Looks like I’m running a new 10 week course, as part of Attenborough Arts De-Stress Fest in 2018, following a successful proposal.

The proposal centred around the idea of reconnecting the senses with our surroundings through artistic methods and techniques, which support mindfulness and wellbeing. The group will run for 2 hrs per week over 10 weeks and include field activities, such as local walks and studio/gallery visits, in which participants will be encouraged to tune into their surroundings in new and interesting ways.

The course has a direct link to my Mindfulness, Well-being and Environment in Context essay, which examined the modernist and postmodern disconnect with nature and artistic walking practice as a study for how we might re-connect with the sublime.


  • Short exercises to tune into objects and surroundings.
  • Guided mindful walks.
  • Group discussions on sensory impact of looking, touching, smelling, hearing, touching on aesthetics, philosophy, and the fear and pleasure of the sublime.
  • Signposting to texts and artists of interest.
  • Drawing, photography and other forms of studio based making.
  • Development of a body of work or methodology for examining what art can be.


One thing thats changed, could be seeing colours differently, feeling calmer or being able to observe the world in a new way.

I will need to work on the tasks and activities and ensure that the group has autonomy and ownership of how the 10 weeks are structured.

Hopefully, if successful, it could be longer term opportunity…


On personhood, borders, boundaries and the other

One of the main areas of concern that dominated my mental health career was the forming of ‘necessary boundaries’, designed to protect both worker and client/service user.  But protect from what? We, as colleagues, tried to create a system where workers and clients could meet as equals, working creatively, together, the client and the worker both acknowledging their strengths and vulnerabilities, which was a struggle but I think we got the balance right.

Much of the most interesting work happens, in my opinion, at the edges or limits of such boundaries.  That ‘we’re not that different after all’ moment of realisation which is only too human a response to distress and anti individualist.  Care and support systems aim to protect, or safeguard, ‘patients’, to choose one of may labels, from, at worst, exploitation (and I have seen such exploitation in action) and at best unburdening of the worker’s own problems on to the ‘client’. They also exist to protect the worker from harm and over involvement (but I could go on at length about how we train ourselves to deal with distress and trauma and how that impacts on our very being) .  Two key legislative acts are at play here, the Safeguarding of Children and Vulnerable Adults Act and the Health and Safety at Work Act, which no one would argue against as they offer key safeguards on both sides of the client-worker divide.

Recent constructs of ‘professionalism’ however, and the added pressure on efficiency and value for money, are problematic and have led to the erecting of a ‘great big beautiful‘ wall of resistance.  The soft, permeable and malleable boundaries, which hug whatever shape interaction of the human landscape might present, has been replaced by a solid, fixed and impenetrable wall.  With ‘us’ on one side and ‘them’ on the other (I’m not even going to assume which side is which).  One example of this ‘professionalism’ was the recent (in the past 5 years) re-introduction of uniforms to psychiatric wards, the clinical re-furbishing of many spaces to resemble prisons rather than places of hope and recovery, in an attempt to manage risk after a spate of on ward suicides leading to an external inquiry.  The suicide rates, as far as I’m aware have remained the same since the changes, highlighting a paradoxical management of risk by removing all ligature points and means of escape, creating a more clinical and un-therapeutic environment and thus leading to greater devision and distress, when spending more time meeting the ‘patients’ as equals might have had a better impact. The Milgram and Stanford Experiments come to mind when exploring the ‘us and them’ relationships and how they are influenced by the clinical environment.  The concept of Malignant Social Psychology, (Kitwood, 1997) goes some way to recognising the cause and effect of care settings on both worker and client behaviour and is recognised as an important tool in challenging the ‘us and them’ dichotomy. As health becomes a profit driven commodity, and with an ongoing late capitalist assault on the NHS and disability rights, the danger of reverting back to asylums and ghettoizing of those in distress is not just a fear but a very scary reality.

The Mad Love Project goes some way to addressing this by supporting those, caught up in current psychiatric systems and processes, on both sides of the divide.  It offers a utopian view of a new kind of therapeutic space.  But perhaps what is needed is a whole re-thinking of our approach to mental health.  One which acknowledges similarities and vulnerabilities on both sides.  One which removes clinical barriers, rather than creating and reinforcing them.  One that has humanity, not profit and efficiency at its heart.

Many years ago a good friend, who was an artist and user of psychiatric care, said to me ‘I don’t need any more fucking workers, I need artists, you know what I mean don’t you?’, I replied, ‘yes’, thinking I understood but it would take me another couple of years before I even began to understand what she meant. The first time I worked with an individual as an artist, rather than as a support worker, I was struck by the marked difference in my own feelings and actions.  It felt like a more humane and equal relationship, learning as much from them as they did from me.  I was able to give advice and pass on some simple technical skills, but it was their creativity led the sessions.  Artists too need supporting and need to be able to offer their therapeutic skills in a safe and supportive environment.  Perhaps, though, artists are indeed better equipped to work at the cliff edge of the fluid boundaries and are not afraid to cross when needed, step back when required and generally be more human in their response to personhood, space and the need to work in collaboration.


                                                                          Our saviour is coming and he has the power to heal us all,  – Digital collage, 2017

Insanity — a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world. RD Lang.

From the sublime to the ridiculous

The awe of nature is nothing new and it has no doubt been proved in many studies and reports that we are at our best when connected to nature.  Romanticisms’ legacy prevails but I find there is something unpalatable about the optimism of the ‘happiness brigade’ (realising that I sound like a Daily Mail reader), something that grates on my very being. We should not be content, we should not drown in a sea of happy waves of the sublime, we should be angry.  Nature documentaries have the power to connect us with nature, but through a screen, FFS, a screen, be it a tv, phone or tablet, it all smacks of yet another unobtainable lifestyle pill to keep us in a state of numb obedience and blind to the damage the human species causes on a daily basis.  My facebook feed seems full of atrocities and political coercion, mans inhumanity to man and beast, with the occasional shot of ‘feel good’ animals do the cutest things type films and airbrushed slick celebrity ‘protests’ and oh so worthy shares of the latest showing of solidarity (many of which I suspect to be either fake or just publicity stunts). Wake up from the spell of the slumber of the flickering, trance inducing screen and step out into the world with a metaphorical clenched fist, wave it at the human race and roar with anger.


BBC commissioned study on the impact of Planet Earth 2 on viewers happiness.

Rant over!

More reading on the debate of screen vs reality…

Biophillia – Environmental Psychology

Reading for torture

Dyslexia, for me, makes reading for pleasure  a little tortuous.  Reading feels physically uncomfortable at times no matter how much I’m interested or focused on the subject at hand.  With this in mind I’m going to try and develop a disciplined reading and research model for the Mindfulness and Wellbeing in Context essay. Reading a section of one book per day and taking notes, adding them to the table and then pulling them together at the end of the week seems like a good strategy.  Lets see how it works in the real world…

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 17.41.38

Guess I also need to read the research text books…..

More artists and groups/projects to explore…

Exploring contemporary arts practice outside of traditional studio practice.  We are looking at the horizontal trajectory of contemporary artists careers and links with social practice and research in next weeks MAW seminar but interestingly we also discussed this at my tutorial with Carole.