We are fortunate enough to be holding our Voices of Fashion on Mental Health event this Thursday 6 December at the Science Gallery London, which is part of King’s College London. Whilst there all of our guests will be able to view the exhibition HOOKED which, due to immense popularity, has extended it's running time until the 29 January 2019.
A blog by Jessie Krish and Hannah Redler Hawes
The HOOKED exhibition boils down a wide range of experiences into a set of questions about who we are as individuals and how we act as a society. When we start to explore the almost infinite patterns of behaviour that constitute normal social life (eating a sugary pick-me-up; scrolling on your phone while you wait for a new message or ‘like’ to appear; having a drink or three with mates) we can find ourselves treading the space between socially sanctioned habits and ‘addiction’. Our research for HOOKED revealed the word ‘addiction’ to mean a myriad of different things to different people: the language to express how much you <3 <3 <3 <3 chocolate hobnobs, a form of self-medication, a neurological phenomenon, the terminology of a treatment pathway or a personal journey.
Bringing together artists and scientists is at the heart of Science Gallery London’s programme as the place where art and science collide. The HOOKED season is a particularly exciting season because as well as the connection of art and science, it also engages with the highly personal aspect at the heart of the addiction conversation by putting experts by people whose lives have been affected by addiction at the heart of the conversation.
Three new commissions for HOOKED directly engaged with people who had personal or associated experiences of addiction. The team got to know some of these groups well, and we’ll share some of our experiences here.
In collaboration with arts commissioning agency Up Projects we commissioned Barbadian artist Mark King to develop a project for a group of people in recovery alongside King’s researcher John Marsden, a clinical psychologist who uses photography as a therapeutic tool. Look on me and be renewed explores the visible and invisible patterns in our daily lives. A group of seven people in recovery also worked on the project under their self-titled group name ‘Changing 7’.
Mark set us off wandering the streets around London Bridge with disposable film cameras, deliberately chosen over digital to force people to make highly considered choices. The group was tasked with photographing any patterns that connected to them or made them feel something.
The next day we all reconvened in Brixton to look at the photographs that had been developed overnight. John, joined us, and one by one he asked each of the Changing 7 members to pin up their photographs and talk to the group about them. Memories started to pour out – a strangely textured glass window reminding somebody of breaking a window at a childhood friend’s house, a wooden post sticking up from the Thames sending someone else back to their family home overseas. Working with the group’s images, Mark has created a series of patterns on display through his installation in HOOKED. Borrowed from the poem I am a Black Woman by Mari Evans, the work’s title Look on me and be renewed, considers the strength and potential of seeing a life anew, as a change that is made possible by the onlooker.
In another project we worked with a much younger group. Oakhill Secure Training Centre is a youth detention centre, for young men between the ages of 12 and 17. Many are there for drug-related crimes, raising a question that many aspects of the HOOKED events programme have asked: is drug use a moral issue or are drugs policies? We brought another King’s researcher, Kim Wolff with us, to share her work with the boys. We also brought a team of artists, Mr Gee, poet, Angus Scott-Miller, theatre director, and visual artist Dryden Goodwin. The artists spent 2 weeks with the boys exploring their attitudes to drugs, money and time “inside” through theatre, poetry and drawing.
If you watch Dryden’s film The Workshop, in the Free Will section of the HOOKED exhibition, which considers the social context of addiction, you’ll see the camera linger over pencil drawings of the group’s activities and experiences. These detailed images of hands or eyes are interspersed with anonymised photographs of the groups in action. Original poems by Oakhill residents which personify substances punctuate Dryden’s documentation of the two weeks with the shared refrain ‘I can make you feel good, good, good, good…’. The word ZOMBIES, a bubble writing scribble, flashes on screen and hints at other realities of substance use, setting a tone that Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones described as ‘moving and troubling’. The film avoids passing any judgement on the boys’ individual crimes and life choices. Embarking on this collaboration, our intent was to hear more from people whose life choices may have been shaped by external societal forces, like other people’s substance use, and the lure of money and status that the illegal drugs economy can offer.
The people who shared their experiences of addiction with us helped us to understand that addiction is an expression of human vulnerability, and that this cannot be the sole responsibility of individuals. A key question we ask in the exhibition is if we need to change ourselves, or if it’s society that needs resetting? Surely this is something we’re all in together.
Jessie Krish is a young curator. She is currently production assistant at Science Gallery London and studying for an MFA in Curating at Goldsmiths College.
Hannah Redler Hawes is an independent curator. She is the lead curator / producer for HOOKED, which is open at Science Gallery London until 27 January 2019.
Science Gallery London is part of King’s College London and a member of the global Science Gallery network pioneered by Trinity College Dublin.