An exhibition featuring work by young artists with lived experience of hearing voices, seeing visions, other unique perceptions, and/or psychosis will be opening tomorrow, May 13th, at Gallery Gachet in Vancouver. The exhibition is based on a peer-led project originally known as the Hearing Voices Art and Storytelling Workshop and later as Beauty of Life In Psychosis (BLIP), which brought people together to create art about their experiences. A catered opening reception will be held from 6-8 pm – no tickets are required. The gallery is also hosting a public event May 20th where community members are invited to drop in between 2-6 pm to add to several collaborative canvases that will be displayed in the gallery. More information about the exhibition is available below.
Beauty of Life In Psychosis, an innovative exhibition based on a year-long project of the same name, will be on display May 13th to June 3rd at Gallery Gachet. Beauty of Life In Psychosis, or BLIP, was a peer-run project that brought together young people who identified as experiencing psychosis or unusual perceptions/beliefs for a series of workshops to make and discuss art together. The exhibition will feature work by eight artists who developed and/or participated in the project, Shira Agam, Constantin Angst, Charlie Bailey, Rory Higgs, Heart (Ruth Kast), Anne Liao, Dina Majidi, and Blythe Parry. The opening reception will be held May 13th from 6 to 8 pm – no tickets are required. Programming for the exhibition will also include a workshop open to the public to create several collaborative community canvases the following week, May 20th, which will be displayed as part of the exhibition.
The exhibition will feature approximately two dozen small works in acrylic, oil, ink, collage, and mixed media, created both during the Beauty of Life In Psychosis project and as reflections on or expansions of earlier work. Additional sketches and exploratory work created by the artists during the project will also be displayed, with these informal works together creating a “wall” and conveying a subjective sense of what involvement in the project was like. The finished works explore the themes chosen by participants in each of the three cohorts of BLIP as a creative focus: transformation, normalcy, and societal expectations, which emerge as throughlines in an otherwise eclectic body of work. Bright, graphic colour spars with fields of chaotic detail and sudden stark simplicity, building a visual story of tension between states, worlds, and identities.
BLIP held that psychosis was complicated, personal, and that every way of articulating the experience was valuable, beyond how it might be thought about clinically or in the popular imagination. At the project’s inception, making meaning out of experiences like hearing voices was understood as a social, creative process, like telling a story. Accordingly, the works on display span the emotional gamut, and weave between confronting psychosis directly, drawing on unique ways of experiencing the world, and sometimes simply reflecting on other aspects of a life history that happens to intersect. Some works express grief, fear, and pain. Loss makes deep marks, and these transformations manifest as wounding, as in Charlie Bailey’s Pink Woman, which exposes the vulnerabilities of an imagined, statuesque ideal. In several works, subjects appear captured under threat, immobile: Blythe Parry’s Involuntary Patient, depicting a bird hung by its foot against a hospital-green backdrop, is uncannily still, conveying quiet, suffocating panic. A sense of disorientation or even disintegration characterizes certain works – “IT’S THE SAME WORLD BUT NOTHING LOOKS THE SAME”, declares Constantin Angst in the four-paneled manifesto Make It Rain, while the repeated mantra “RISK OF DETERIORATION” stumbles over itself in Rory Higgs’ Salve/Solvent. Some works seem displaced or surreal: an eerie, vertiginous quality transports the viewer to a suspended moment in time in the ethereal paintings of Heart (Ruth Kast).
Other works are triumphant, like Dina Majidi’s vibrant mixed media pieces, which convey a sense of positive change in their exuberant use of text (“You are the hope,” reads Follow Your Passion) and scenes of togetherness and gratitude. New growth emerges even from radical upheavals: the companion to Bailey’s Pink Woman, The First Rebirth, lays down deep roots, while flowers bloom from the wreckage in Shira Agam’s work. The natural world and the movement of water equally become meditations on freedom and oppression in Anne Liao’s work. Reflections on the themes of transformation, normalcy, and societal expectations, co-created with the community at the May 20th workshop, will also be displayed as a triptych in the gallery.
Beauty of Life In Psychosis challenges conventional attitudes towards both psychosis and the gallery space. Most of the artists featured have never exhibited work before and could be considered “outsider artists.” There is an unsavory history in the art world of treating artists with psychiatric diagnoses or histories voyeuristically, with the value of art by marginal artists hinging on its otherness – that is, on the dehumanization of the artist. Instead, Beauty of Life In Psychosis approaches the gallery as a participatory, community-oriented space, where artists, artworks, and narratives are celebrated on their own terms. In this context, voices, visions, and unusual beliefs are explored as not only symptoms but multi-faceted experiences woven into larger narratives: sometimes disturbing, sometimes beautiful, and sometimes simply mundane.