Madness: Fighting for Justice in Mental Health is an upcoming conference created by the Disruption Network Lab. The Lab examines the intersection of politics, technology and society, exposing the misconduct and wrongdoing of the powerful. This year, the conference will investigate systems of mental health care focusing on the prevailing discourses and practices, biases, and inequalities. It will explore the questions: What does it mean to have a just mental health care system and who has access to it? Who decides who is labelled as mad?
The conference is being held in Berlin, Germany, as well as streamed online free on November 25th through the 27th. You can view the conference live at disruptionlab.org/madness.
In this podcast, Mad in America’s Arts Editor, Karin Jervert, interviews the curator of the conference, Elena Veljanovska, and three artists—Dolly Sen, Anika Krbetschek, and Marcello Lussana—about art and transformation, human rights, and justice in mental health.
Dolly Sen is an internationally renowned writer, filmmaker, artist, and activist. Anika Krbetschek is a multidisciplinary artist and curator. And Marcello Lussana is a research associate and coordinator of the project Social Interaction Through Sound Feedback, Sentire.
These artists will be interviewed at the conference on Saturday the 26th at 8 pm CET/2 pm EST on a panel moderated by Lily Martin titled “Art and Survivor Empowerment.”
Karin Jervert: Today, I will be talking with Elena Veljanovska, who is the curator of the conference Madness: Fighting for Justice in Mental Health.
Later in this podcast I will be interviewing artists Dolly Sen, Anika Krbetschek, and Marcello Lussana, but I wanted to talk briefly with Elena first, so she can tell us more about the conference and how it came about. Welcome, Elena.
Elena Veljanovska: Hello, Karin, and thanks for inviting me.
Jervert: Thank you for being here. First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Veljanovska: As you mentioned, I am a curator and cultural manager. Since 2019, I have worked at the Disruption Network Lab as a Senior Project Manager, as well as a curator. I originally come from North Macedonia and have previously worked as a curator in KONTRAPUNKT where, together with my colleague Iskra Geshoska, we founded and ran the Festival for Critical Culture CRIC for five years. This is among other cultural and artistic projects, of course.
Another thing about me is that in 2006, I cofounded LINE Initiative and Movement. This was a platform for new media art and technology. I was also running it as the artistic director until 2010. My experience comes largely from the non-profit sector, from the civil sector, and even though for many independent projects I have collaborated with a lot of institutions over the years, this is my main interest. My educational background is in art history and archeology, which feels far away now from what I do at the moment.
Jervert: I wanted to ask you a little bit about what the Disruption Network Lab does.
Veljanovska: Disruption Network Lab is a non-profit organization based in Berlin. It was founded in 2014 by the Tatjana Bazzicheli, who is currently the artistic director of the organization. We provide a platform of events and research, focusing on the intersection of politics, technology, and society.
Our objective is strengthening freedom of speech and exposing the misconduct and wrongdoing of the powerful. How do we do this? During one working year this translates into organizing three interdisciplinary and international conferences, followed by two workshops with each conference, and then six meet-ups, two for each conference, as well.
The conferences are usually proposing a topic, usually at the interface of scholarship and politics, human rights, technology, justice, and art, whereas the meet-ups focus more on building the local community around the same topics. So, we are really addressing a wide range of topics. I just wanted to mentioned a few. For example, in the past one or two years, we discussed gender transitioning, AI-powered military programs and targeted killings, a conference on whistleblowing for the Whistleblowing Anthology we published last year, and the conference ‘Behind the Mask’, about whistleblowing during the pandemic.
We develop work that advocates for the globally marginalized and follow the motto, “Uncovering Systems of Power and Injustice.” The topics are just pointing at the depth of problems in every field that we are working on.
In order to achieve our goals, we collaborate a lot with whistleblowers, investigative journalists, human right activists, hackers, and artists. The listeners can find more about our work on our website, DisruptionLab.org. Also, they can check past events on our YouTube channel and download the book from our website.
Jervert: This year, the theme is madness and mental health. Can you tell us more about how you conceived of this theme and how it was curated?
