Review: Here & Now, at Open Eye

Debbie Polturak

Review: Here & Now, at Open Eye Gallery (2019)
Open Eye Gallery, 19th February (event finished)

Words & Images, Michelle Pratt

Open Eye Gallery’s collaborative pop-up exhibition, Here & Now, presents photographs and new writing from a 6-month project exploring interpersonal experiences of mental distress.

The collective works offer creativity and experience between local people – poet, Pauline Rowe and photographers, Becky Warnock and Robert Parkinson (delivered and supported by Open Eye Gallery, North End Writers and Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust). North End Writers state that the purpose of the project is to acknowledge these significant experiences while also considering them and ourselves in the light of creative expression – to take time to think about what is happening here and now, in a safe place.

Captured on disposable cameras, visuals of local surroundings feature motion blur, distorted imagery and glare, offering an unprocessed, visceral insight of daily activity, processes and perceptions of those experiencing mental distress. The images communicate a visual narrative for physical and emotional journeys. They depict the process of re-entering the community and interacting with the environs, embodying a sense of catharsis reminiscent of words found in a collage on display: seeing hope in despair again.

Poet Pauline Rowe devised and delivered the project (funded by Mersey Care) to Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust service-users. She states:

“We encouraged lots of writing as well as photography and discussion. I think it could be described either as a social arts project or arts in health project, but the most important part of the experience was having time to think, write, take time to be expressive and creative and to experiment with photography. 

The polaroid lift exercise that we did with Becky Warnock was a great exercise in deconstructing but also enjoying a kind of play and new kind of making. Using disposable cameras to go out and take images prompted by words with Rob Parkinson led to a different response to the visual and immediate world.”

A humanistic and tangible quality exists in the printed photographs and collages. The imagery produced by these mediums represent feelings and cognitions that are often inexpressible. It’s the photographs that particularly resonate with me and my personal journey with mental wellbeing.

As a resident in Liverpool, the misty images of local spaces transmit an emotional ambiance that feels expressly familiar. Feelings of comfort, wellness and relief from my own mental distress are often derived from exploring the Liverpool landscape. Experiencing these authentic interpretations of mental distress from members of my community seemed poignant and profound to me; I felt a sense of intimacy and understanding.

I spoke with Debbie Polturak, Learning Facilitator at Mersey Care, on her process and outcomes for the project, as well as her experience with depression, anxiety and detachment, which led to a mental breakdown. Volunteering at Life Rooms, along with her discovery of poetry, provided Debbie with “instant hope” during her breakdown. She described using the bus as a liberating activity that provided inspiration and excitement throughout her recovery process.

Debbie Polturak

Packed like one
sardine in an Arriva tin of
sardines.

I exist, I observe
this moment here
and now on the 82C
(Reflection on the Bus, Debbie Polturak)

Debbie expresses her meaningful reflections, facilitated by a generally overlooked feature of our community, the 82C. Here, the benefits of practising mindfulness and seeking poetry in the everyday are expressed. The photos are outcomes of a smartphone photography course at Life Rooms, a mental wellness hub that has provided support and inspiration to Debbie.

I’m not looking for a cure – I’m looking to live life to the full with a mental health condition.
(Debbie Polturak)

Maureen Levy’s text Familiarity also explores how the local community and landscape provides meaning and positivity in her experience with mental destress. A photograph portraying a street scene she encounters daily accompanies the text. She expresses her emotional connection to these visuals:

The garage is opposite to where I live, owned by the only car mechanic I would ever trust… It is heart-warming to know a person like him as he is not mercenary. The world is full of grasping people and he is not one of them. He genuinely wanted to help me and wanted nothing in return.
(Familiarity, Maureen Levy)

Familiarity humbly reinforces the importance of community and the impact of the individual. It reminds us that being open and vulnerable can produce meaningful outcomes. It reminds us to be compassionate, empathetic and kind.

I also spoke with Becky Collins on her outcomes for the project. She expressed her enjoyment of the polaroid lift workshops, which led to Broken Moon. Other works by Becky were inspired by material from current Open Eye exhibitions.

There was a lovely piece where I combine my thoughts about a picture with my conscious flow of thoughts at the time about my external environment, which came out nicely.
(Becky Collins)

Becky Collins

Becky’s work documents her positive engagement with Here & Now. Her minimal, textural approach depicts ‘a connection to the land’. These explorations communicate how Becky has sought refuge in immersing herself in the natural elements of her surroundings. She highlights the valuable resources that assisted her recovery from mental ill health:

I got help through Mersey Care. I had lots of great support from therapies and psychiatrists. The best relief was from community-based programs around creativity, such as Creative Alternatives and The Life Rooms in Walton, where I met Pauline. There’s also a lady called Berenice who is single handily campaigning for all these programmes for people like myself and keeping it going.
(Becky Collins)

Since then I’ve learnt about myself and I’m altering my life to make it work for me. I’ve met loads of amazing, creative and weird people, just like me. I’m no longer alone. Now I appreciate all the variabilities of life and I’m able to cope a lot of the time. Things are full of colour and flavour again and the simplest things make me happy.

Here & Now presents the beneficial work of community-based mental health resources in Liverpool, fabricating a poignant and enlightening experience. The interweaving of mental distress and creativity in our community was authentically portrayed in a safe, comfortable and non-judgemental space. The exhibition itself facilitated the engagement, discussion and networking of people who share and understand some similar experiences. I felt energised, inspired and a little more connected upon leaving.

Words by Becky Collins:
A knowing of belonging
for all your years. Much brighter than we can envisage.
(Crazywise, Becky Collins)