Collages 7


“When I hear voices it sounds like a crowd around me. Its usually quite hostile and that’s where the picture on the left comes in – it looks like an army around you. I haven’t dealt with the voices. I just try to let them be. I think if I fought them, it would make matters worse rather than helping. I try to accept as much as I can, although saying that I do curse at them.”


“And this is just an extension of that, but more artistic I suppose. I think I am moving at a slow pace, that’s why I included that person crawling. Sometimes I think I am not quite myself. I feel as though I have come out through a cave or something. Its really slow. There are all these people around me, and this is someone who is battling everything. This traditional Japanese character seems to be someone who has got a power over me. I fear that. I need to put in pictures of women, because there are female voices as well… I know a few dogs that have died over the last few years so I stuck that in as a memory of them. There’s a light coming through. No matter how dark it is I suppose there is always light seeping through.”


Going Deeper – March 2015

kasmcropMonday 2 March, Centre 1: I arrived early as I had arranged to meet with Jake, but he was nowhere to be seen. Then I discovered that he had gone to the Hospital for Neurology for some more tests. When I went into the day room Pete was back and said he had come in to see me. He said he felt something was missing and asked me to copy his photos onto a memory stick for him. He also took his collage home. Then I saw Alex and he said he couldn’t stay long because he had to go to sort out his housing benefit, but he had taken some photos. Whilst I was waiting for him one of the OTs came in with a young woman who she said might want to join the group, but was very shy and nervous. I suggested she came in straight away to see me before the group started. She had had a very hard time and I couldn’t help feeling sad and angry on her behalf. Its not surprising that she was a bit tearful. I gave her a pile of magazines to look through to start to find images that would tell her story whilst I went to check whether other people were coming to join the group. When I got back she was speaking on her mobile. The others started to arrive and she withdrew into herself, saying that she needed to go to a doctors appointment, so I took her back to the office.

Alex came to show me the photos he had taken on his phone. They were a bit random. Each week he has trouble remembering what I am asking him to do and why. Then he got his collage out and talked me through the different elements. He said that the voices he heard were like being in an auditorium or at a football match in the middle of a noisy crowd, but that these had subsided in the last three weeks. Then six new people arrived. I spread out my View From Inside photos on the table for them to look at. Two of them started discussing the photos and analysing them carefully. One man, Salim, was concerned that a lot of elements in the images were, as he put it “inappropriate”. I explained that these were the phenomena that people described to me, and he seemed to understand. Then I asked people to look through magazines for images that reflected what had been going on for them. Salim was very philosophical in his approach. He found an image of two symmetrical sets of car tracks going in different directions, and interpreted that as saying that whichever way you go in life you end up in the same place eventually. I asked him if he had found anything that related more directly to his personal experience and he showed me a picture of a climber half way up a crevasse between two rock faces.

Mansur cut out a Christmas tree and when I asked him why he said that that he had spent long periods on the street homeless and the worst time was Christmas. His name is Muslim, so I asked him what Christmas means to him, and he said its about families and being together. I didn’t ask him any more. Valerie was at the end of the tables and I didn’t say too much to her, but at the end she wanted to carry on, so I said she could stay for another ten to fifteen minutes. The others all left and she started to talk about herself, then she took her folder home to carry on with the collage.

The further I go with this project the more I realise that a lot of mental health issues are caused by neglect, abuse, bad relationships and so on, mainly in childhood. Why are the people who experience them treated as though they are to blame,  monstrous … etc? Surely this is just a normal human reaction to too much stress/lack of care/being outcast.

Thursday 5th March, Centre 2: There were a lot of new people today, but neither Andrea or Cathy were there. Cathy was sick and had to stay at home, and Andrea is in hospital because she took an overdose last night. She was doing so well last week. Her keyworker told me that when she drinks she loses track and overdoses quite often. That news makes me feel quite powerless. I confirmed with the manager that Jane has been discharged, and asked if she had left my camera. It was in a jiffy bag with “Alexa’s private personal camera” written on it and a piece of paper inside with her contact details on it, but I know that I can’t contact her. Neil came in especially for the art project. He is getting close to finishing a second collage. He seems quite pleased with it. I decided it might be time to try to talk to him about it, but his key worker was too busy, so we agreed to do it next week.

After I had started the introduction for the new people a young woman came in rather nervously asking if she could join us. I said ‘yes, come in, I can see you’re a photographer’. She was a little surprised, and asked how I knew – I said you have a tripod in your bag. Actually it turned out to be an umbrella, but she is studying art. She made two elegant and very carefully executed collages in an hour.

Brenda, the lady who is a professional artist, came to observe the group for a while, but she’s still very wary and when she left she said that if she made a collage it would be just decorative, without any content. Today I thought about how everyone has so many facets to them… like those virtual pages that appear in Safari on the iphone stacked up on top of one another, a different one coming to the fore as you flick your thumb.

When I got home I looked at the photos on the camera that Jane had left for me. She has taken inspiration from Elina Brotherus’ self portraits in the mirror and also some of the interiors by Nigel Shafran that I showed in the group. Even though she has signed a consent form, I don’t feel I can do anything with these photos without discussing it with her first. They are very personal and quite haunting.

Monday 9th March, Centre 1: I arrived a bit early in case the young woman I had seen last week was there and wanted to see me 1-1 again, but her key worker said she hadn’t been back since last Monday. As soon as I went into reception one of the staff made a point of telling me that Jake had found the composite image of lions that I made for him disturbing. I was pretty sure that J had processed that now, but went to find him anyway to make sure. He was fine, and said that now he was not seeing lions so much, but rather eyes. He feels that windows are looking at him, but this is not as troublesome as the lions. He had printed out a lot of small pictures of lion heads and was sticking them onto one of the backgrounds of rugged looking rocks that he had cut out previously to make his first collage.

