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the lights are on

The lights are on at Craftivists

The lights are on (but nobody’s home)

The Lights Are On is an installation of five artists’ explorations of their experiences of mental illness and their struggle for survival in an increasingly complex and mentally challenging world. HOT’s Xaverine Bates, one of the artists, explains more.

The Lights are a fluid group of artists, all of whom have lived experience of mental health issues. Initially, they developed their installation, The Lights Are On, as part of the Frames of Mind exhibition at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, curated by The Craftimation Factory, as part of their year-long project in association with Recovery Partners. The project worked with adults with mental health issues, creating stop-motion animations using hand-made sets and adorable knitted puppets as a means to exploring their experiences of mental illness. The Lights Are On is now showing at Crafitivists¸48 Kings Road, St Leonards from 10 February to Saturday 7 March.

the lights at their studio

© Amanda Jobson

Janey Moffatt Laloë, who founded and runs The Craftimation Factory, invited five artists – including herself -with lived experience of mental illness, to create a life-sized animation set exploring their personal experiences of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. As artists, they collaborated for two months in a warehouse space owned by Hastings Furniture Service in Bexhill and came up with the idea of making a 1970s ‘Day of the Dead’ inspired set, which includes personal artefacts such as a diary from one of the artists’ teenage years, ancient teddy bears, birds and vintage fabric. They quickly found parallels in their ideas – and themes of guilt, hope and redemption emerged in their work. The exhibition is interactive, and viewers are invited to write their darkest thoughts and post into the Box of Dark Thoughts, a tribute to suidical ideations and the artists’ survival of such near-tragic pathos, which will form the basis of a future artwork by the group.

Janey’s piece, Feeling Wired, a life-sized puppet made of giant knitting, fairy lights and floral embellishments, depicts her experience of mania as part of her bipolar disorder. Initially conceived of as a playful puppet, the end result became a hauntingly disturbing figure, depicting the loss of control experienced by those in a state of mania or hypomania, characterised by racing thoughts, risky behaviour, excess energy and a decreased need for sleep.

Xaverine M A Bates created Miss Havisham, as a tribute to the multitude of women over the centuries, who have been vilified, incarcerated and executed due to mental illness and the myths surrounding it. Part auto-biographical, part historical, Miss Haversham represents the pain and hope Xaverine experiences on a daily basis, living with and learning to manage bipolar disorder. The black lace coat belonged to her great grandmother, Mimi, and the bay leaves, which make up the skirt, represent bay’s many magical properties. Her second piece, Despire [1. to despise (Old French, Etymology: Latin dēspiciō) 2. to be aspiring and desiring 3. to desire and despise (urban slang)] is a testament to the past eleven months of her life: from the nervous breakdown she experienced at the end of 2013 through her extensive contact with mental health services. The piece contains shredded blog-posts, written as a journalistic record of her journey, which were slashed and reddened to symbolise incidences of self-harm and suicidal ideations, sprinkled with drops of the artist’s own blood from one of these times. The white thread symbolises hope for recovery and acts as a shroud around her pain, while the gilt frame symbolises both guilt for the hurt she has caused and the glory of one day conquering and learning to manage the condition.

Susan Jeanne Lelliott

Susan Jeanne Lelliott

Susan Jeanne Lelliott wanted to explore her identity through bird images. The Cage They Made Me is a poignantly delicate sculpture of a caged baby bird, reflecting upon itself in a mirror. A joker playing card and sunflower seeds are strewn on the cage floor. It depicts the stark experience of being pathologised for differences as a child and the opportunity for self- reflection this yielded. The paired piece, The Cage I Made Myself is more exuberant, representing the strengths and limits of her adult self and her strive for balance. It is made of woven hydrangea flowers, vibrant yarns and a large wooden bird sits at the centre with a tiny bird headpiece fashioned out of wire and the artist’s hair. Her two charcoal drawings, ‘Dream Snatcher’ and ‘Stone the Crow’, are part of a series of seven, marking the start of her recovery from a serious brain operation. They are part of the ‘She Crows’ series that explores the experience of suffering, learning, and deepening awareness.

Rebecca Snotflower’s brains and collection of animal skulls adorn the set. The first, an outline of a brain painted in garish neon pink, is contrasted with a meticulous monochrome drawing in her characteristically anarchic style of illustration which, on closer inspection, contains references to surveillance, Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining, religion, censorship and sexual imagery.

Erin Marie Veness

Erin Marie Veness

Erin Marie Veness’ monoprints, reminiscent of the raw, immediate style of Tracey Emin, depict lonely figures with slogans such as ‘Keeping Ghosts Alive’ and ‘We Used To Be Friends’, which are largely auto-biographical, exploring her own personal experience with mental illness and contact with mental health services. She has also painstakingly created a collection of small figures, burnished onto hardboard, who reflect the experiences of the self-harm community.

The Lights decided as a group to graffiti the back of the set using slogans typically used by the general public, when describing those with mental health issues. Entitled The Lights Are On [But Nobody’s Home], they scrawled ‘mental’, ‘schizo’, ‘two sandwiches short of a picnic’ and other such derogatory terms frequently used in common parlance about those suffering from schizophrenia, psychosis, depression and mania in vibrant dayglow lettering. The panels reference such controversial depictions of mental illness as a Hallowe’en outfit, stocked by a large chain of supermarkets last year, of a ‘mental patient’ in a straitjacket, which was swiftly removed after a campaign led by mental health charities.

graffiti wall

Detail of graffiti on reverse of set

The group, now collectively known as The Lights, who formed earlier on this year under the name The Temps, collaborated on a street art project on the theme of mental health and mental illness around the streets of St Leonards as part of Coastal Currents –  and quickly bonded and supported each other in their treatment of their own personal experiences, enabling each other to portray their issues in a safe and secure environment. The Lights intend to continue to collaborate as a group and hope to exhibit their work in other venues in Hastings and London in the near future.

There will be a selection of workshops exploring mental health through visual arts, including creating crochet skulls, whilst exploring taboo subjects and a collaborative drawing, incorporating our darkest subconscious thoughts and fears. More information about the workshops can be found here.

For more information, see:

The exhibition runs from 10 February to 7 March at Craftivists, 48 Kings Road, St Leonards-on-Sea TN37 6DY

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Posted 09:58 Thursday, Feb 12, 2015 In: Visual Arts

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