Veljanovska: The conference comes with a bit of a genealogy. This is the 28th conference of the lab, working with marginalized groups and difficult topics that inevitably take a toll on the people that are involved. This was a topic that Tatiana had in the folders for a long time and we wanted to address it. Whistleblowers especially are very affected by the mental health sector, among other things.
Tatiana was thinking initially of this topic as a potential conference, inspired by the Patients Movement, globally, and Mad Pride in Italy, but I think this awareness, amplified by the effects of the pandemic and isolation of many people, made us finally address it and devote a full conference to it.
She asked me to curate this conference. And I decided, because I come from the field of critical culture, as well as having in mind the work of the Disruption Network Lab, to focus the topic around conversations about injustices and human rights—conversations that put the people affected and their rights at the center of the discussion. We decided to answer these questions: What does it mean to have a just mental health care system, and who has access to it, but also who decides who is labeled as mad?
I am viewing this topic very critically by choosing speakers who are uncovering systemic problems, talking about racism and the need to decolonize psychiatry, addressing Big Pharma, corporations and media, and over-medication. These are all huge topics. We will discuss state violence and the judicial rights of the people affected, but as the whole conference focuses on criticism, it should lead to improvement of the mental health care systems and lead to the improvement of the livelihood of the people that are affected.
I also want to mention that in all our criticism, I am realizing that I am valuing quite a lot how much has been done so far and that we can have this conversation around this at this level. At this moment, we will continue criticizing, but also think of how much more we can do.
My personal motivation and interest in this topic comes through close family members that are affected. Over the years I have gained insight into the mental health care systems in Macedonia. Also, I’m just reading a lot. The whole problematic aspect was not completely unfamiliar to me.
Jervert: I’ve heard some people say that if you don’t see psychiatric oppression, you’re not seeing the full picture of systemic oppression. And I see in your schedule of panels and talks that there are these huge important cultural, societal, economic themes of human rights, systemic oppression, state violence, and decolonization, but art-making plays a seemingly central role as well. You have a panel of artists who we will be talking with shortly in this podcast who are focusing on art and survivor empowerment.
This was something I am very interested in as the arts editor of Mad in America. Why was it so important for you to include the arts in this conference?
Veljanovska: We combine a very intersectional approach in our conferences, but the arts are also my home field—arts and culture. I believe that artistic language can complement and add a completely different dimension to the discussion about mental health.
Here I mean the arts in its widest sense, like all the formats: dance, performance, movement, painting. There are much more embodied practices, but also more conceptual forms like video art, film, and sound. Art can diversify the vocabulary we have at hand, when discussing mental health, and when are discussing the experiences that the affected people have, artistic practices are an obvious way of making these conditions experience-able, or bringing others closer to how it feels.
Art, for me, simply has a role in this conversation, it has the capacity to give shape to feelings and emotions.
Another aspect that we will discuss on this panel is art used as a therapy, as a common tool in treatment. Here, the artistic practices can serve as a coping strategy. In the panel, both perspectives will be discussed hand-in-hand, because the panelists are also experienced in this. They present three approaches in art-making which are different in their foremost talent and thematic focus, but they are all deeply insightful.
For me, it was crucial to have this aspect of the conference, and I want to mention that it’s not only the art panel. We will present in-depth artistic approaches and strategies, but also we open the conference with a performance by Marcello, who you will speak with later on. We will show a movie that is called Faces of an Exhibition that actually works with people who are experiencing hearing voices and experiencing psychosis and schizophrenia.
We are including these practices that are rare and quite valuable for the conversation.
Jervert: I am looking forward to speaking to the three artists. You’ve touched on this a bit, but I’d love to hear you expand on your thoughts around how you see art-making contributing to the fight for justice and mental health.
Veljanovska: It’s not a simple answer. As any answer with art is not simple, because the conclusions come some years later maybe, but I think we need the arts to achieve a more just and compassionate approach to mental health. To me, art can be straightforward, critical, political, bold, and subversive, and this is not seen from other fields. There are many societal topics that are discussed in the artistic field much earlier than any other field. It is necessary to learn, to pay attention, and develop this kind of shared understanding of the individual experience, so then we can come to the big picture.