Alex had lots of photos on his phone to show me. Most of them seemed quite random, but then he said “I like moss on old stones – the way its just clinging on to life”, which made me think there might be more meaning to his photos than he is letting on. Today was a busy day, with seven or eight people in the group. I met a new man called Patrick in the corridor, who said he would like to join us. When I showed him my previous work he said he identified with the stones hanging up in the portrait of Lucinda – something about them being heavy and unstable, and also the newspaper across the window in Amanda’s portrait. Mansur was there today, but he said he was tired and kept slipping down in his chair half under the table. He stayed until the end working on his collage, but he seemed a bit down this week and wasn’t as enthusiastic as last week. I later learned he’s back on drugs again. Valerie looked quite nervous at the start of the session and said she wouldn’t stay long, but ended up staying until the end, to talk me through her collages.

This week I had to cancel the workshop at Centre 2 because I was away setting up an exhibition.

Monday 16th March, Centre 1: When I arrived Marco was outside sitting in his wheelchair with some big cuts on his face. I asked him what had happened and he said something like “madness”. He seemed very different to his usually bright and breezy self. I asked if he was coming in and he said not this week. Later one of the staff told me that this weekend was the anniversary of the day that he tried to jump off a tall building in a suicide attempt. He had gone back to the place where it happened and freaked out.  In the day room there were quite a few new people – two women who said they wanted to come to the group next week, and a couple of men who said they would come this week.

When I went into the art room to prepare Patrick was already sitting there. He said that he had been discharged from from the Crisis House. I asked him if he had any art background as he seems so sensitive and so knowledgeable. He said ‘not visual art’, so I pushed him a bit further and he said that he wrote. He got on with finding cuttings for his collage – its difficult to see what he is doing as he keeps everything well hidden, but there seems to be a lot of blue in his folder. The folders are a real success and in the end it is good that I got A3 ones. I said to P that I would like to give him a camera next week and he seemed pleased. Jake was  in the day room when I went in to look for people and he greeted me warmly and confidently. He had photocopied his lion collage from last week, and I must admit it looks good. He had also printed out lots of pictures of eyes that he had found online. When I asked if he had taken any photos in the week, he said he had one that he had taken whilst out and about with the walking group. Before showing it to me he said that he had been very anxious when he took it, so he didn’t know what he would feel like when he saw it.

Another new guy, Adrian from the crisis house was at a computer in the day room with earphones on when I was going around before the group so I nearly didn’t talk to him, but then I did and he came along. He had a sketchbook containing plans for a graphic novel with him. He said that he had done it in prison because he was bored. He was looking for encouragement with this, and when I mentioned metaphor he seemed pleased. He said he had got mixed up in drug culture following a lot of bereavements when he didn’t know who to turn to. I showed Alex the prints I had made of his photos, and asked him to think about how they would go together. He started to make a collage with them, overlapping them. When I asked why he said that it was a way of pushing some of them to the back – into the past.

Only half way through the month and so many words! 

Thursday 19th March, Centre 2: When I arrived one of the nurses welcomed me back after my week away. She was keen to tell me about a new patient, who didn’t in the end attend. Its interesting that staff are seeing me as a useful resource now, but a bit frustrating that I still can’t do 1-1s without keyworkers present. I started looking for people for the group. I felt a bit sad and frustrated that some people I was getting to know were not there this week. Several of them had been discharged. One was Andrea, who had left her camera for me with a few out of focus photos and short video clips, mostly taken around the Recovery Centre, which sadly I will have to delete. Her key worker told me she didn’t want to leave her collage, partly because it wasn’t finished and she didn’t feel it was worth anything. I was annoyed with myself that I didn’t photograph her collage in progress.

Neil finished his second collage today. We had a 1-1 meeting with his key worker present and he talked briefly about his circumstances. He is preparing for discharge soon. When I was asking around in the dayroom if people were coming Brenda was there making excuses again, but then she started hovering around and saying she might come. After much deliberation she finally sat down at the table and started to work on a collage.

Today was Raymond’s first day at the centre. He came in to the group a little late and was initially very quiet, then he started tearing out pictures of darkness and looking for dark tunnels. Other people suggested possible pictures, but none were dark enough for him, so he did a websearch and printed out a picture of a tunnel, onto which he started sticking some of the torn out pieces. I asked him if he wanted scissors and he said ‘no’. Another new guy, Lee, joined the group. When I said that photography was part of the project he told me that he’s a semi-professional photographer. He showed me his website, which is impressive.

I felt quite upbeat during the group today, but afterwards I was kind of empty and a bit depressed, I don’t know why.

Monday 23rd March, Centre 1: The manager had emailed to let me know that there wouldn’t be many people around today as there was a meeting about mental health somewhere that many were attending. When I arrived at I went into reception to ask if there was anything I should know about anyone, and staff told me about young woman who they say is manipulative and “splits”, meaning that she says one thing to one person and another to another to create a rift.

I looked up splitting when I got home: it was originally a psychoanalytical concept “first described by Freud in his work on fetishes and pathological grief, where he referred to a mental process by which two separate and contradictory versions of reality could co-exist”  It is associated with Borderline Personality Disorder, where someone may view one person as always “good” and another as always “bad.”

