and true feelings brought me back to earth and I felt human again.  I could relate to all these pieces in some way or another, or knew someone who had experienced something similar.  The four walls that these pieces were contained in suddenly felt alive.  The heartbeat of humanity was resonating through each piece into the air and the people that entered the space.  I had gained insight and felt like I was being held as I made my way round the room.  I wasn’t alone.  Very rarely did any diagnosis get mentioned; it was raw descriptions of how people felt. 

One piece in particular had reached out and touched my heart.  The illustrative piece was entitled ‘From the Seeds of Sadness’ by artist Monika Stachowiak.  The piece depicted a woman crying while watering plants that were blooming in all shapes, colours and textures around her.  The story behind the artwork read:

I believe that every one of us has the inner superpower to overcome bad moments in our lives.  Sometimes depends on the people around us or surrounding.  Everyone is different and beautiful in their own way.  There are moments in life when we must allow ourselves to be sad to become stronger later.

It resonated so deeply with me as it took me back to when I was beginning my journey of healing my deep inner wounds.  I had met my inner child and cried like I had never cried before.  It was pure and it was beautiful.  My little Nic had endured so much hurt and pain that she had gone into hiding.  When I met her in my adult form, she was terrified.  She was the most beautiful little light I had ever seen that it physically pained me to see her afraid and so alone.  The hot tears streamed down my face and I held her in my arms and vowed to protect her.  It was the first time I had cried healing tears.  It was a sadness that was real and wasn’t tainted by The Grey.  A weight had been lifted from me and I felt like I had found something within me that had been missing for decades.  My tears were relieving and I found strength through them.  The moment I met little Nic was the moment I experienced unconditional love for the first time and anyone who has felt love knows the power and beauty it holds.

The theme of the festival this year is Connected.  I believe that this exhibition embodies this theme completely.  I entered the space consumed with anxiety and self-consciousness and left feeling inspired, comforted and connected.  I had felt like I had come home and didn’t want to leave.

As I write this, the scroll that was attached to the balloon is laid on the table next to my tip-tapping fingers.  It reads:

“You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress simultaneously.”

- Sophia Bush

I agree, Sophia.  I agree.

by Nic Saunders

Nic is a creative and curious human who shares her life in Edinburgh with her cat, Kaya. She is passionate about sharing her realities of living with complex trauma, be it through writing, storytelling, and art or through peer support. Follow her on Twitter @UnavoidHuman and visit her website at unavoidablyhuman.com.

FEELS is on at Edinburgh Palette at St Margaret's House until Thursday 30 May, culminating in a Closing Ceremony which starts at 4pm. 

The Talking Heads project, in partnership with See Me, brings together a team of volunteer journalists to produce written articles and other creative responses to festival events. Click here to find out more.