In this respect, the artist is not only giving an opportunity to process personal experiences, but can also be a vehicle in the survivor’s fight for social justice and self-empowerment.
Jervert: Thank you so much, Elena. I am excited for this conference. I will be watching live online and I am looking forward to all the wonderful conversations. It is important work that you and the Disruption Network Lab are doing.
Veljanovska: Thank you, Karin. I don’t think there is a more fitting medium for this topic.
Jervert: To talk more about this topic, we invited the artists from one of the panels at this conference. Moderated by Lily Martin from the Alanus University of Arts and Social Sciences, the panel focuses on art and survivor empowerment and these artists’ methodology while working with different mental health conditions by using research, humor or art therapy as means of expression and framing proactive practices.
I’ll start off with Dolly Sen. Dolly Sen has a brain of ill-repute. Because of that she is an internationally renowned writer, filmmaker, artist, and activist. She is a working-class, brown, queer person who is interested in the disability and madness given to us by the world. She wants to disrupt the systems that produce that programming called oppression, not through Trojan Horse viruses but with my Little Ponies on acid with a little sadness in their hearts. You can learn more about Dolly at DollySen.com. Dolly, thanks for being here.
Dolly Sen: Thanks for having me.
Jervert: I wanted to ask you about your project Bedlamb. This is part of another project called Section 136, where you have conversations about madness with people on a bed, filled with stuffed lambs. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Sen: I’ve been a filmmaker for about 20 years. In fact, I did my degree in film and I have tried to get films on mental health by survivors onto TV, and it hasn’t happened. When I watch films, people who have a connection to mental health are being interviewed, but I was interested in what the person on the street felt about mental health, madness, and what drives people mad and how we can help people.
I did two Bedlambs, one actually in Bedlam Hospital. I interviewed mostly artists, and some of them did have a connection to mental health. They were very interested in the political side of mental health and why people were driven mad, and how the world drives people mad, and their answers to people’s distress was partly political and making social changes.
Then I did one in my then hometown of Great Yarmouth, which is a quite poor, deprived seaside town in Norfolk, England. I basically propped up the bed with lots of cuddly sheep on a high street and invited the passers-by to just come to talk to me about madness. They had a slightly different approach. When I asked what is driving people mad, more than two people said Boris Johnson. People were talking about lack of secure housing, poverty, discrimination. They understood—which surprised me because I would’ve thought a lot of people would say something’s wrong with their brain because that’s the story that’s put out by psychiatry, it’s all in the brain. I don’t think of distress as a broken brain, I think of it as a broken heart.
It was an experiment that confirmed what I thought of what madness is. There are people who thought the answer is helping people by investing more money in mental health system, but mostly it was people saying that the person’s situation and experience needed to be changed and they couldn’t change it, it had to be a political or economic thing.
Jervert: That’s really wonderful to hear because when you work in this field of activism, you feel that the medical model is so pervasive and the narrative is so ingrained that if you were to talk to the public, the answer would always be “there is something wrong with their brain.” But, when you did the Bedlamb project, the general public was actually—and maybe it was the way you framed the question, too—they did name oppression, they named housing trouble. They named these ways that mental health is not exactly encouraged in our social and economic environments.
Next, I am going to introduce Anika Krbetschek. Anika is a multidisciplinary artist and curator, working artistically through mental experiences, such as disassociation, trauma, compulsion, as well as its effects on identity and perceptions of the world. She learned how to express herself and transform emotions and experiences through working for years with, and learning from, art therapists. In her curatorial work and collaborative projects, she applies inclusive approaches and aims to build artistic spaces in order to create an empathic form of education around inclusion and mental health.
You can find out more about Anika at AnikaKrb.com. Anika, thank you so much for being here.
Anika Krbetschek: Thank you so much for inviting me.