By the time I left the office the Mental Health matters meeting had finished early and there was no one around. I sat in reception for a while and was just thinking about cancelling the group for today when a young woman with blue hair appeared at the main door. She had come from the crisis house and for a while she was the only one in the ‘group’. I gave her my general project introduction and showed her my previous series of photo portraits. She said she identified with the one of Theresa, which she read as showing “demons coming at you”. She said that she was very bored at in the crisis house, where she feels she doesn’t have anyone to talk to. She seems edgy and a bit suspicious of everything. As well as cutting out images, she collected words like ‘raped’ and something to do with violence. Then Patrick arrived, apologizing for being slightly late. He  is now a day-patient, which he is finding a bit difficult because he is anxious about being at home with too much time to think. I asked, ‘are you not able to work at all?’ and he told me that he has terminal cancer. I found it quite difficult this week to be sufficiently busy in a room with just two people who are really struggling, so I spent some time flicking through the magazines. I asked Patrick if he would like to take a camera home, and he said ‘yes’.

Thursday March 26th, Centre 2 Brenda arrived about half an hour after the start of the group, and again needed some encouragement to stay. She was not in good spirits as she is anxious about having been given a discharge date. I suggested she makes another collage, which she started trying to do, but then said she couldn’t think properly. So I said ‘why don’t you try to do something without thinking too much?’, and she created a rather chaotic image, which seemed to make her feel a bit happier. Margaret was in the dayroom when I arrived, sitting in the corner looking quite withdrawn. I asked if she was coming to the Art Project and she nodded. She was generally very quiet this week and I felt it was best not to try to make her interact too much. She left the room for some time part way through the session, I think she had a meeting with the doctors. When she returned she was a bit distressed because one of the words she had cut out had got lost, but in the end she found it and everything was fine. Anya was also in the dayroom when I arrived, with her hair severely scraped back so I didn’t recognise her at first. She seemed on quite good form and was a lot more responsive and open than the last time I had seen her. She finished her collage today. She started by lining up all the pieces that she had cut out in a straight row. I suggested she re-organise them a bit and maybe add something else that would reinforce the suggestion of fear. She cut out the face of a gorilla, which she said was scary, and stuck that on as well. It definitely improved the composition.

A little while after the group had started one of the staff brought an older man in. He came with a resistant and defiant attitude. At first it seemed that he was not going to do anything, as he was very negative about all the images I was showing him in my introduction. But then he started cutting out pictures from magazines very rapidly and collected them all together, and then created a large collage in one session. He wanted to take it home with him, which he did. He was very insistent on me finding him a rubber band, but I couldn’t find one anywhere, so I rolled his collage in a piece of yellow tissue paper instead. I was quite sad he didn’t leave it for me. I just managed to take a snap on my phone, but I doubt that I’ll be able to get him to bring the collage in for me to photograph properly.

Monday 30th March, Centre 1: In the morning the secretary called me to say that Valerie had broken her foot and would not be able to come to see me today. Then she called again to say that V had come anyway as there had been some confusion with communication. I rushed there as quickly as I could. When I arrived I saw Alex squatting on the pavement outside the gates smoking. I asked if I would see him later and he said ‘yes’. Valerie was in the dayroom hopping around on crutches. She showed me a number of photographs she had taken and we talked through how we might put some together to show. We agreed on a triptych, and possibly some others. There are many personal narratives behind each photo, and I tried to explain that these needed to be evident for other people visually without being too illustrative. Just as we were finishing Patrick arrived, looking a lot better than he had last week. He is still very pale from the cancer drugs, but he seemed more animated than I had seen him previously. He got out his folder of pieces for the collage and announced that today he was ready to stick things down. He also said that he had taken some photos in the week, and returned the camera. I had just sat down to start talking with him when Alex arrived. Valerie was also still in the room, but preparing to leave. Alex said that he had some more photos on his phone to show me. Then just as I was settling him in, Michele came in. I asked her if she could remember what I had asked her to do last time she was in the group, and with a bit of prompting she recalled that I was asking people to make collages about their experiences. But she said that she couldn’t do that and she would make a collage about anything she felt like. In the end I just said ‘OK”, and she set to work. Alex asked if he could start a third collage and contented to cut out large, untidy images and place them on the paper quite chaotically. When I asked him to explain what some of them were, he said that it was about people again. I asked why people, and he said he didn’t know, then he remembered that it was because of the voices. He had also cut out some microscopic tree like image and when I asked him why, he said: “the context for the voices seems quite watery. There are many voices around the one person. Sometimes I feel like I’m being eaten by the voices. There is a self involved and they keep attacking my self. The self retreats. It feels like a childlike inner being coming in and out of yourself.”

Collage 6


“My collage is in four blocks. Firstly, a picture that is set forever and unchanging. There are glum faces at this permanent prospect. Then there is a picture frame breaking away from everything. A bull is breaking out of the frame – its revolutionary. This represents the process of developing who I am, but it’s a slow process. If you look at historical artworks that don’t change over time they are trapped in a fixed world. The expressions of the people in this section are glum, not expressive and fixed. The flag is where I want to be emotionally and physically. It is usually very calm, but I have added the sea and a more explosive image for the top part. The background is a face, I wouldn’t mind being in that person’s skin. There is a lot going on on the inside that is not evident on the outside. I have represented this with the composite face. The star signs offer some hope. They are on a background of a body under construction.”

Collages 5


“I feel like the world’s racing by. And then there’s my mind being on food, hence the brain being on a food train, and the pint of beer because I do tend to drink, and perhaps a bit too much.”


“This one’s more about my paranoia and self-critical views. Both sets of police in the picture are to do with feeling like the police are against me and they just basically want to harm me. That’s because of being arrested by the police on previous occasions where they’ve been a bit heavy-handed. The man who appears to be popping out of a window and shouting in an angry way is a self critical person where I might have done something in a fit of rage and suddenly become critical of myself for doing that. ‘Pyroclastic man’ as I call him represents a quite volatile part of myself. He’s nothing like a super-hero, but something that is more a part of myself that I don’t really like. He is bit out of control, a bit explosive and when he surfaces he just has to run his course. The crowds of people represent how my mind races and bounces between different thoughts. Sometimes its hard to work out which thought I should be following. The legs are about feeling like someone’s working with the police trying to bring trouble my way. Its just frightening really, not knowing what’s going on. Now I’m thankful that there is help out there and I’m not alone. I don’t really like what happened, but I like the fact that the police opted for getting me help rather than arresting me.”


