Public Dalston Square artwork explores mental health

Lightbox Installation

Lightbox Installation - Credit: Archant

Thought-provoking artwork has lit up a Hackney square to help explore the mental health system.

Bobby Baker

Bobby Baker - Credit: Archant

Acclaimed artist Bobby Baker and 65 other participants have contributed to the public lightbox installation in Dalston Square which was curated by east London-based arts organisation, Daily Life Ltd.

Individuals with experiences of mental distress, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, doctors and support workers all came together in a series of drawing workshops to create the piece – called The Expert View – which examines the notions of art and expertise in mental health.

Ms Baker said: “I’ve been an artist all my life, in many disciplines, but in the mid-90s I worked harder and harder, increasingly became distressed and ended up getting caught up in the mental health system.

“I realised making artwork allows you to reflect on things in a neutral way.”

Participants used a huge body of drawings from the diary that Ms Baker kept during her time in the system as a starting point for their own explorations, which have now become a major Wellcome Collection exhibition.

Ms Baker said: “When I was at a day centre receiving treatment, I started seeing all this drawing work and thought it was better than anything I had seen at art school. But it was not seen as valued and thrown away. I think now things are changing.

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“The Robin Williams tragedy highlighted how confused and frightened people are. There has been enormous amount in the mainstream media over the last two or three years, with lots of confusion surrounding diagnoses – but it is exciting there is this public debate.”

She added that by using the idea of confusion participants could turn the theme of expertise on its head and even some professionals, who were always told they were experts in the field, said they had both professional and personal experiences with mental health.

Ms Baker said: “It’s an area of health which isn’t like a physical illness, where it is very definite, so it’s hard to be specific but there are increasingly more ways that can help.

“To get a group of people together from all different sides to consider this and ask them to produce drawings of this was a kind of weird approach but so enjoyable.”

The Daily Life Project received Lottery Award and Wellcome Collection funding to embark on its five-year initiative.

It is now in its second year and the installation will be in Dalston Square for the next eight weeks.

Ms Baker added: “They look beautiful and anybody can look at them. I just think it is the most beautiful square and we hope that it will catch people different stages of the day.

“The fact of the matter is that mental health crosses every class divide; it is a human experience.”

Lightbox photo by Willie Robb