untitled stone face, France, 2007

Towards an Artistic Strategy in Psychiatryinarticulate, non-sense surmisings on the resonant possibility of the Absurd , spring 2017

(This text was the basis for my application to the Van Abbemuseum and the GGzE (Mental Health Care Institute Eindhoven) Artist in Residence Programme “Artistic Strategies in Psychiatry”.)

…alongside my own intimate brushes with death, got me reflecting back to salient readings from when I was a younger man. To the perspective of one of the elders of Absurdity, Albert Camus, who presented the idea that there is only one philosophical question in life: to take ones life or not. Essentially, all other philosophical subjects are evasive. His younger contemporary, Georges Bataille, speculated that there were two essential human subjects, sex and death. (Interestingly, with eroticism being the link between the two solitudes.) In my life, I have correlated this to the essence of Buddhist teaching wherein all uneasiness/angst in life can be attributed to craving (of what is out of reach) and aversion (of what is in front of us). These threads form one of many roads into the cul-de-sac that is my essential artistic stance: that to be conscious and resilient to gravity in the world, to varying degrees, we suffer from what I phrase as “nostalgia for the future”. That is we over-fibrillate between a past that is no more and a future that may never be, suffering from homesickness for what has yet to happen.

Its Absurd.

Remember the bumper sticker that says: “To be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society is no measure of sanity”?
One of my personal calibrations is what words should I present to support what I am up to artistically. As there are no longer any over-arching cultural narratives, Art seems to be ever more contextual and relative. I try to not get overly worried about what words I arrange and in what way. I try to remain playful and in the moment in my phrasings. despite the fact that at some basic level, i believe ones visual works should speak without a rationalizing context text, the currency of artistic discourse seems to be becoming ever more heady/nerdy/self justifying.

As I mentioned, I have two projects that are coming together in the next months. The centrepiece of one is an installation with three interactive Absurdist portraits – “Circling Towards a Possible Present, interactive portraits of dead people you don’t know or care to”. This is presented in a storefront in a small town shopping mall – a neon sign above the threshold, a burned exterior, crushed rock on the ground, plywood walls. And the second is a physical installation of a simultaneously charred n preserved, unfolded, upside down and inside out domestic wall, that is extended into an infinite labyrinth via Augmented Reality (AR) overlays, “The (n)Atrocity Exhibition, a house crash for the rest of us (or all the things left unsaid between the twins)”. This second project is part of a 10 week artist-in- residency and exhibition during which I am exploring some similar themes to what I hinted I might explore should I have been accepted to the Netherland gig.


For many of us lay people, psychiatry is a difficult subject. Discussing it remains taboo. At the risk of gross oversimplification, perhaps a root cause of many psychiatric episodes is the profound, rupturing realization that there are no absolute answers to life’s fundamental questions, and that the essential modern human condition can most aptly be described as Absurd? One might say that Absurdity sits in opposition to the efficacy of Psychiatric Narrative. Perhaps definitive narrative answers are unrealistic, if not disingenuous, to those of us whose psyches are vulnerable.

Maybe our societal narratives of sense-making – such as:
• belief in an afterlife as cover for a more innate fear of death,
• the presumption of linearity in space and time,
• the disconnect between work as performed and its effects on the world,
• belief that family have your best interests at heart,
• belief that social media assist communications,
• belief that one can relax in front of the TV/computer/social media laden device,

are each vulnerable to the scrutiny of an Absurdist gaze.

Further, we are distracted to an almost perpetual state of un-ease with the world, irrevocably torn between the past and future, fibrillating, always avoiding the here and now, unable to remain present.

Is there psychiatric agency in the embrace of the Absurd? Might it reveal an empathetic, relevant, present,“psychiatric artistic strategy”?

Psychiatric doctors & therapists are the conductors attempting to present narrative order amongst the existential evidence of a disinterested universe. They have replaced clerics in shepherding our psyches. As I understand, psychiatric intervention may be warranted when someone, whether triggered by an event, stress or neuro-chemical reasons, is unable to be sufficiently coherent in responding to the inevitable vicissitudes of life according to the prevailing expectations of society. Curiously, characteristics such as independent questioning, a determination to go it alone, defy norms and expectations is respected in artists and poets. “Creative vision”, “artistic frenzy”, “inspired” artistic ideas, have their psychiatric equivalents in delirium, manic and delusional behaviour. In addition to the descriptive language used, perhaps a key difference between an artist and a non-artist who are experiencing similar mental disfunction may be that the artist gets a grounding from the purpose, structure and community via their vocation, as another might from their faith.

I see myself as an editor, a chooser, a “mise-en-scene-ist”, vs the more heroic notion of an artist as a creator of something from nothing. Instinctively, I draw upon diverse creative strategies where an Absurdist perspective is either put into action, or which shares an embrace of the inscrutable and an intention to heighten the present. I am interested in how chance, editorial, improvisational, craft, and mise-en-scène processes may be agents of sense- making. I’m interested in working collaboratively, improvisationally, curious about the implied psychological imprint of various, largely found, source materials and how, reconfigured, their psychological impact might manifest.

Of late, I have become interested in the visceral primacy, cross cultural richness and diagrammatic power of the maze/labyrinth. Reflecting on what I can glean of the GGzE facility, program and clientele, I would be curious to explore the counterintuitive possibility of the maze/labyrinth as a way-finding device, as a means to get oriented, to get centred, to become present, to come home. A physically engaging catharsis.

Mazes and labyrinths exert powerful double readings as both their enigmatic selves to be experienced, and more imaginative speculative readings. On a basic symbolic level, traversing these constructions is a quest, heightening the present, a journey from here to there to reclaim knowledge or overcome adversity, followed by a return, and being transformed for the experience. They can be simultaneously understood as a metaphor of life experience and a conundrum to be “solved”, wherein the essential action is one of returning home transformed.

I’m curious to explore how losing & finding ourselves physically might connect with ideas of psychiatry and finding ourselves mentally, possibly making the Absurd seem momentarily less so. I wonder if we started with this metaphorical subject, would my creative process – a mashup of absurdist proclivities – reveal resonances on a possible “Absurd” root of mental illness?