More Workshops – February 2015

josmcropMonday 2nd February, Centre 1 January has already gone. Today Pete was in the day room with several other people. Although none of them wanted to come to the Art Project the atmosphere was nice, and friendly and I feel that people are getting used to seeing me around. Then Marvin said he would come along. He sits a bit apart from the group and if I ask him what his collages are about he doesn’t answer.  I uploaded Pete’s photos to my laptop and we looked through them. He had taken around fifty pictures, including some views out of the window from his flat at different times of day. He said that sometimes he just sits there all day looking out and the photos represent mood changes. He had also taken pictures of the corner of the room when he woke up one night, and an imprint left on the carpet. We talked about moving on and I suggested that this week he could focus on imprints and impressions that last or fade and on moves that change things when taking photos. Ten minutes or so into the session a member of staff knocked on the door and delivered three new people.  I gave the three new people my A View From Inside photos to look through. When I explained that the images represent people’s experiences of altered reality,  one person, Jake said he would need to find a picture of a lion because he sees lions everywhere. I put some National Geographics in front of him and after a while he found a small picture of a lion and some photos of landscapes with ferns and icicles in them, which he called “jagged leaves”. Having seen my digital photos he said that the lions needed inserting digitally and I said I would take the photos home and overlay them. When I asked him if he was convinced by the lions he answered: “My body says one thing and my head says another”, and “its my body that is convinced by them”.

Another new member of the group, Richard, told me that he used to hear voices, but now they are gone. He said he didn’t want to go too much into the past, but then he told me that the voices told him to kick the family dog, which he did. The third new person, William looked as though he was holding in a lot of emotion.  When I asked him to make a collage about his experience, he didn’t want to remember what had happened. So I asked him to make something about how he feels now, but that was also difficult for him. He said, “then I was alone, now I’m with people”. I didn’t ask him any more, but he cut out a black and white image of a barren landscape and various short bits of text, which he stuck onto the landscape. At the end of the session he said he didn’t think he would come back next week.

Collage is such a powerful way for all sorts of people to talk about what is going on for them. I’m excited by this process. I keep having the sense that something interesting is happening, but I can’t articulate it or connect to it fully. And there are lots of questions like, for example, what does ‘recovery’ mean?

Thursday 5th February, Centre 2 Today is already workshop number five here. I emailed the manager in the week to check that she was in agreement with me meeting patients one to one as I had a gut feeling that this was not OK, and it wasn’t. She didn’t reply to my email, but when I arrived she was in the office waiting to see me. We spoke for about 20 minutes and I tried to convince her, but there was no agreement. Five people came to the group this week. Andrea had an appointment so she couldn’t stay. She hadn’t slept and was looking anxious. She said she hadn’t taken any photos but had been thinking about what she wanted to do and I promised to get the computer/printer set up for the following week so that she could download and print things from the Internet. Last week Ronnie took the pieces of his collage home to work on further, and this week he almost finished it.

Today Jane finished a collage. She seems to be enjoying the group. She said it was the fastest hour ever today! She was keen to take a camera home, so I gave her the last one I had. She too is leaving soon. I understand why I can’t, but its frustrating not to be able to have ongoing contact with people. When I asked Neil about his collage he said it was about “the city rushing by”. I didn’t have enough cameras to give him one to take home but he said he will take some pictures on his Dad’s camera. A new guy, Kevin stayed for a while and I showed him some pictures. He looked through the magazines, but said he couldn’t find any pictures that were relevant to him. He then said that what happened to him was a one off and not long term. I had a sense from this that he wasn’t ready to face whatever it was, or to try to represent anything about it yet. Paul finished his first collage today. He had also taken a camera home last week and we looked through the photos he had taken, discussing which were most interesting. He said: ‘People get a lot of grief for mental health – we might not be “normal”, but we are normal.’

I couldn’t sleep after this workshop – I was thinking about all the different people that attend the centres, and how they represent a complete cross section of London society – all sorts of different ages, genders and social and cultural backgrounds. Such interesting things come out of working visually. I was thinking about people who cut themselves and wondering if that is a kind of self-reinforcement of abuse they have suffered in earlier life. I would like to have the opportunity to work with Jane on this, but I don’t think I will be allowed to. There is something interesting here about corporeal inscription of trauma, and of repetition.

Mon 9th February, Centre 1 There have been quite a few changes. Marvin has been discharged, and also Robert, who was, however, there in the morning meeting. I managed to catch him quickly as he came out to say goodbye and asked him to sign a consent form so that I can show his collage. He returned his camera, but hadn’t taken any photos. As last week, it seemed as though no one would be there for the group, but again there were four people, all men. Ian arrived just as we were starting, he had come in specially for the group. I felt I needed to be giving everyone attention all at once, but as each had different needs that was quite difficult. Jake was at the hospital having tests again this week so he wasn’t there. Pete didn’t stay long as he had arranged to meet his mother and was in a hurry so he was agitating for attention. We had a quick look through the photos he had taken this week. He had taken one of his bedroom door a crack open so that just a thin sliver of orange light was showing which I really liked. He will be discharged soon, so I asked him to sign a consent form, and arranged to meet tomorrow to have a more careful look through his photos. I realised it may be better to allow him to find his own way of working rather than suggest things as when he is working more intuitively the most interesting things happen. Maybe my input is more in the edit?

