Visualising the Invisible: Artists working in Mental Health

In receipt of the Stiwdio Safle award (2009), Arts Council Wales, I was Artist-in-Residence for nine months at the Ablett Unit, an acute inpatient NHS adult psychiatric unit based at Glan Clwyd Hospital, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, (2009-2010). Here I worked with resident patients who were affected by a variety of mental health disorders and created artworks in response to this experience.

White, duration 4" 41", Karen Heald & Susan Liggett, 2010.

She couldn’t recollect so we filled her with memories, duration 4' 34", Karen Heald, (2010).

During my time at the Ablett, I delivered a six-weekly rolling programme of workshops for the patients and staff, ranging from painting, drawing and creative writing to video/sound and photography. Alongside this I mentored a Fine Art degree student as part of her Professional Development module. 

The three selected sound poems below were created in response to ideas developed during the creative writing workshops. The initial concept for the poems originated from anagrams of drug names used in psychiatry. 

She dreamed of…, duration 1' 42", Karen Heald & Participant, (2010).

As part of the artist residency I invited painter and Senior Lecturer in Fine Art, Susan Liggett to co-facilitate the painting workshops and to create collaborative works based on our shared theoretical interests. The subsequent exhibition titled Visualising the Invisible featured patients and artist's individual and collaborative artworks.

Based on experiences from working in the hospital the artworks featured consisted of images of numerous small paintings on gesso board, a selection of photographs and several experimental short films. The films were presented as projections onto walls and on specific objects, such as medical screens. The exhibits displayed rhythms, colours and trace, communicating ideas that the patients have been unable to articulate in the spoken word but expressed through their artworks. There were collaborative elements in the production and editing of the art works.

Below are a selection of photographs and video stills created by the patients during the pinhole photography and video/sound workshops.

The culmination of artworks from the Artist Residency featured in the exhibition Visualising the Invisible at Glyndwr University, which was itself a former hospital, and also formed part of the Wrexham Science Festival in 2010.

The Ablett residency gave myself and Susan, the opportunity to converse with patients, and staff allowing us to further explore art and science collaborations and theoretical notions of 'in-between-ness'.

At the time of this residency I was pursuing my contemporary art, practiced-based PhD at Leeds Metropolitan University exploring ideas of time, sleep, site and being 'in-between.' Following on from this residency I received further Research and Development funding to build on my PhD and collaborate further with Susan Liggett (PhD) painter and Senior Lecturer, Fine Art, Glyndwr University, Dr Richard Tranter Consultant Psychiatrist/Senior Clinical Lecturer/Assistant Director R&D at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board) and Professor Rob Poole (Professor of Mental Health, Glyndwr University).

The title of this research project was In-between-ness: Using art to capture changes to the self during anti-depressant treatment.

With thanks to -

Susan Liggett, Jaime Kelly, Tracy Simpson, Elizabeth Aylett, Dr Richard Tranter and Professor Rob Poole for their invaluable insights; Tom Rogers, Stewart Mival, Mandy Richards, Leah Baker and all the staff at the Ablett for their continuous support; Hannah Atkins and Aydee Latty for their inspirational sound workshop and their sound track on the film White; Rachel Breckon, for her surreal sound poems written in response to ideas based upon the creative writing workshops; Rachel Breckon and Mark Pierce who recited and recorded the sound poems; Rachael Kearney for her fruitful conversations discussing the design of the web site; all the sponsors who believed in the work; and most of all to the enjoyable hours spent with the patients at the Ablett Unit without whom this residency would have not been possible.