In light of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival’s screenings of Still Alice in two regions this year, host Nicole Bell speaks to Dr Maggie Ellis, a Fellow in Dementia Care at the University of St Andrew, for the second episode in her Expressions series of podcasts.
The episode examines how dementia is represented in the film and the role of film as a platform for the representation of dementia.
Listen to the podcast on Soundclound, and check out the first installment from the series on our channel:
You can also listen to the podcast on Nicole's Youtube channel:
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.
Hosted by Neu! Reekie! but conceived by The HaVeN Hearing Voices Network Dundee, Heard It. Seen It. Done It. brought together multiple art forms in a stimulating night of film, rap, spoken word, poetry and music at Bonar Hall. The event was presented by Dundee Literary Festival, the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival and supported by Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Booked! initiative.
Michael Pederson and Kevin Williamson together comprise Neu! Reekie!, an Edinburgh-based literary, music and animation collective described by The Skinny as ‘Scotland’s favourite avant-garde noisemakers’. Though, at Heard It. Seen It. Done It., they weren’t making as much noise as that might suggest. Instead, they did a remarkable, comedic and enthusiastic job of hosting (and running some of the tech!) at this very well put together event.
The evening began with the incredibly poignant, BAFTA-nominated film ‘I am Tom Moody’. The stop-motion short, written, directed and animated by Scottish filmmaker Ainslie Henderson can be seen on his Vimeo channel. This beautiful, extraordinarily emotive short is hard to put into words, and certainly better seen than described.
Following the film were Glaswegian performers Loki and Becci Wallace (along with a very talented violinist named Merissa). Loki is known as a writer, performer, community activist and journalist, and at Heard It. Seen It. Done It. he explored his own experiences with mental health and addiction, alongside other social issues through his impressive, insightful raps.
We were then treated to a poetry reading from Joshua Swinyard from the HaVeN. The poem was the result of a session, described by Michael of Neu! Reekie! as a ‘collective lyrical disco’ that took place at The HaVeN, led by spoken word poet Holly McNish. The poem itself examined the features of street poet Kevin McCabe’s face, and he, along with his band the Kettle Bilers, were the next act on stage.
They performed four tracks, exploring current social issues including the situation in Palestine and the issue of Scottish Water, as well as the human experiences of friendship and love. As with every performer of the evening, they were incredibly and deservedly well-received.
The second reading from the HaVeN came from Margaret McKay, examining different experiences of her childhood through her lyrical and humorous poetry, while the last came in the form of a video-recorded reading from Tricia. In this film, she performed her thought-provoking poem ‘Mother’s Love’, which explored the complicated relationship between child and mother.
The night concluded with talented Scottish ambient-electro singer-songwriter Panda Su, who previously toured with Neu! Reekie! on their arts adventure ‘Anywhere But the Cities’, which focused on bringing arts to the more remote areas of Scotland.
This varied and compelling evening was a testament to the power of the arts to bring together groups and people from all over the country, at every level of artistic engagement, to explore and share their experiences through a whole range of media. It was a remarkably enjoyable event, with so much to be heard, seen and done.
Written by Nicole Bell
The HaVeN provides a safe and supportive space for those who hear voices to take part in self-help groups, activities and volunteering, in order to promote independence and recovery. The HaVeN café is open every weekday from 10am to 4pm and you can find a list of the various support sessions here.
This Saturday, Greenock’s Beacon Arts Centre hosts a double-bill of shows, Up, Up & Away, and Broth, both of which involve and focus on the experiences of older members of the local community, yet which approach the issues raised by ageing in strikingly different ways.
Developed as a collaboration between All or Nothing Aerial Dance Theatre and the Beacon’s Platinum Project, a weekly 60+ dance group, Up, Up & Away promises an exciting participatory performance involving material trapezes and aerial harness flying, proving that no one is ever too old to get air-bound and that it is never too late to dream of running away to the circus!
The show is followed closely by Broth, and reduced price tickets are available for the double bill. Devised and delivered by video and performance artist Donna Rutherford, Broth explores the experiences of elder people in 21st century Scotland, blending a series of intimate storytelling conversations with soup-making traditions. Such recipes reveal the rituals passed from one generation to the next, and reflect and trace the changes undergone in the lives of individuals, families and wider communities.
Speaking about Broth, Dr Pete Seaman of the Glasgow Centre for Population Health has said: ‘There was not sympathy, but identification: a shift from “them” to “we”. In an era where youth is elevated, I was struck by people whose youth has never left them although their bodies have aged … The perspectives in Broth provide material to begin a re-imagining of all our later years.’