Richard was there today and seemed quite bright to start with, but when I started trying to get him to think about what he was doing he became tense and silent. He couldn’t remember what he had been doing the previous week, or why. About half way through the session he left to go for a smoke, but said he would come back the following week. There was a new guy, Alex in the group. I gave him a very quick introduction to the ideas and he got on with looking through magazines for images. When I had a chance to talk to him again he had cut out quite a few bits and pieces. Then he said that he had done an Art Foundation course, but had got into drugs, which had led to him being hospitalized. He is an in-patient at a hospital somewhere and coming to the centre during the day. Ian returned this week and seemed in good spirits – more confident than previously and a bit more trusting. He said: ‘I feel like the room I’m in is vast and I’m a small thing; I get physically hot; I feel like I’m going through a tunnel, diving somewhere, I hear voices like a crowd around me saying not very pleasant things. I used to paint. Now I feel like getting angry, but I know I mustn’t’. After we had talked he decided to cut up his collage and rearrange it, using some words as well. He hadn’t been able to take any photos in the week as the camera I had given him wouldn’t work. I was a bit annoyed with myself for not checking it properly, but anyway I gave him a different one this week.

Thursday 12th February, Centre 2 The new manager was in the office when I arrived and told me who was around and not and who is leaving soon, which is most of the people I have been working with. She told me that a member of staff was going to sit in on the session today. I asked why and she said that it was just to see what we do so they can tell other patients, but it felt I was being subject to surveillance. I brought up the subject of 1-1s again and she said that she is meeting with a senior manager tomorrow and would discuss it then. In the lunch room Ronnie and Jane both came over to sit with me. Jane told a long story about her history as a part time alcoholic. She was wearing short sleeves today, showing cuts up both arms. I felt quite flattered that they had both chosen to sit with me.

I had bought new inks for the printer in the art room and fitted them, but the printer still wouldn’t work. Paul was in the art room working on a pastel drawing when I got there. He said that he had taken some more photos in the week. Its hard to remember why he is here as he seems so much like any other young guy. Today was funny, when I opened the drawer to get people’s work out there was an envelope in there addressed to Paul. It turned out to be a Valentine’s card – there was much noisy speculation about who could be from. This set a rather chaotic tone to the afternoon. No one got much done today. Because another member of staff was in the room I was able to leave and I set Andrea up in the computer room looking for images she needed for her collage on the Internet. She had tried to take one or two pictures on the camera I gave her this week, but they were very out of focus and we couldn’t print them, so I took them home and printed them there for her for next week. I asked her how she could make photos that speak about her experience directly. At first she was unsure about how she could do that, and then she came up with the idea of trying to represent feeling shaky and unstable, which I really liked. Today was Ronnie’s last day. I had little chance to discuss his ideas with him. He just stuck a line of text across the top of his collage today, but he stayed and seemed to be enjoying the chat and being in the group. At one point he went off for an assessment with the doctors prior to leaving tomorrow. He seemed quite shaken when he got back and said it was like an interview with a panel of people, but then he relaxed back into the group again.

Jane was going to work on her collage and add an image that represented her darker side next to the girl in the garden, but I suggested that she did this in a new collage, which she agreed to, but then didn’t. She had brought in some family photos. I saw a picture of her as a boy with her grandmother that she said she liked a lot, and some pics of her as a teenage boy with her aunt. She said she hadn’t taken any photos the past week because she had had a bad week and had been very low. She said she’d been shouting in the middle of the road because she’d been lost. Today she was cutting out glamorous women, saying that some of her friends were very glamorous and that when she went out she looked exactly like the woman in one of the photos and got chatted up by men a lot. Her original persona as a boy was very shy and timid, Jane is in between, and a third, female, persona is the outgoing one. Then she said she was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. She signed a consent form and made a point of writing on it that she didn’t mind being identified in any work I made. She will be around for one or two more weeks – I asked her to take the camera again this week and she said she would take photos. I gave Andrea a better camera as she was having trouble focusing with the one she had. Neil wasn’t sure what to do this week, he just kept talking about things rushing past him, and then settled on looking for a man standing whilst things were in motion around him.

There was a fun atmosphere in the room and quite a bit of laughter, but in terms of the project today felt quite hard work and not very productive. I’m so unsure about what I am aiming for – at one moment I think this is a good thing because it will lead to something new and unexpected, but then at others I lose faith and wonder what I am doing all this for. 

Monday 16th February, Centre 1 I arrived a bit early and was chatting with the centre manager, who was interested in what we had been doing. I showed her the collages, which she really liked. I felt quite reassured by this. Marvin was still around today, Pete was there for the last time; Alex was there and Jake was back from a week in hospital. Ian wasn’t there, he was on a training course. Two new people also joined the group. Marvin came in to the art room whilst I was showing the manager the collages. I got his out for him and he started work. He is on the third one now – they are very beautiful – the pages packed with images– but he still refuses to talk about them, saying they’re just random, but I am not so sure. I also asked him if he wanted to talk to me 1-1 and he said no, but he did sign a consent form. He said I could keep the collages, and seemed pleased when I said I thought they were beautiful.

Jake arrived late because he had to see the doctor. He still sees lions everywhere. I showed him the little composite picture I had made of the bits he had cut out of magazines and he freaked out slightly – he took one very quick glance and then didn’t want to look any more as it is exactly what he sees. The lions, which are like ghosts, come when he is stressed. They are distressing. He had an epileptic fit the other day and saw a lot of lions just before that. He also reads things into the bare branches of trees, which to him look spiky and evil. He took the composite image away to show his family. He doesn’t know why he sees lions – he said maybe because they are a symbol of strength…?

