Materials: two robots, surround sound system, radio headphones, 3 synchronized media players, 3 projectors and a programmed light, 22 framed drawings and paper installations
Corroborators Keith Sargent and Pendle Poucher
Using the former Courthouse building in Arbroath’s Town Centre for the second time, Hospitalfield is co-commissioner of a new work by UK-based artist Lindsay Seers, Every Thought There Ever Was. Through the use of digital animation, robotics, film, drawing and sound design the artist has created a complex and layered environment that explores a world experienced differently.
Every Thought There Ever Was reflects on the extraordinary brain functioning that occurs in schizophrenia. The art work is layered with intense subjective experiences relating to the historic and contemporary understanding of hallucination and psychosis. When you enter the rooms of the Courthouse, film screens themselves become robotic protagonists within the work, they move with digital images of faces and creatures; coloured lights animate sculptures; a dense audio-track from seven channels seems to be both inside and outside of the viewer’s head.
A driving force behind the installation is a treatment known as Avatar Therapy, a patient specific digital treatment, developed in 2008 by psychologist Professor Julian Leff, whose aspiration was to help relieve the onslaught of denigrating voices that can occur in the condition of paranoid schizophrenia. The art work has been shaped by conversations with Professor Leff and scientific partners including Anil Seth Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex and Chris Frith, Emeritus and Professor of Neuropsychology, UCL to explore the current developments of neuroscientific thought on the collapse of hallucination and reality so evident in the condition.
Pursuing her ongoing fascination with how an individual’s biography embodies history, Seers uses the words of iconic figures such as artist Richard Dadd, minister George Trosse and Victorian surgeon James Miranda Barry alongside meetings and drawing exchanges with living protagonists. Drawing acted as a catalyst to consider the overall shape of the work, whose fundamental drive is to question the boundary between imagination, hallucination and the so called real in contemporary society and the spectral mediums we communicate through.
Some Notes on Drawing Exchange
Almost twenty years ago, a set of events unfolded which I could believe are the origin of these drawings/paintings. A talented art student whom I taught was diagnosed with the condition of schizophrenia; then I had by chance discovered a book, “Lenz” by Georg Büchner, on a shelf in a house I was temporarily staying in. (The novella is based on a diary and was an early account of the subjectivity and phenomenal experience of psychosis); and finally I was introduced to an eminent cognitive neuroscientist, Chris Frith, who has worked consistently and extensively in investigating the condition of schizophrenia. What followed was an interest in the idea that there is a unique shift in perception that arises in the case of psychosis, which causes substantial changes in perception. I believe that the materialisation of this is epitomised in the work of Richard Dadd.
The condition of schizophrenia itself has been considered an organic brain disease rather than being psychologically driven. However, it seems evident that traumatic circumstances in early life can play a significant factor in the presentation of the condition. I am interested in studies of colonial incursions (particularly affected second generations of families , indicating an embodiment of trauma across generations).
Although the flattening off of the perceptual field and also the lack of hierarchical distinctions related to perception in the state of psychosis in drawings and paintings is often associated with the genre of “outsider artists”, I am not interested in this categorisation of outsider artist per se – I am interested in works that seem possibly to show this unique form of perception that is not in itself an “artistic conceit”. The act of painting is driven in this case by a desire to depict a reality about experiences that are related to an hallucinatory real. Perhaps that reality is a social/political real that locates one of its triggers in global historical narratives related to slavery and immigration.I have been engaged in a drawing exchange. These three works are a letter to individuals whom I know only through posting drawings to them. I do not want to disclose any more information on the people or how we became connected.
Through my association with neuroscientists such as Chris Frith and Anil Seth, I have reconsidered my idea of consciousness as a unified state and now understand it as fluctuating and discontinuous, with the brain formulating plausible narratives to generate a sense of continuity to a heterogeneous and chaotic set of sensory phenomenon. The story that I put forward in the opening paragraph for the origination of these works is therefore in itself is a simplification of what is possibly an a-causal set of events. Yet the story of origination seems plausible.
In exchanging drawings with these three artists I have wanted to try to understand their visual language – to speak to them in their language with my inadequate novice’s voice, which attempts to assimilate the complexity of their thought without the breadth of their vocabulary, gained through years of work.
Where do we draw and paint from but from the soup of history? As in all my work I am interested in the specifics of an individual’s relationship to the general idea that is History, believing that the one can stand for the many. I have addressed these works as an homage to these individuals – a hybrid of how much others exist in each of us and make evident a conscious act of influence rather than an unconscious assimilation.
Every Thought There Ever Was is supported by a grant from Wellcome and is co-commissioned by the MAC, Belfast; Matt’s Gallery, London; Focal Point Gallery, Southend-On-Sea; Hospitalfield, Arbroath; and John Hansard Gallery, Southampton. The exhibition is part of a programme led by Hospitalfield for the Angus Place Partnership supported by Creative Scotland.
Arbroath Courthouse was unused for four years. During this time the Courthouse Community Trust formed to secure an Asset Transfer for the community use of the building. Natural Selection by Andy Holden and Peter Holden in April – May 2019 was the first public and cultural use of the building. Use of the Courthouse has been facilitated by the Scottish Courts with support of The Courthourse Community Trust.