Jervert: I read something on your website that really jumped out at me. Can you tell us more about the line, “Without dream and intuition, nothing real can move?”
Krbetschek: I would actually go back to being a child. I was very much absorbed by my dreamy way of perceiving the world around me. Since then, I am always getting lost in structures, the branching of a tree, the glittery surface of water. This is really an essential part of my personality, which is enjoyable. But I also know a drifting away or a similar feeling, which is less enjoyable. Drifting away comes as a freezing reaction to triggering situations, and it’s less controllable, and it impedes my daily life.
Through an artistic perspective I’ve created a relationship between my dreaminess and my dissociative disorder. Exploring this artistically releases so much tension inside of me. It’s such a beautiful act because through connecting the dissociative state with dreaminess or the concept of dreaming puts this disorder outside of the frame of illness for me.
This artistic method is linked to what the quote means. You can also see this in a project I do. It’s called Amoeba. For Amoeba I used the concept of “unicellar” beings and their way of moving forward as a metaphor for psychological growth based on trauma. In this work, movement in the sense of transformation, is a task of the unconscious. This is also what the quote says: Every outer movement evolves from an unconscious movement, like dreaming or intuition. There is something interesting about intuition, because even though 99% of everything we do, we do intuitively, in capitalist societies, we are very much focused on rationality.
This is also reflected in the mental health system. When I did behavioral therapy, I learned how to analyze my behavior rationally. I did lots of tabular analyzing. I love analyzing, but there are so many processes that are tickling the unconscious that are neglected. Art and art therapy holds a perspective that is not necessarily rational. That’s the reason I love making art and why I want to make art my profession, because I don’t know any other job where I could use my psychological condition of being a dreamy, intuitive being. My so-called illnesses are an artistic resource.
I think real stuff in the end is whatever real stuff is or reality is, but in the sense of something psychically manifesting, that is something that will always be interpreted and perceived, and understood in new ways through our unconscious path.
This sentence tries to describe that and also points to the ability of using the act of dreaming and intuition to create and change reality.
Jervert: I’ve never heard such a wonderful exploration and explanation of what art is. I feel similarly to you about how this works in us. I love the way that art can hold us as complete beings and diverse beings, which is just so wonderful. So thank you for that.
I am now going to introduce Marcello Lussana. Marcello is a research associate and coordinator of the project Social Interaction Through Sound Feedback, Sentire. Since 2012, he has been a composer and programmer for different projects, such as Motion Composure and Metabody. He lives in Berlin and produces computer music for audiovisual performances; dance, theater, and live electronics. He is currently a PhD candidate at Humboldt University of Berlin on the subject of interactive music and body perception.
You can find out more about Marcello’s project Sentire at Sentire.me. Thank you so much for being here, Marcello.
Marcello Lussana: Thank you for the invitation.
Jervert: Your focus as a composer has been on interactive systems. Can you tell us a little bit about what that means?
Lussana: About 10 years ago, I started to discover a different way of interacting with music. Historically, computer music, or electronic music, has been seen as detached from body movement, because we don’t have a direct interaction between the movement and the sound generated. But this kind of connection was re-established in the 1980s in experimental arts, performance and sound, but also others. Performance art started to use different kinds of sensors to connect body movement, or biological activity of the body, with sound generation.
I found it interesting and motivating, this way of reconnecting the body with sound. I think it’s at the basis of our way of interacting with the world, not necessarily just to my work as a composer. We usually move and hear some sound, that’s how we relate to reality, or one way we relate to reality. At the same time I was fascinated because this way of connecting body and sound generation also gives you extra information about your body perception.
I can relate to what Dolly and Anika said. Dolly mentioned that psychological problems are often seen by psychiatrists as related only to the brain, but it’s actually a more embodied issue. It would be very, very limiting to look only at the brain. If we instead focus on perception, that’s what many forms of art therapy do, independently from interactive sound. That’s a way to get back to your body and get into this relationship between body and mind. In the end it is all an abstraction. We always function, we always understand reality as a whole.