Alex had trouble remembering what he was doing and asked me what I had asked him to do the previous week. When I reminded him he started to stick down some images on paper. They looked a bit chaotic. A glamorous young black woman was there for the first time today. She said she was a dancer. I explained what I wanted people to do, and then she worked vert fast, but without a lot of attention to what she was doing. She didn’t want to listen to any suggestions about how to assemble her collage and seemed generally quite angry. I didn’t push her as its her first week. The other new person, Michele, looked at my previous work, then said that she wasn’t feeling well and wanted to go. She didn’t want to take her coat off. She actually stayed until the end, but didn’t do anything apart from browse through magazines.  Everyone seemed a bit low energy this week, and the group ended a couple of minutes early. Jake and Alex both said they would take photos on their phones. I wonder if they will remember?

When I got home there was an email from the new head at Centre 2 asking me to call her. She said that she had spoken to the senior manager and that they had decided that I could not meet with patients 1-1.  I asked if I could do it with a member of staff in the room and she seemed to agree to that. Every project has its uphill struggles. 

Thursday 19th February, Centre 2 – Quite a lot happened today. When I first arrived there were no staff around, and only one patient I recognized in the day room. I went to see if the printer in the art room was working (it wasn’t) and then Paul came in. As I went into the office a woman who had been lecturing everyone in the day room started shouting and a member of staff calmed everything down by moving all the other people to the Art Room. So when I returned to the Art Room there were lots of people in there, several of whom were new. It was a bit early, but I thought I would talk about the project in case anyone was interested. In the end nearly everyone stayed: Paul, Neil, and Kevin and four new people. Kevin said something about going round in circles – I thought he meant with looking for images, but he meant that was his experience – that everything was going round in circles, and then there was a big explosion. With help from another participant he managed to find two pictures of explosions and I encouraged him to create a circle. I asked if there were any people involved, and he said no, no people. A lot of people seem to be reporting problems because of isolation.

I talked the new people through my previous photos. As before, when I mention that some of the subjects are voice hearers that acts as a catalyst for people to start talking. One new man said that he has Bi-Polar and that when he is manic he buys too many things, and not the right things – he needs bread or eggs and buys tins of tomatoes for example.  A young woman called Anya said she hears the voice of an older man just beside her head. He’s not nice and tells her to commit acts of violence towards other people. She said she often can’t be amongst people because of what he is telling her to do. And Cathy, who suffered from depression, and was put on medication that made her ill, and she gained several stone in weight. She had previously had anorexia, so this was difficult for her. She cut out an image of a scarecrow, saying that is her self-image. Neil had a look online for some images of police raids and violence to represent the jumble of thoughts he has. I had printed out a selection of Paul’s photos for him and asked him to make a selection from these, and put them into a series to tell his story. He was a bit hesitant at first but then he got into it and came up with a workable selection. He also wrote a clear account of the progress of events that led to him being in recovery to go with the photos.

How do I process all of this?

Monday 23rd February:  Centre 1:  Its Monday again and time for another workshop. I never have time to think in between. When I arrived there were no patients around at all. I spoke at length to the two male nurses, who were very friendly and happy to give me background info on some of the patients. Jake’s keyworker said that he was keen to go back to work, but the lions were preventing him. He talked quite a lot about Jake’s situation, and said that he was a very unusual case as most people who use the service do not have visual hallucinations. He said that mostly he uses techniques to distract Jake from the lions. I felt quite pleased that I had been able to get him to start visualizing them, and hoped that it might help. When I told the manager about this she agreed that it might help him to confront them

Then I saw Alex, he was in a rush as he was moving from one sheltered accommodation to another. Ian was not around – he is being discharged this week and he has a camera, so I asked his keyworker to ask him for it back. This high turnaround and people’s external commitments mean I don’t see them very much. Michele was also just going home – apparently she has been avoiding participating in any of the other activities. There were only two people today: Marvin, whose last week it was, and Jake. We talked mainly about the lions. He hadn’t taken the composite image I had made for him the previous week out of his pocket. But today he decided he could look at it. He said that he is more able to control the lions now. “Sometimes when I am in that frame of mind I freeze, but this week I have pushed myself past the boundaries. Before the lions appear I start to feel awkward, things start to change, and I have to be quick to stop it progressing. My vision changes, my perception becomes evil. Its been going on for about 3 months now.” I thought Marvin wasn’t listening, but then he suddenly said: “The Lion’s Den”, which made me smile. We looked at the composite image I’d made: Jake said he liked it because the lions are subtle, that works because only he sees them – he sees several different ones at once. His body reacts even if his mind rationalizes that they are not real.

Thursday 26th February: Centre 2 Every week something unexpected happens! Paul was still there – his last week, and Andrea was back. Jane is about to be discharged and was not there as apparently she is not very happy. She still has my camera (!) When I got to the Art Room there were two women there – a young black woman and older white one. I wasn’t sure who they were – on first appearances the older woman looked like a therapist and as though they were having some kind of meeting – the table was covered with their things. We started to talk and it turned out that both were patients. The older woman said that she is a “professional artist” and had reservations about doing art therapy. I reassured her that what I do is not art therapy, and showed them both my book, which they liked. Then the group started to arrive and the older woman looked a bit phased and said she wasn’t ready for that and left. She came back in once or twice, but not to join us. Neil spent almost the whole session cutting out an image of armed police that I had printed for him the previous week. He said: “If only I could psychologically cut the police out when I’m getting those thoughts in real life”. This week he came closer to planning his collage, and seemed to be beginning to focus on being selective about which images he wanted to use and which not. Cathy didn’t come to the group at first, but when I went to get her from the day room she seemed glad to be joining us. She has a lot of physical health problems, but I think the art-making could be helpful for her. She took a notebook (one of the only people to!) and started writing a list of the feelings that she wanted to represent. She is working slowly, just collecting images at the moment. Andrea was in a very upbeat mood today, and I noted how much better her energy was than a few weeks ago, when she was exhausted before the hour was up. Today she was very talkative and positive. I complemented her on a bracelet she was wearing, and she said that she had bought it for herself a couple of days ago in response to directives from the psychologists that she should be good to herself, something, she said, was not easy for her. This week she had done “the most homework ever” as she put it. She had cut out a lot of pictures of mattresses from an Ikea catalogue, and had taken some photographs, which I was excited to look at. I uploaded them to the computer – most of them were very over exposed and out of focus photographs of individual frozen peas! I felt slightly disappointed, but also quite amused. Then Trisha explained why she had taken them –to go under the mattresses in her collage to represent her sensitivity.

