Looking for a very special photographer

for a Psychobitchin’ photoshoot.

London/South East based and interested/know someone who is?

Drop us a line at kettleandbunn@gmail.com

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Bobby Baker’s Mad Gyms and Kitchens at the Southbank Centre

On Friday, the Psychobitches went on a research trip to the Southbank Centre to watch Bobby Baker’s performance Mad Gyms and Kitchens.

Bella Bunn was already very familiar with Bobby’s work (a large chunk of her first project in her final year of university was about it!), but I (Polly Kettle) have only recently been introduced to her art.

Prepare to be surprised and delighted, moved and enlightened as Bobby demonstrates how she achieves that ultimate ‘wellbeing’ factor.  From working-out to chilling out, via the kitchen sink, Bobby’s wellness roadshow investigates how to get better at feeling better – cup of tea included.

This is the official spiel on Bobby’s website http://dailylifeltd.co.uk/, but wonderful as it sounds, it still doesn’t do this inspiring, uplifting and motivating show justice.

Bobby is an instantly likeable figure. Her dodgy knee doesn’t stop her careering about her “stage”, she’s disarmingly self-deprecating, and not pretentious in the slightest (something I’ve unfortunately come to regard as a rarity for a performance artist!) This made our encounter with her warm and accessible, and I wasn’t at all afraid to go and have a chat with her afterwards, despite my social phobia and tendency towards being starstruck.

Mad Gyms and Kitchens is, to all intents and purposes, a show about illness and recovery. Bobby (like us) has run the full gamut of mental illness, and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. Really though, the performance is about wellness. Bobby shares with us, with good grace and humour, her road(s) to recovery, and tips and tricks for getting and staying well. However, she emphasises that these are just her strategies; we may be inspired by her ideas and attitudes, but ultimately we must find our own ways of being well, and these differ for each person.

To help us along the way, at the end of her performance Bobby got us crafting! This was very much Psychobitches-approved, both Bella and myself being avid, compulsive crafters. To add to the therapeutic experience, Bobby threw in a mug of tea and a few biscuits for us. (I had a ginger nut to go with my ginger tea.)

We were instructed to write and/or draw our best personal tips for staying well (but only if we wanted to share them!) Mine included “Sex”, “Sewing”, and “West Wing” (the television series), and Bella “Shopping vicariously through others” and “Having a bed-time routine”.

What I found most inspiring about Bobby’s performance was how it normalised illness and recovery. As Bobby mentioned afterwards, everyone is on a spectrum of wellness. This is such a positive attitude to have, and a really good push towards seeing mental illness as equally as valid and “real” as physical illnesses.

I also strongly related to some of the experiences she shared with us. For example, Bobby spoke about feeling like she was “walking through treacle” when on strong anti-psychotic medication. I had precisely the same experience, and wasn’t able to walk at all in some instances. It was so wonderful to hear experiences like these spoken about so openly and with such compassion.

Four thumbs up from the Psychobitches, Bobby; you’ve earned our (very unofficial and inconsequential) seal of approval. Thank you.

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Polly Kettle interviews visual artist Lindsay Joy

I was lucky enough to interview visual artist Lindsay Joy on her Anxiety Series of confessional embroideries earlier this month. Lindsay shares some interesting thoughts about being an artist living with mental illness, and her creative process.

PK: What prompted the anxiety series? On your website you write that you realised “the most helpful therapy was the act of sharing”. Was your hope that your Anxiety Series would offer comfort and a sense of empathy to others suffering with anxiety and social phobia?
LJ: I have always been an anxious person, but two years ago I started realizing how much it was affecting my life.  I started seeing a psychologist during the summer before my fourth year of college.  One of her suggestions was to make contemplative art as a way to calm down.  At first, I tried the usual stuff - journal entries, a painting, earnest assignments that were embarrassing to show anyone but her.  I didn’t feel like they were helping; I was just making what I thought I was supposed to.  Traditional “contemplative art” also suggests wacky new age stuff which, as a skeptic, I am completely uninterested in.  I picked up embroidery again after my grandmother passed away, which happened right about the time my anxiety was at its worst.  We found some antique hoops in her apartment, and I was antsy, away from home, dealing with grief and needing something to do with my hands.  I made a small piece called Matriarch, reteaching myself how to stitch after not doing it for a long time.  Once school started up again and it came time to really develop my art practice in my final year, I decided to use embroidery to explore my struggle with anxiety.