To me, connecting sound with movement was interesting from this possibly therapeutic usage. As a gate to body perception and at the same time, to therapy.
Related to what Anika mentioned is how can we connect these dreamy human beings we are in such a functional, goal-oriented society. I see this as a challenge for ourselves and other people who get in touch with such artworks, to question human functionality and capitalistic society. Of course, it’s a long path and it’s very personal and it’s definitely not straightforward, but to me that’s a strong motivation behind my project.
Jervert: I am excited to hear more about Sentire, which is one of the interactive sound works that you do as therapy.
Let’s dig into some art questions with the three of you. First, something that all three of you have in common is that you see art as a practice and a process that can transform distress. How does the process of transforming distress manifest in your art practice?
Sen: For me, it’s a reclamation of power. It’s changing the narrative of the story. This is why I say to people, I am a person who has experienced oppression and abuse, and those were the things that write my life story. Your creativity and art-making is the way you take control of that pain. But also, if you are labeled mad, you are not allowed to tell the truth about anything. So art enables you to tell the truth about yourself. I feel like I have to take on the world and change things. So art is my shield to be able to face the world. It does a lot of things, actually.
Jervert: Do you think the ability to hold and express truth is a core aspect of transformation?
Sen: I think so. Art is the only way I can tell the truth and have people accept it, which shouldn’t be, but that’s the way it is. That’s the world we live in at the moment, unfortunately.
Jervert: Being able to hold and tell the truth and having the reception on the other end be compassionate and non-judgmental.
Krbetschek: I would like to give an example regarding getting control back, maybe in a different perspective. I tried to bring up my therapeutic process last year on the stage in a quite direct way. I was doing a reading performance of diary entries which I did in the last 10 years, containing texts and poems I wrote down to get through violent experiences and sexual, physical, and mental abuse. The central point of this performance was that I would always experience re-traumatization while reading these diary entries on my own. I felt like bringing this intimate, but also ugly moment, onto the stage and framing it as an artistic act would give me control back over the situation. It was a bit of a risk, because I could also just have had a flashback on stage and that’s it. But, I had a really powerful and therapeutic moment with this performance.
I also got resonance from the audience, they had a therapeutic moment with the performance as well. This also brings light to the fact that so-called illnesses, which are linked to certain experiences such as trauma or as a result of abuse, are framed in the societal context and linked to structures of power and hegemonic structures. That’s why I think that making so-called illnesses visible through art is not only an act of self-therapy, but also always points to societal and systematic issues, and stand in an activistic and justice-related context.
Jervert: Yes, the individual transformation becomes collective transformation through the art process.
Lussana: A similar perspective, but a very different way of performing and acting, the intention of Sentire was in this direction as well. The way we usually perform as a performer is on the stage. We invite one person from the audience, and we interact together for about 10 minutes, and then the next person, and we do this for about one hour.
The sound changes depending on the distance and touch between these two participants, and we always wanted to keep it this way. We could have theoretically added an extra-sensor that detects the individual movement of one person, but we decided to keep it simpler this way. The sound reacts based on both persons. This means you have to be conscious of what the other person is doing and how it’s relating to you. If both persons are not moving or not changing the distance, but only individually moving, nothing changes in the sound. So, it was also meant to create more empathy and more connection between the two people interacting.
The performance was more open from this point of view, as art often is. Art therapy in a broader sense, but it has been used in a couple of therapy systems. For example, where they talk about feelings and then act. For example, the couple just had a fight and had a therapy session and this was given as an exercise giving by the therapists. They have to negotiate their distance. So, it can work from both points of view. It can become a tool for therapy, but it can be also a tool for exploring the other person and the connection with that person.
Jervert: I wanted to ask you more about this concept of art as activism and art as serving to contribute to human rights and justice in the mental health system. I want to first ask you about this perspective of art as transformation, how this informs your projects in mental health.
Let’s expand more on how your projects are being informed by the way art is transformational and specifically how this engages with the mental health community.