First Workshops – January 2015

Mxsmcrop Monday 5th January 2015: Centre 1 I made a schedule for 4-week cycles of workshops which I presented to the centre manager today. We discussed some of the practicalities of “handover”, which means that staff tell me anything I need to know about likely workshop participants before I work with them, and I also feed back to them anything I have observed afterwards. We agreed that I will now start the first workshop cycle at this Centre on 19th January as their schedule needs to be reorganised. This is a bit disappointing, but after emailing Centre 2 it looks as though I will be able to start my first workshop there this Thursday.

Wednesday 7th January: Centre 2 I attended a community meeting today so I could reintroduce myself before tomorrow’s workshop. The meeting was relatively short, but had a very nice feeling, with one patient taking the minutes and another chairing. Several people seemed interested in participating in the art workshop the following day.

I’m feeling slightly nervous about how to introduce my ideas and explain what I want to do. At the moment I’m not sure how to talk to people and what I can ask of them.

Thursday 8th January: Centre 2 Today was the first workshop. One of the staff gave me some background info on all patients and their risk factors. Initially eight people came to the workshop, but two men and a woman left after a short while. One man didn’t understand what was going on at all, one decided it was not for him, and the woman said she was shortly to be discharged so she didn’t see the point in getting involved. Of the other five the two men were quite silent. Two of the women talked a lot! Firstly I showed the photographs from my previous project  and asked people to pick one and “decode” it – a couple of people did a good job of that. I moved things on quite quickly because I was worried about boring people, but should maybe have spent longer on this? There was some interesting conversation whilst people were cutting pictures from magazines, but it was difficult to tell what they were thinking. The workshop lasted about 1.25 hours. There was an awkward moment when someone asked for the lights to be turned on (they only work with an obscure key that is kept on another floor – obviously people do not turn lights off!), and I suddenly remembered that I wasn’t allowed to leave the room whilst people had scissors in their hands. Luckily one of the women in the group came to the rescue and went to get a member of staff for me. I won’t turn off the lights again! One woman asked me a lot of questions and she and another woman were making nice but rather intrusive personal comments.

Usually the art activity at the centre is purely for therapeutic reasons, so there is not a lot of direction to the work. How do I find a way to get people to think of the activity a bit differently? It’s difficult to know how to situate myself with people – I want to relate to them differently than the regular staff do, but I’m not sure where to set the boundaries. The Art Therapist has a policy of not revealing anything about herself, but that wouldn’t feel quite right to me. Today was just a start, but I think I’m going to need to work one to one with people. People hint at some interesting things in the group, but I don’t feel I can ask anything very personal in front of the others. Working in such a structured environment brings quite a few new challenges!

Tuesday 13th Jan I spent a lot of the day reading Louis Sass’ ‘Paradoxes of Delusion’ – a great book, and thinking about what I really want from the project and what I want the final work to do – questions that are not easily answered at this stage. I am aware that I need to think carefully about the relationship between the form and the content of the work – how do I avoid being too rational and literal and at the same time avoid making something that is just meaningless chaos!?

Thursday 15th January : Centre 2 Arrived around 1pm for the 1.30pm workshop and spent some time chatting to Paul. Only three people came this week, but the session felt better – calmer and more focused than the previous week, although there no one made much progress with their collage.

This week I think people got more out of the workshop, but I am not at all sure how it will feed into any ideas for my work. It’s difficult to do stuff and be reflexive at the same time. Some of the participants’ attention span and tolerance is pretty short, so I feel I need to speed up the process somehow. And I still feel that I need to meet with people one to one. I thought maybe I should take note of very small things that people say and do, then I realised that’s an anthropological approach – to be avoided!

Monday 19th January: Centre 1 My first workshop here. Many of the people I had met before Christmas had already been discharged. A couple of new people who said they were coming along didn’t turn up. I guess I need to get used to inconsistency. In the end there were three in the group – Marvin and Robert who I had met previously, and Vicky, a girl who had just started at the centre. Overall the workshop went well –  everyone looked quite carefully at my previous work and the examples of artists’ collage that I brought along. I gave out notebooks and saw Robert writing in his after the end of the session. He is young and very articulate, but he made it clear that he didn’t want to reveal much about himself, and he even hid the pieces he was cutting out. But I have a feeling something will happen with him if he comes back. Marvin talked about having visited the Turner exhibition at Tate Britain the previous week.

Today I was pleased with the way things went, although I feel unsure about what will happen. It really is a new process, and I am learning as I go. I think its better when there are only a few people. I’m still feeling my way with how to ask people to reflect on what has happened to them without rekindling a lot of distress.

Thursday 22nd January : Centre 2 This morning I finished putting together a powerpoint of works by other artists to show people to inspire their own photos. I put the more abstract, bland ones at the beginning and more challenging towards the end so that I could avoid showing these if anyone seems very sensitive. I re-tested the cameras I had bought on ebay and found that two don’t work. Uh. Today the workshop was good. Each group session seems better than the last. Four people came this week and everyone concentrated and worked well. It’s slow, but I have to get used to that. I was concerned about Paul this week – he seems a bit uncertain about what he’s doing and how to express himself visually, but he took a camera. Rebecca attended for the first time. She has been around at the centre, but hasn’t come to the the project yet. She has some design experience and seems very confident, but I think she feels that making collage is a bit beneath her. Another woman, Andrea has some lovely ideas for translating feelings into images and was very enthusiastic about taking a camera home, but she works slowly and says she is tired after a few minutes.

