Friday, May 20, 2011

From a Galaxy not far away

Review of 'Who Cares?' exhibition at Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester. Until 19th June 2011

Image of Who Cares? with Dalton-Johnston sculpture in foreground and Burscough diptych in background. Photo property of Kevin Dalton Johnston, flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/72566825@N00/5585419593/sizes/l/in/photostream/

If this exhibition helps its audience to care about the reality of mental illness then perhaps it doesn’t really matter if people like the art works, as striking as they are. And it’s debatable whether a single small exhibitory room offers enough scope for art appreciation as there are fewer images from which to choose - but there is also likely to be more time set aside to observe and connect with each piece. The compact and arguably discreet area upstairs in the Whitworth art gallery aims to provide a contemplative space for the consideration of the necessity of art, health and community; these three important phenomena we don’t always readily address due to common constraints of time, space and social normativity.

Whilst 'Who Cares?' draws from the Whitworth’s permanent collection of pronounced, expressive portraiture - including paintings by Francis Bacon and Camille Pissarro - there are also some newly developed pieces which have been commissioned or chosen for the exhibition. These include intensive art works by painter Lucy Burscough, artist in residence at Galaxy House - a part of Royal Manchester Children's Hospital which treats children and young people with mental health problems - and sculptor Kevin Dalton-Johnson - who has worked with children at the Leo Kelly Centre at Manchester Schools Hospital& Home Tuition Service. Both artists examine notions of fractured identities and disorientation, with Burscough focusing more on teenage emotive and decorative self expression and Dalton-Jones questioning racial and diasporic hybridity. It is not immediately apparent that these figurative studies are capturing subjects with mental health difficulties but then it is not always possible to tell the multiform ways in which someone is suffering in real life.'If you only see the illness, you miss the person' is the hook line accompanying the title of the exhibition.

So, who cares? Well, you should. Whilst it’s possible to plod along through everyday life without engaging with fine art, it’s not possible to ignore mental illness. It's been estimated that 2 in 3 people suffer from depression at some point in their lives, so if it’s not you, then it’s going to be at least one of your family or friends. Visiting this exhibition may not enlighten you towards understanding the intricacies of mental health issues but its very presence focuses our awareness on the fact that it is an issue, it's all around us and it's our issue.

Galaxy House project with Whitworth Art gallery: http://www.cmft.nhs.uk/media-centre/latest-news/galaxy-house-benefits-from-arts-and-health-mentoring-scheme.aspx
Events and Activities around 'Who Cares?' at the Whitworth: http://www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk/whatson/events/whocaresevents/
Information about depression: http://www.patient.co.uk/health/Depression.htm
Information about mental health issues: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/an-introduction-to-mental-health/what-are-mental-health-problems/?view=Standard

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