Krbetschek: For me, becoming an artist is very much linked to my psychological works in progress. Working with art means finding translations of psychic movements, of emotions, sensations, and impressions. It’s also holding something other disciplines cannot for me. Especially being a survivor and an artist. Mental experiences, especially trauma, need ways to be expressed and processed.
Trauma taught me that not every memory can be approached directly. Sometimes we have to find ways around it. I think art can deliver these ways to express feelings linked to trauma through abstraction or through metaphors, and it can be visual or coded in poems, or in a movement of a performance. I learned how to work artistically, especially in my time working with an art therapist—therapeutic approaches and methods are essential in my art-making process. My work is fundamentally process-oriented, using intuitive and raw expressions, and being with opportunities to self-reflect.
It also has become more important to me to contextualize my work and make it comprehensible, contextualizing it in social structures, because my aim is to create emotional reactions, especially emotional empathy, like Marcello already said, and to destigmatize so-called mental illnesses. I think destigmatization is one of the most important processes for systematic change and structural change in a social way.
Jervert: I am curious to know where you think the art therapy field is, as far as being aligned with alternative views towards human rights. Art therapy is an institutional model that can be subject to the same systemic oppression that other psychiatric models can. I wonder where you see the art therapy model right now.
Krbetschek: I cannot give a very specific answer to that, because I’m not an art therapist. I’m not in the research field. I experienced art therapy, and that’s seven years ago. I do know a bit about the connection to the so-called outsider artist. Everyone who is marginalized in the art industry is still very much in a conflict in a field of discrimination and inclusion. It’s not like there isn’t a lot happening, and way more visibility, but still, it’s always a separationist system.
We have a term especially for people outside of the art world and it’s an empowering process to have their own category. But, it’s still a category. I know that’s not really regarding art therapy, but this was an individual experience for me.
Jervert: It’s really interesting, the idea of outsider artists. Art can sometimes create exclusion because of different ideas of what is an artist, what is art, what is good art, what is bad art—all these things can create ways of excluding certain groups and marginalizing certain artists. It’s an important thing to keep in mind, opening this process to all people. As it was from the beginning of the human race, art was always for everyone. Somehow, we got lost, maybe in the capitalist system, around excluding and making it elite. It’s a very interesting conversation to have as well.
I want to give time to Dolly and Marcello to talk more about the question about working within mental health with this perspective of art is transformational.
Sen: This is not related to that, but it’s a response to what was being said before. When I started as an artist, I was invited to an outsider art fair to sell my stuff and I had the criticism that my work didn’t look mad enough. They said, “You don’t look mad enough, your art doesn’t look mad enough. So people won’t be interested.” It is elitism and it’s one group of people dictating what the other should be. Like you said, art is for everyone. Somebody else in the same fair said, “Your art is too intelligent to be in this,” and I just thought that was so disrespectful.
Art, to me, explores what it is to be human. Humanity is art and art is humanity. I think psychiatry at the moment is quite inhumane. I am trying to get the two to meet in the middle. I actually was an activist before I was an artist. I was standing outside of the Motley Hospital, which is a very famous psychiatric hospital in London, where I was the patient with a placard saying “Abuses are happening here.” I realized that people passing me on the street were just thinking, “This is just a loony,” and I was having absolutely no impact or influence on people who were running the place.
I realized art and humor were a way to communicate to the public what was happening in a way they could understand and relate to. Also, using art and humor was hard to ignore—the heads of the hospital couldn’t ignore me doing a Trip Advisor review of their hospital, for example. The art came after the activism. It’s a great way to communicate and in some contexts it can’t be ignored.
Jervert: There is something about the context of art that creates something more accessible, something more relatable, something that can really perpetuate empathy and understanding, which is what you try to elicit when you’re trying to make social change and for people to see the abuse that’s happening.
Lussana: It relates to what I was mentioning before. The transformational aim in Sentire was to let the participant explore directly. That’s why we wanted to engage the audience, and try this connection with sound out together with another person. Proximity is not really seen as one of the five senses, but it is somehow a sense, it’s something we perceive all the time. But usually we don’t give it so much attention. We do give it some attention, but in specific contexts. For example, for sex it’s the proximity and touch that has a lot of importance. But otherwise it’s usually something professional. When we do some kind of physical therapy it’s something comfortable or uncomfortable. Someone getting too close to us, keeping a certain distance, and so on.