Verena joined us today. For a while I wasn’t sure that she would do anything as she seemed very wary, but then she started cutting out pictures of birds and animals, and stayed after the end of the group to finish her collage which, she said, expressed things that she didn’t usually talk about. She then agreed to ‘decode’ it for me. I was really excited to see how working with collage like this could enable someone to tell their story so quickly. But then I wondered if this is the kind of thing that usually happens in standard art therapy, or if it really is particular to my way of working. Lots of other people also said interesting things today – Rebecca talked about soft focus as a metaphor for isolation, drifting, and lack of direction, fog. Paul was interested in the image of a strong beam of light, and light falling on things. Andrea also liked lack of focus – and how it alters the presence of the person – playing with how much the person is present in the image – she said she is interested in visibility and presence in general.

This was a surprising day. Meeting Verena really brought home to me the need to keep an open mind on first meeting someone. First impressions were of someone childlike and withdrawn, but on interacting with her I soon realized that she is fiercely intelligent and is, in fact, studying towards a PhD. And this week I learned that Paul is at the centre because of a suicide attempt. I wonder if that knowledge influenced the way I read his uncertainty today? In many different circumstances ordinary (or not so ordinary) behaviours take on a different meaning when you know something about the person. One thing I am beginning to learn is to expect the unexpected each week. 

Monday 26 January: Centre 1 I couldn’t see Robert or Marvin at lunchtime and was worried no one would come to the group, but in the end there were four men. Pete, a new man who had recently arrived at the centre, was very positive and started working quickly on a narrative collage. Robert said: “the image needs an element of abstraction because you are representing an internal, subjective world that is not always going to seem as though it has an order for others”. Ian talked about complexity, confusion and chaos. He said that when the world becomes twisted and confusing, therapy brings order, and cut out an image of tangled neurons from an article about Schizophrenia. Another woman came briefly, but she didn’t really understand what was going on and she left. Pete, Ian and Robert all started to talk about their collages. Marvin has made several collages, but didn’t want to say anything about them.

Someone told me that for a lot of people being at the Recovery Centres is a process of learning to access “stuff” that is buried. Sometimes people seem fine on the surface – their pain is well concealed. I’m not allowed to look at anyone’s case notes, not even people who are long gone, but I’m interested in the language used there, for example: euthymic – in a balanced state, neither hyper nor depressed; slept through the night; agitated; settled in mental state; agitated when needs not met immediately… This makes me feel uncomfortable – how is this reconciled with how people actually feel?

Thursday 29th January, Centre 2 The group was very mixed this week – Paul and Andrea are on their third session and had taken a couple of photos each on the cameras they took home. Andrea was enthusiastic about the group in the lunch room before we started, but she kept saying it made her tired. Verena worked out that the PC keyboard from the computer room would work with the Mac in the Art Room, and set it up, but then we couldn’t get the printer to work. Today Jane said she would never be happy, and then the whole group had a rather philosophical conversation about the nature of happiness. Rich turned up unexpectedly – I think he came especially for the group. I suggested he cut the pieces of his collage out more so that they are not all square, so he took his folder home to do more cutting. A new young man joined today. He said he had feelings of paranoia and thoughts that the police were going to break through the walls of his house. He was looking for photos of police in the magazines I had brought in, but he couldn’t find any. Verena was upset because another member of the group was repeatedly making offensive comments about her nationality. It took me a minute to realize, but by then she had walked out saying she needed to “get some air”. I felt a bit helpless because I couldn’t leave the room as everyone had scissors. Later I was happy to see that Verena came back. After the group we spent some time talking and things felt OK again.

Today I was again reminded that its easy to get carried away with the therapeutic aspect of what we are doing and forget to be reflexive. What I do notice though is that in some way I recognise a lot of the problems people are reporting. This is good in many ways, I think it helps me to understand a bit what they are going through. But there never seems to be enough time to process what I’m observing in the group or analyse what happens. And people stay for only a short time –  as soon as I start getting to know someone they’re gone.

In the middle of the night I started thinking about dance steps and slowing down or dissecting the dance into a series of stills, like a stop frame animation. I didn’t know why, but it could be interesting to dissect moving images of people so that every tiny everyday movement becomes very significant. 

Collages 1


“The penguins are my dad and mum hissing at one another. The small penguin has fallen on its face – that is me. The two adult penguins represent abuse. The child ends up flattened in the middle, earth flying everywhere. The other penguins in the background are obscured. They represent normal society. The little one can’t connect because of the big penguins. No one takes any notice, and there is no consideration for the little one. The big black arrow points towards a frog and a lizard. This is the consequence of the abuse. The frog is me, trying to hang on to a wire with one arm. The lizard is the protection for the frog. The little one is not stupid. Whist growing up it develops protection. The frog is hurt and leaves a trail of blood that gets bigger. The frog is close to the heart of the protective lizard. The lizard and the frog are two parts of the same character. The chick grows up into two people – one emotional and hurt, the other intellectual and protective. The Dinosaur trying to get up after many tries can eventually fly. The supporter is watching. The dinosaur becomes what it was meant to be – a musician playing in the grass. It is such a hard struggle for the support system – they can celebrate after this success. (This is a projection into the future). The support system is what got the central character to the place where it can be itself, the musician in the grass. There are two colours in the arrow pointing to this success because it is about co-operation between the support worker and the central character. The final two images in the sequence are of a goblin – first laughing happily, then sitting back and sleeping in a chair made of marshmallow. This is the support system finally able to rest”.