It’s hard to believe that eleven years have passed since the first Out of Sight Out of Mind exhibition was held at Edinburgh’s Summerhall arts centre. A collaboration between CAPS, Independent Advocacy, Thrive Edinburgh and the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, the exhibition is a platform for people who have experience of mental health issues, who want to have their voices heard using the arts. This year, many participants are responding to a suggested theme of ‘revolution’, and the quality of thought-provoking items on show would surprise many experienced arts curators.
Textures abound in the ground-floor gallery as a series of vibrant multi-coloured surfaces (featuring embroidery, soil, grass and reclaimed landfill) light up the room. Downward Spiral, a striking sculpture by Eileen Taylor, nails its theme with barbed acuity: a copper coil is strewn with prescribed medicine bottles and weaves downward like a loose DNA strand, creating an ever-widening rail to display a lifetime’s batch of medication. The artist seeks to highlight an enduring battle with bipolar disorder using this vivid image. Judging by the crowds drawn to her provocative piece, she has caught some semblance of truth in her striking creation.
Elsewhere Lauren Stonebanks’ exquisitely-attired revolutionary Barbie doll leans confidently against a cranked-up guillotine awaiting any brave takers. The display, called The Revolution will be miniaturised has capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy as only a few of its targets. It’s a detailed and precise miniature work, with a smidgen of dark humour, as the glistening guillotine blade actually does work – when it snaps down, a soft toy’s head rolls into a perfectly woven basket. Revolutionary Barbie is probably not a model Mattel will be considering any time soon, but it’s no less powerful for that.
Prisca Kemp takes a softer, more meditative approach. With Beautiful Silence, her portrait of Effie, a small cat, rendered in smooth ochres and cream oil pastels, she has created an image which exudes stillness and dreaminess. But look closer and see the smooth coat becoming a series of spiky fine lines which spill out to create a shimmering halo around the subject. It’s a tender yet prickly little portrait which somehow captures Effie’s attempts to be present, yet silent when pain strikes the artist.
Upstairs, the Meadows Gallery brings us Bag (Lady) by Jonathon Bell – a seemingly abstract mix of shapes, reflections, facial features and clouds which is actually a one-shot photograph of a window display in Edinburgh’s Harvey Nichols. The large greyscale image could sit easily on any high-end diner wall. Like a bold, modern collage, it references ‘nature’ through those careening clouds, ‘consumerism’ with that emerging handbag, and fleeting ‘mortality’ with a ghostly face almost etched into the glass. But the photographer gives none of these notions a thought. He uses photography as a distraction from his over-thinking and daily life stresses. ‘Once I’m behind the viewfinder it all goes away’, he declares. But this choice for display shows he has a real artist’s eye for a strong image.
With hundreds of artworks on show, it’s impossible to capture the exhilaration, multiplicity and visceral creative bombardment when entering Summerhall’s tall stone corridors. With only a few more days to go, it should rush to the top of any art lovers’ weekend visits.
With thanks to Malcolm McGonigle for this review.