The performance concludes with an informal discussion and an invitation to the audience to share in some freshly-made soup!
As well as representing a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking item in this year’s SMHAFF programme, Broth is also touring as part of Luminate, Scotland’s creative ageing festival. Furthermore, both Up, Up & Away and Broth are listed on the bill for Inverclyde’s Galoshans Festival 2015, a two-day celebration of the area’s Halloween traditions.
Written by Mark Jones
Up, Up & Away (2.30-3.30pm) and Broth (3.45-4.45pm) are showing at the Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock on Sat 31 Oct. Tickets cost £5 for individual performances or £8 for the double bill. Book via this link or call the box office on 01475 723 723.
In the opening scene of Rocks in my Pockets, Signe Baumane narrates, in her bright, emphatic voice, a darkly comic meditation on the practicalities of suicide. It is a film packed with such deliberate contrasts, hybrid in genre and tone.
In one sense, it is pure confessional documentary: the stories it tells, spanning three generations of Baumane's extended Latvian family, are all true, or at least as true as any family history cobbled together from anecdote and inference can be. A large part of the film concerns her obstinate quest to sift the truth about her grandmother Anna's life and death from the mythologies that have collected around her. ‘She died in her sleep from sheer exhaustion,’ insist Anna's offspring, whose childhood memories consecrate her as the saintly, self-sacrificing centre of their universe. Faced with the fact of an empty bottle of pills found by her bedside, they insist it must have been an accidental overdose.
The realities of depression and other mental health conditions are proscribed topics in this family, and Rocks in my Pockets is, among other things, a defiant resistance to that silence. Baumane, who wrote, animated and directed the film, is also the only cast member, ventriloquising her relatives' lives in an attempt to vocalise her own origins. The family, she told us in a Q&A over Skype, are not happy that the film exists.
In other ways, it's as far from documentary as can be imagined, a surreal animated world of monstrous creatures, mutating bodies and literalised metaphors. Fantastical storytelling has always been a popular mode through which to represent the repressed and the unspoken, but Baumane's frank, direct narrative voice remains on a steadfast path of honest disclosure, even while her hand-drawn figures and her paper-mache sculptures become ever more bizarre and dreamlike.
In the Q&A, she described her use of animation as ‘a tool to show what is not visible to the eye.’ In realist cinema, surface is all we have: emotional states are represented by their external symptoms, by looks or words or tears or gestures. But in life, mental turmoil is rarely written on the skin, and Baumane uses her animation to drill into the depths of the body. Exposed brains and strands of DNA proliferate throughout the film; the opening sequence, in which she ponders the lesser-discussed realities of death by hanging – the spontaneous evacuation of the bowels and bladder – signals an enduring preoccupation with the abject things that live inside us.
Baumane is clearly compelled by the hidden histories that bodies contain, the question of how much of ourselves might be written into the genes and the pathways of the brain. In a family full of women who seem to keep reliving the same stories, mental illness becomes a kind of inheritance, and the body – specifically the female body – becomes a kind of cage. There is a recurring theme of bright, promising young minds knocked off course by physical desires: sex beckons, and in conservative Latvian society, sex means marriage and childbirth, pregnancy after pregnancy colonising both body and mind.
The grandmother Anna once aspired to education and success, but a youthful infatuation leads to a life bearing children for a much older, jealously possessive husband; he insists that she keep her body covered from other gazes, and uses it as a vessel for labour in every sense of the word; when she isn't having babies, she spends each day carrying 40 buckets of water up a steep hill for the cows. Her fantasies of death are described as a ‘longing to leave the physical self’.
Again and again, the women of Baumane's family find themselves trapped at the intersection of their physical desires and the social structures in which they are expected to operate: there is the beautiful, hyper-intelligent, superior Linda who invents an engagement and is unable to function when the fantasy breaks down; there is Miranda, the aspiring artist who disappears into a cloud of heavily medicated detachment after being diagnosed with postpartum depression; there is Signe Baumane herself, pressured into marriage by an accidental pregnancy. The film might suggest that her struggles with mental illness are a genetic inheritance, but it's hard not to conclude that the condition of being a woman in a repressive society is every bit as relevant as who your grandmother was. In her fascination with brain structures and genes, Baumane's film explores the biological history of how minds work, but she knows, too, that physical selves cannot be separated out from the socio-economic and cultural histories that they must live through.
Written by Shona McCombes
Rocks in My Pockets screened at CCA and Filmhouse as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. Check out the rest of our Film Programme here, including details of our ninth International Film Awards ceremony, which takes place on Thu 29 Oct.