From the mountaintop

  • Order/Disorder: Essay by Isabelle Osborne

    Paper Mountain - August 11, 2017

    In this essay, artist Isabelle Osborne discusses her work Order/Disorder – an investigation into re-presenting mental illness through experimental photography.

    Order/Disorder aims to re-present mental illness outside of hegemonic, often stigmatized discourses put forth by science, popular culture and the arts.

    This practice-led research identifies that the current consensus within western scientific and cultural views towards mental illness, is that it is an undesirable adjunct of mental health. In this light, mental illness fails to comply with a suggested notion of ‘normality’ and ‘health’. Order/Disorder subsequently employs experimental analogue photography to pictorially re-present mental illness in order to depart from these discourses. Broadly, these experimental processes can be classified as either environmental or chemical, and are designed to reflect the interplay of nature and nurture as aspects of mental illness and an individual’s innate qualities.

    One significant aspect of this experimentation involves exposing photographic material to the pharmaceutical compounds used to treat Bipolar Affective Disorder. In this regard the photographic material becomes an analogue for the human mind where the efficacy of mood stabilising, anti-depressant and anti-psychotic drugs can be explored visually and poetically. The results are abstract, ambiguous and emotive images that I interpret through a perceptive viewpoint which seeks ‘beauty’ in obscurantism – suggested in qualities such as humility, asymmetry, imperfection, and transience. Rather than deem these irregularities as photographic flaws, or qualities that require ‘treatment’ and fixing, I suggest they are profound and unique formations that demand foregrounding.

    Inspired by the diagnosis of Bipolar within my personal family context, much of the impetus behind this visual work comes from the direct experience of negative assumptions, misinformation, judgement, and misunderstanding towards individuals with what is medically classified as mental ‘illness’. In an attempt to challenge society’s hierarchy of truth and normality, whereby the mentally ill are presented as failing to conform with the strictures of normality, this work suggests that difference does not equate to failure. Rather, that the flaw equates to obscure beauty. I hope to diminish the mentality of us versus them reinforced through western diagnostic texts (i.e. DSM-IV 2000; ICD-10 1992) and the oversaturation of negative pictorial representations in popular culture which has historically lead to wide-scale and deep-rooted stigmatization.

    Central to this visual practice is a process that analogously links materials to the mind. Like the minds of individuals, analogue photographic material is shaped by the chemical and environmental factors it is subjected or exposed to. Through practice, the internal processes and reactions become tangible to the visible exterior. Importantly however, the results of this can be witnessed visually as opposed to individual subjective interpretation of the ‘patient’.

    Order/Disorder attempts to dissolve the binary opposition of madness vs normality, or rather, the myth of a dualistic reality. Rather than comply with the utterances of illness, the research examines a space in-between these extremes where the ‘flaw’ can be read as something else. The importance of the flaw in this way, is that it aims not to shock, repulse or deter the viewer, but rather to captivate and fascinate the eye. Rather than drawing on the peculiarity of ambiguity in a way of presenting difference in light of failure, the ‘fearful unknown’ or freakishness – this work can be seen as allowing for this ‘beauty’ and intrigue in strangeness. In this regard the research has made new insights into mental illness available.

    On a personal level, the crux of my research — a desire to suggest that there is not necessarily ‘truth’ in duality, but rather, there is interconnectedness between all things – has been affirmed. Between materials and the mind, the ‘normal’ and mentally ‘ill’, you and I. There is ambiguity and non-truths present in all facets of life. Hoping to go beyond certain stigmatised discourses, I feel this work can suggest that, seeing through a sympathetic mind-set — acknowledging the abnormalities, flaws and impermanence as part of reality — that we can redefine normality, perfection and worth.

    Order/Disorder aims to question what we know, think, see and say to be normal. It aims to seek beauty in obscurantism and question the idea of the ‘flaw’. Mental health is but a performance. As put by Petteri Pietikainen in his text ‘Madness’:

    Behind psychological definitions, medical diagnoses and social labels there is a whole kaleidoscope of human experience — all possible variations of normality and deviance, familiarity and strangeness. In a mode of thinking that emphasises the unity of human nature, madness is not so much otherness as sameness, even if a somewhat exaggerated and unusual kind of sameness (Pietikainen 2015, 1).

    Isabelle Osborne

    Order/Disorder exhibits 12 – 27 August 2017 at Paper Mountain.

    Image: Isabelle Osborne, Order / Disorder 093 (anti-psychotic) (detail), 2016, archival inkjet print. 39cm x 61cm.

    Paper Mountain
  • A creative community; a space between

    Paper Mountain - July 27, 2017

    Recently, I sent an email out about how far our community has come and that creativity surrounds us all. Now, I want to briefly cover how our community actually grew, and our vision for Paper Mountain.

    In 2011, Paper Mountain was founded and opened by four talented young arts graduates with the idea of being a place to support emerging, experimental and contemporary art in WA. This is still at the core of what we do and guides every decision we make.

    As an artist-run-initiative, we are predominantly self-funded. As an organisation, we are supported by an incredibly dedicated and talented group of volunteers. As a team, we are recognised for our gallery program, affordable studios, and event space.

    We are also very lucky to have a dedicated team of volunteers, many of whom give much of their time to plan our exhibitions, design our catalogues and build our studio community. More often than not, this time is on top of work, studies and personal creative projects our volunteers have.

    I’m always amazed as to why people give so much of their time to help us out and it comes down to one thing: creative communities.

    Paper Mountain has a strong following because we have grown to become appreciated by people who seek out and want to be a part of a larger, more connected, creative community. This came about because over the last few years, we have increased the amount of guidance we provide to the artists we work alongside and the work they present.

    We collaborate, and provide advice from professional practice, to use of space to how to best engage an audience. We support an environment for individuals to safely explore the issues they are contending with and the forces they wanted to respond to.

    In the last year, we’ve had more events than we’d ever have – from fringe shows, to poetry nights, to book launches to zine gatherings. And we continue to work with creatives to deliver workshops for anyone to learn a new skill, whether that’s calligraphy or crafting.

    As such, we have extended our vision. No longer are we simply supporting emerging, experimental and contemporary artists, we are now a place for passionate, creative individuals, across a multitude of disciplines to engage in an artistic dialogue to further push the integrity of the artistic and cultural world.

    On top of being an Artist Run Initiative, we are a community-operated space.

    Reflecting on our place over the last few years, we decided to theme our Art Auction this year as ‘a space between’. Come along and RSVP here – with works donated from emerging to award-winning artists, see some of the interpretations and let’s have a conversation about space.


    Johnny Doan

    Paper Mountain
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