Ugly Art Room & The Arts Center Corvallis presents:
"THE BIND" Art Installation by Jen G. Pywell.
Opening Reception: July 20, 2017
On View: June 27 - July 29, 2017
I have struggled with mental illness most of my life without seeking medical help. At the age of 35, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Creative exploration has been a part of my life since childhood. I grew up in my father’s dark room and have over 20 years of experience as a professional photographer. I’ve also curated art shows for 7 years and in my spare time made my own art. But I never considered myself an artist. I now realize that art making has been a very important form of therapy to battle the highs and lows of my mental illness.
I call this show an emerging artist retrospective because I have created bodies of work over the years and never had the confidence to show them. So I am taking a look back and taking a look forward at my art. After a serious manic episode that left me in the hospital, I am doing the same with on my own life. I think back to all the signs that pointed to my illness and look forward to taking control of my mind.
I felt compelled to create a show that not only describes Bipolar Disorder in a visual way but is an opportunity for me to stand up to the condition and chisel away at the stigma of mental illness. I lived in shame for so long. If one other person sees this exhibit and speaks up about their own mental illness or reaches out to someone struggling, then the show will have fulfilled its mission.
The circular nature of the installation represents the cyclical nature of the disorder. After the viewer has walked around the exhibition, she can walk out, but for those living with Bipolar there is no escaping the cycle of mania and depression. The installation is intentionally small and confrontational. Many people close to me as well as myself have denied mental illness. If you enter this installation there is no room for denial.
The repetitive nature of the show, which contains nearly 1000 original pieces of art (not counting the physical structure), is simply a process in my artmaking. At times my mind moves so fast that outputting piece after piece creates a soothing rhythm for an otherwise unsettled mind.
Each of the four segments of the installation stands for a specific time period. The sky imagery is from a time before my diagnosis, when I looked up to the sky everyday. During a depressive period it cheered me up and satisfied a propensity for collection and organization. As humans we look to the sky for so many things, sunshine, rain and hope - to a place beyond where things may be better. I added the paintings later. I wanted to create a double take for the viewer. Is that a photo? Is that a painting? There is a lot of ambiguity and confusion surrounding mental illness. Particularly with Bipolar. I find myself wondering “am I having a bad day or should I increase my meds?” Others may wonder “is she just happy or becoming manic?”
Next the viewer sees the wall of post-it notes, all 625 handstitched together. The wall is supposed to be overwhelming and the double take here is subtle. Most of the notes are lists, what I use to hold my mind together when I have a hard time remembering or have anxiety about forgetting. Looking closer, there are notes that I wrote right before and during my hospitalization. Many are desperate, some are sad, some make no sense, while some are positive and hopeful.
The third section is a grid of silhouettes, an image I saw during a meditation session right after getting out of the hospital. Closing my eyes I had many visualizations, because I was still very manic. My mind behaves like a slideshow of images. This particular image stood out to me. It is actually a burned image of my instructor in the seated buddha like posture. To me, it represented myself in the dark, lacking knowledge or the answer to my troubles. Many images represents the many people like me, living alone without mental illness. But once we speak out and get help we are no longer alone. Then this image becomes a shadow behind each of us because we are standing in the light. The inverse of the image is scattered throughout the wall, again to create a form of visual play.
The viewer is now at the end of her journey around the installation and heads toward the black curtain through which she entered the exhibit. The curtain is depression. Depression doesn’t let go and it feels like an inescapably dark place. People with Bipolar never leave this cycle of mania and depression. And this is “The Bind.”