Curating / Containing: Exhibiting Digital Art About Mental Health

It feels pretty good to have some writing that reflects the content of my thesis out in the world. My paper Curating / Containing: Exhibiting Digital Art About Mental Health was recently published in the proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Electronic Art.

As I work towards thesis submission in March 2018 (argh) I guess I’ll publish more expanding on these themes. Meantime, you can download the ISEA paper here: Curating:Containing_Exhibiting_Digital_Art_About_Mental_Health.

The paper builds upon the existing discourse about the mental health impact of museums and galleries, with a study that is specific to the curation of digital artworks addressing the topic of mental distress. It documents my own practice based research and audience response to the exhibition: Group Therapy: Mental Distress in a Digital Age, held at FACT, UK in 2015. Audience feedback was gathered using a psychosocial research method called the visual matrix, which is designed to capture more affective responses than existing methods of arts evaluation. Presenting this feedback, I focus on a perceived dichotomy between the historical and the digital, where audiences understood the asylum as a place of sanctuary and the digital content as anxiety provoking. I use this tension to propose next steps in my own practice alongside some wider considerations for curatorial approaches to digital art dealing with mental health. Issues of curatorial care are central, as I consider how a curator can support audiences to encounter challenging digital artworks that deal with mental distress. I adapt and test Wilfred Bion’s concept of container-contained (also a key theoretical component of the visual matrix method as a paradigm for this caretaking function.

Featured image: CARRIE BURIED BENEATH CATALPA BEANS, panorama detail, Quintan Ana Wikswo, 2014. From Group Therapy: Mental Distress in a Digital Age 2015.

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