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Courtesy the artists and 'all in: the mind'

all in: the mind at House of Vans

18 August 2017 Daniel Pateman

Bryony Stone’s latest incarnation of her IRL platform “all in”, housed under the arches of the hip House of Vans, is an eclectic marriage of works from across the artistic spectrum that seeks to integrate discussion around mental health into the everyday. Visual art, fashion, music, sculpture and poetry all commingle, uniting to reassure us that it’s okay not to be okay.

The arches underneath Waterloo station are a fitting setting for all in: the mind; a subterranean refuge from the hectic crowds of London’s tourist district and a space to reflect on the too often neglected topic of mental health. It feels like a welcoming, inclusive environment. Golden arcs of light line the length of the exhibition, leading from music videos and filmed discussions, past animations and a range of paintings, to an installation in which people are invited to lounge on one of two sunbeds. Here we can relax, close our eyes, and soak up a candid radio discussion about mental health in the creative industries.
 
Just opposite, epitomising the purpose of this show by bringing people together “to swap and share meaningful conversations sparked by art”, is A Sai Ta’s Takeaway (2017): an installation composed of blank T-shirts, with acrostics of MIND cross hatched over the designer label inside, that reaches from ground to ceiling. Visitors can take one away to keep; a donation to MIND is encouraged if you do so. The result is a piece of work that unites both the individual and the collective in a shared dialogue.


Gary Card, Monster on my Back, 2017. Courtesy the artist and all in: the mind
 
Creativity is shown to be an empowering conduit through which mental health can be better understood and managed. A film of Holly Blakey and Mica Levi’s Wrath (2016) externalises an unnamed internal struggle through dance. It begins with a claustrophobic close-up of performer Nandi Bhebhe in an arid studio, her mouth silently morphing into a scream as a guitar pulses repetitively on the soundtrack. While at first her movements are gnarled and tormented, as the camera pans out the pace increases and the choreography becomes free-flowing and wild. The frame ceases to contain her as she sweeps in and out of shot, and the film ends as she shakes her long trench coat in mid-air, head held high and eyes fierce, suggesting mastery and defiance.


Holly Blakey and Mica Levi, Wrath, 2016. Courtesy the artists and all in: the mind
 
Having a creative outlet for our emotional state is shown to be cathartic in a number of other works. Liam Hodge’s IM OKAY! (2017) and Joy Miessi’s Curled Out Issues Of Your Own (2017) complement each other through shared themes of self-acceptance. Challenging the damaging traits of perfectionism and our need to constantly be “better”, Hodge’s work includes an X-ray of his trademark grin “with all its imperfections” and deliberately incorrect grammar; a celebration of the idea that sometimes “okay” is good enough. Miessi’s empowering mix of written word and painting on cardboard is a similar celebration of self and singularity. Despite noting “the long-standing effect of racism and sexism” on her mental health, the piece - while channelling personal hurt - is also revelatory, as the artist embraces those previously criticised features of herself.
 
The mask-like imagery of Miessi’s piece recurs in a racially charged painting by Brixton-born artist Gaika Tavares, in which the detrimental consequences of racial stereotyping are unsettlingly expressed. A composite of three overlaying colonial representations of the “negro”, eyes obscured by dark shadow, it depicts an objectified, inhuman “other”. Not only does the mask-like imagery illustrate facial features - grotesquely large lips and savage jaws - as projections of a white colonial imagination, it also suggests the negative impact these representations might have on black individuals’ self-conception.

 
Joy Miessi, Curled Out Issues Of Your Own, 2017. Courtesy the artists and all in: the mind

While a dialogue about mental health is encouraged between the viewer and the works throughout the exhibition, a number of pieces directly embody this. Akinola Davies JR’s collaborative piece, I Know Nothing (2016), is taken from a radio show discussion about “welfare within the creative communities”. The speakers elucidate their own experiences and anxieties, with DJs recounting the felt pressure to ‘perform’, and how social media exacerbates the perceived idyll of their lifestyle. Their voices are reflective, reassuring the listener that life is often incompatible with expectations.
 
Art provides a space in which meaningful conversation about mental health can take place. As Tim Noble makes evident with Boy being sick on bird (2016), the discussions sparked can be difficult and the emotions they evoke unpleasant, but this is why we should engage with them. all in: the mind deftly encourages us to have such conversations, providing the freedom to express individual truths in a world which valorises sanitised appearances over the real and deeply felt.

all in: the mind runs at House of Vans, SE1 8SW till August 20. Entry is free, with a donation of £3 encouraged. All proceeds go to MIND.
 
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