When I first realized I had a problem with my anxiety, finding out that Social Anxiety Disorder is a real thing in the world (at least according to Wikipedia), I tried to tell a few people.  It was a terrifying revelation, and for some reason sharing was helpful, because it meant it wasn’t my fault. THIS is what’s wrong with me, guys!  THIS!  I got some strange responses, though, probably because I didn’t tell the right people.  I have a hard time negotiating personal relationships in that way.  When I started making the anxiety pieces, it was like they were a surrogate for my own confession, and though I didn’t necessarily know the recipient and they didn’t know me, but I still got to tell someone how I felt.  At first, I was actually surprised that other people could relate, especially people I knew.

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PK: Is there something about the juxtaposition or conflict between the cutesy or twee aesthetic of embroidery and the darker elements of your subject matter that you find appealing?
LJ: I’ve always found that juxtaposition intriguing.  It makes my work feel less of a teen-angst expression and more self-aware.  It’s also the fight in my own head, knowing that my thoughts are ridiculous but not being able to stop them.  Reframing them with cutsey imagery, stitching and colours might create a sort of trap, drawing the person in from afar to view my detailed handwork, maybe expecting a laugh, but confronting them with the subject matter.
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PK: Why and when did you begin to embroider? What sparked your interest in embroidery?

LJ: I’ve always made things with my hands.  My mother  knits, crochets, embroiders and quilts, to name a few.  I was an only child, so she showed me a few things when I was bored growing up. I used it a few more times during my first and second year of art school, where I majored in fibre and tried a lot of techniques.  I was drawn in by the way you could combine colour, texture and line, and the ease of image appropriation with the technique.   With embroidery, it is easy to be direct.  With a lot of other textile techniques, you are waiting for dyes or to thread your loom, and I can just start stitching something right away.   I am impatient, although that’s probably an ironic statement.  I love the history of hand stitching, which also has a history with mental health, often as a past-time in institutions. 

PK: Has making the Anxiety Series been a way of reaching out to others in the community? Have you been contacted by other sufferers?

LJ: I haven’t really been contacted by severe sufferers, but more from people who could relate to some aspects of the work, not necessarily having full-blown anxiety.  
PK: Was it difficult to put such an intimate and painful aspect of your personality on display? What was the public reaction to the Series?
LJ: It wasn’t difficult at first, because I began the series during school, and the fibre group was so small and intimate, that I didn’t feel afraid to do it.  Once it started to reach a larger audience, I became a little nervous about it.  During the graduating exhibition, I was too afraid to be near-enough to my grad piece for anyone to identify me as the maker.  With the work, I sometimes have had better responses from strangers than people I was close to.  I’ve received a lot of concerned, “But you shouldn’t feel that way,” comments from friends I had known for years, and bad advice for quick fixes.  I incorporate some of that into my work, too.  The hardest thing, now, is to explain when I meet new people who are interested in finding out what I do as an artist.  I think they have some degree of skepticism, like, “How can you be anxious?  You are talking to me now!” or something.  The funniest thing was a classmate called me up to ask about an assignment, right after she had seen me working on the phone piece.  Halfway through the call, she said, “Oh no!  You hate talking on the phone!  I’m so sorry!” It’s a little weird having people know those things, sometimes.
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PK: Was the act of confession, together with what Joetta Maue calls the “quiet, meditative act” of embroidery, therapeutic?
LJ: It started out as the intention, although the anxiety is always there.  A few people have assumed that since I’ve made the work, I’m anxiety-free, which is kind of weird.  The work is definitely a temporary fix.  Thinking about what thread to use next and where to put the stitches sometimes helps when I’m thinking too much about useless things.  It keeps my mind occupied.
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