Interview by Yasmine Rix
Published December 2017
Lizz Brady heads up Broken Grey Wires, a collective based around bridging the gap between art with mental health based in Manchester.
YAC teams up with Cambridge based artist led organisation Art Language Location to interview Lizz in celebration of their collaborative fundraiser ‘Five Years: My Head Hurts a lot’ happening at Guest Projects on 14th December 2017.
What instigated interest in developing a collective around the idea of mental health?
I have been living with mental health issues for a number of years; severe depression and anxiety alongside borderline personality disorder. I struggled throughout my teenage years, and the life changing event of going to university just heightened my depression. I graduated in 2012 with a degree in Fine Art, new friends, experiences I will never forget and tutors who saved my life, but in 2014 I ended up in hospital on a psychiatric ward, and this was my turning point.
I was living as an artist, and yet I couldn’t really find anything out there which explored mental health and creativity. I decided to form Broken Grey Wires, which initially would be one exhibition, showing work alongside other artists who inspired me. I wrote to David Shrigley, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Bobby Baker, Jeremy Deller…and to my genuine surprise, they were all interested in the concept I shared with them.
This developed further and eventually I made the decision that Broken Grey Wires would be an organization, a collective, showcasing professional contemporary art that would respond to mental illness.
How receptive have major organisations been to collaboration with BGW?
Acclaimed artists have been very interested in working with me, as have organisations such as Everton in the Community, the Manchester Early Intervention in Psychosis Service, Daily Life Ltd, Backlit and many others. Major galleries have been more difficult to begin collaboration with, many want a lot of experience or past evidence of exhibitions and curatorial practice. It has been frustrating trying to get the foot in the door. Guest Projects hosted the first major exhibition though, in January 2017, and with Arts Council backing and a solid portfolio, I feel better equipped to strike up a collaboration with large institutions.
That sounds very moving and inspirational, as grounded from personal experience. A collective makes it feel more permanent like a movement. It is not something easy to describe mental health to someone that has never experience a kind of real, hard hitting anxiety. If I search on my browser 'mental health art' and go to image results there is a vast amount of colloquial imagery.
Do you think Broken Grey Wires addresses mental health and its stigma to communicate a more 'realistic' depiction of those feelings or do you sense that we can only just scratch the surface?
I would hope that the work I do with BGW does communicate a more realistic depiction of mental illness. I try to be as open and honest as I can about my own feelings. I discuss my suicide attempt, self-harming, anxiety and depression, and try to create a safe space for people to discuss their own thoughts.
Recently, artist Kirsty Harris spoke about her experience at one of my shows, she commented;
“I've seen people come up to Lizz during the quiet time of exhibitions, open up to her and ask advice about how to work through their problems - by being creative and also practical. The open and frank way that Lizz converses with others is inspiring and enables them to speak out, which I feel is incredibly important. It can be a step back from the precipice and she makes way for them.”
It really epitomises the ethos for BGW, the safe space, the communication, finding ways to be creative and work through those intrusive feelings.
One thing I have learnt on this journey is that talking is the first and most important step. Finding other people going through similar experiences takes you out of that dark place where you feel like the only person in the world that is drowning. I think that being able to relate to another human-being can really save your soul.
I'm glad that there is positivity being shared as a result of your experience. It is important that mental health gets a different image communicated to people, otherwise its just a regurgitation of words that people hear quite often and associate with ‘charity’ rather than perhaps celebrations or achievements.
Do you get a sense that your work and BGW draws in a wide or more diverse audience as well as more well known ones, or is this something that you think needs some work?
We get a wide and mixed audience, people who are interested in mental health, as well as art. This can be rare for people who have not studied the discipline, and it’s important that the shows can find common ground.
There is always more to be done to reach out and make people aware of the work. I tend to curate workshops alongside exhibitions, and so, through word of mouth, and social media chatter, the exhibition gets highlighted.
People Never Notice Anything (featuring Jake and Dinos Chapman), Guest Projects
I think David Shrigley’s populism which has extended beyond the art world has contributed towards a new school of thought about language and text. What goes on in our head vs what we say out loud.
Personally, I relate strongly to the way mental health is portrayed in the TV series Mr.Robot. There is a real sense of what its like ‘to go mad’. Even the use of that phrase tends to be used less in a judgemental way these days, I think, which shows there is progress.
I agree, things are changing, but we still have a long way to go until mental health is treated the same as physical health. I hope BGW can open up some dialogue and enable people to learn about mental illness, through art and creativity.
Have you seen Melancholia by Lars Von Trier? That film portrays depression so incredibly well. The hopelessness that coincides with the sadness, it really makes you feel her isolation.
Another great film that looks into isolation and identity is Synecdoche New York. A beautiful film that really affected me when I first saw it. That gut wrenching loneliness, and the desperate need/desire to explore identity really made me question my own thoughts around how I perceive myself in society.
The people we surround ourselves with shape our beliefs and ideas. For example, all of my friends were strongly against leaving Europe. When the vote came in, I was shocked.
This applies to mental health awareness as well. My friends are understanding and open minded, we discuss our mental illness, our depression and anxieties, we care for one another. Yet, so many people don’t have that luxury, they are deemed weak by their peers, if they speak out. It is all about reaching those people, the ones who don’t understand, the ones who believe it is weakness. We must reach them and educate.
Untitled, (projection on head cast), 2017
I think the arts sector is behind in regards to mental health/disability quotas but tends to lead the way perhaps with LGBTQ? Curatorially, perhaps mental health is still a stigmatised subject to approach in museums and galleries.
We have some understanding that the basis of 'making art' or 'genius' has its connection to mental health or psychological disorders, but it’s not brought to the surface as much as many would like to see.
To wrap up, I just want to point out that you contributed to Art Language Location in 2015 and have remained in touch with the group since. How do you think ALL and BGW can work together in the future to collaborate, do you forecast or have any big plans in the works?
I do think it is getting better. Next year I will be working with Backlit Gallery in Nottingham where they aim to show exhibitions, workshops, talks all responding to and exploring mental health.
We need these galleries to help open up that dialogue and I hope we keep pushing it so it becomes ‘normal’.
In regards to working with ALL, I think there is great opportunity to build on our fundraiser event next week and look at how we can collaborate again. ALL explores text and language, very relevant to BGW our response to mental health. Just recently I have written a statement in regards to my decision to call an upcoming publication ‘Psycho’, explaining how it is about reclaiming words, looking at the language we use, who uses it and what is acceptable. This could be an interesting development and something for us to work on together in the future.
Who wants flowers when you're dead? Work by Paul Digby
Lizz Brady lives and works in Manchester. Recent projects include Nasty Women UK, Stour Space, London, WHO WANTS FLOWERS WHEN YOU'RE DEAD?, Middlesborough Art Weekender, Middlesborough and Shape Open, Ecology Pavilion, London.
If you like this why not read our interview with Clare Holdstock
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