ON VIEW | INTERVIEW
"ON EDGE: Living in an Age of Anxiety"
at Science Gallery London
By Marnie Benney, contributor
"ON EDGE: Living in an Age of Anxiety," currently on view at Science Gallery London through January 2020, features a selection of works from nine artists which explore the individual experience of anxiety. Acting as a platform for conversations around mental health, find out more about exhibition events here.
Exhibiting artists include Leah Clements, Benedict Drew, Sarah Howe, Ann Lislegaard, Cian McConn, Harold Offeh, Resolve Collective, Cally Spooner, Suzanne Treister, and Alice May Williams.
We spoke with the exhibit's curator, Mette Kjaergaard Praest, about the concept and process of curating this exhibition:
Marnie Benney: In today’s day and age we are seeing rising anxiety and depression rates - why do you think it’s important to have an exhibition about mental health?
Mette Kjaergaard Praest: We all have mental health and we all experience anxiety to a greater or lesser extent at some point in our lives. However, our relationship to our mental health, including experiences of anxiety and depression, is still often entrenched in feelings of shame, taboos, and myths. An exhibition is one way to engage with and challenge these issues in a public, communal context.
With this exhibition "ON EDGE: Living in an Age of Anxiety," my main objective was to open up a critical and nuanced conversation about the causes of and responses to anxiety in contemporary society, making visible the connections between individual experiences of anxiety and the wider societal conditions that frame those experiences.
Furthermore, it is important that an exhibition about anxiety emphasizes that anxiety is a normal and useful response to stress or danger, and although it can be disabling and control many aspects of life, it can also be a motivational force that fuels positive action.
MB: How does a show about anxiety and stress fit into your greater interests as a curator?
MKP: I have curated a number of projects focusing on the intersection between arts and health sciences, including "Dizziness of Freedom," Anxiety Arts Festival London 2014; "Acting Out," Nottingham 2015; and the recent "Hysteria," London 2017-18, which focused on how we perceive health and illness in contemporary society. My curatorial approach is informed by an interest in research, collaboration, experimental, and underexposed practices, and I am particularly interested in artistic strategies that reimagine or dislocate social and political systems. As you mention above, we are seeing a rise in anxiety and depression rates, and I am interested in how this is connected to other aspects of the current social and political climate.
MB: What was your thought process as you choose the artwork for this exhibition?
MKP: The exhibition is developed with the aim of exploring anxiety from many different perspectives. To ensure a diverse and far-reaching conversation the exhibition and events program includes researchers, artists, people with lived experience, patients, community groups, activists and young people, with whom it considers the emotional experience of anxiety, the role of genetics, and how life with anxiety is affected by social factors; economics, class, gender, and ethnicity
Science Gallery London’s core audience are young people between the age of 15 and 25, a generation who are increasingly aware of their mental health and wellbeing. "ON EDGE" brings in the idea of the experience of anxiety or of feeling ‘on edge’ as something useful, for example, inspired by the global youth-led climate movements, the exhibition includes a research area investigating the relationship between climate change, anxiety, and action.
MB: Can you explain the working relationship between yourself (as the curator) and the Science Gallery’s selected advisors? Was their input from a different perspective valuable to the show’s curatorial vision?
MKP: Every exhibition at Science Gallery London is supported by scientific advisors and includes academic research from King’s College London. For "ON EDGE" we worked closely with Thalia Eley and Colette Hirsch from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s, and Errol Francis from Culture&. Science Gallery London is a place “where art and science collide” and the aim is for the two spheres to inform and inspire each other. It has been a privilege for me as a curator to be able to seek advice with researchers from the IoPPN, who have specific knowledge about current research on anxiety and other mental health problems. In collaboration with Thalia Eley the exhibition includes the opportunity for visitors to contribute to the GLAD Study (Genetic Links to Anxiety and Depression), the world’s largest study of anxiety and depression.
MB: What do you hope the show’s visitors gain from this exhibition?
MKP: First of all I hope that visitors to "ON EDGE" have a positive experience in the exhibition. I hope that they benefit from the understanding that mental health is not something to be embarrassed by, but something that affects us all and that we should talk about.
The exhibition invites visitors to take action and contribute to research in different ways, including the GLAD study and the CLIMATE, ANXIETY, ACTION survey. One of the artworks, Common Thread, which is created by Resolve Collective in collaboration with Science Gallery London’s Young Leaders, is a woven structure that echoes the plasticity of the brain as it transforms during the exhibition. This project invites visitors to leave their trace on the exhibition by taking part in the collective weaving process. Common Thread functions as a space for reflection, discussion, and community activities exploring how we live with anxiety, and is home to a series of workshops with neuroscientists, financial experts, craftspeople, and exercise groups. I am really looking forward to these workshops and I hope that visitors will come back and join in!