The people who explore this sense are dancers or performers. For a dancer, it’s totally normal to play with distance with other dancers or performers. With Sentire, we hope to open this door for the participants, and give a bit of a hint to what is there to explore even without this system. You can explore it every day at any moment. As I said before, for me, body perception is strongly connected with therapy and mental health. So that’s the transformative potential that I see in Sentire.
Jervert: I am seeing it as a bit of a door that can be opened, one of many, for people to explore their emotions in relationship to the world, in relationship to their body, in relationship to other people’s bodies, and connect to how their relationship with the world is in the process of healing—affecting their mental health. It’s another way people can travel that path towards healing, which is wonderful.
I remember a book called The Silent Language, about non-verbal communication. I read it way back when I studied communications in college. The amount of communication that is happening in a non-verbal way with space, proximity, and things like that, is quite profound. It’s a very rich part of the human experience to explore as far as how it relates to healing.
Lussana: Yes, the book is by Edward Hall. That was the person who coined the word Proxemics. Proxemics is basically the study of distance between humans, but in the case of Hall, it was mental—for architecture and urban environments. Now it’s an established term to talk about distance and also the cultural value of that. Not only the physical distance, but how we perceive distance based on age, cultural background, and how it is strongly related to our mental state.
In the case of different conditions of mental health, the perception is different between individuals. It’s very important to talk about, to see distance in this more complex way and not just a measurement in centimeters.
Jervert: This reminds me of another book called Healing Spaces, which is about the way we architecturally create institutions of healing, like hospitals. They didn’t talk much about mental hospitals. I am working on a project actually with people in Berlin right now, Sound and Psych, around how sound environments affect our mental health and how mental institutions are built a certain way—create certain sounds and affect how we “sound,” what sounds we’re comfortable making. If we are allowed to listen to music or things like this. It is a restricted sound environment, which is connected to the power dynamic in that situation.
I am just noting that all of these ways we don’t normally think about healing are so important. Environments are built around how human beings interact and communicate with one another, and these environments can be detrimental to our health, or they can be helpful to our healing, depending on how we approach the research and wisdom we are looking for.
We’ll finish off with one last question, expanding again on this social justice issue that the conference is based on—madness and justice in mental health. I’ll rephrase it a little bit: If you were to see art playing the ideal role in mental health institutions today, what do you think that would look like? What do you think that would be from each of your perspectives?
Sen: That needs a lot of deep thinking. The instinctual answer I can come up with is just give it over to the artist for a year and see how it goes.
Jervert: Yes! I love that.
Lussana: There is a big need to connect with human beings. I don’t remember who, but someone said, in our society, we see mental illness as a problem, but in more traditional societies people with such problems would be shamans or people who work with healing, with dreaming, as Anika mentioned before, with art and with therapy in the end.
We should find a way to understand what we call mental issues and work more at the core of our society. In the end, this is only a problem of society that just pops up as a problem of individual people. That’s what we really need: We need more connection between people in our society. That’s probably what is missing most.
Krbetschek: There is a very intense history of art and psychology. This history is very much marked by separation and discrimination and abuse. There is psychiatric art very much marked by injustices and injured human rights. Artists with mental illnesses are now able to work artistically. And every time we are working around mental conditions authentically and critically, some kind of collectivistic healing process happens regarding this history of psychology and art.
Still, the art market and the industry suffers from problematic structures, especially for marginalized groups. There is so much potential for inclusion, in the wide understanding of inclusion, inclusion of all marginalized groups, not only people with disabilities. It is actually good for all of us. This inclusion is fundamentally linked to human rights.
Jervert: Thank you so much, all of you, for being here with me today. It’s been a wonderful conversation.
MIA Reports are supported, in part, by a grant from The Thomas Jobe Fund.