The project concept was to address the issue of social isolation and stigma, experienced by people using local mental health services. Over a period of two years, we worked in the community using a number of methods to interact with clients using the service. Participants were invited to collaborate with professional artists to capture their experience.
There were three phases to the project. In the first phase, Emma Finucane worked with people who were attending a weekly clinic in rural Carlow. She explored themes of location and identity with participants. In this way we mapped the territory. In the second phase, Brian Maguire took over an old ward in the psychiatric hospital and turned it into a painting studio. He explored the ‘inner landscape’ of participants who came to paint every week. This is the way we got to know who we were participating with. In the third phase of the project, we built a boat in the Studio Gallery of the Visual Centre for Contemporary Art in Carlow. For two months we worked alongside master boat builders in a gallery that was open to the public to make the vessel that would take us to our mythical island, Panchaea, our Equal Utopia. All boundaries were blurred during this time. Everyone worked together to deliver the project in full sight of the community. The group felt elevated being on display. This highlighted concerns about privacy. Participants were patients in the morning while they attended the clinic and then walked across the road to the gallery to become participants in a public artwork. Photographs could not be taken in the morning but could be in the afternoon.
At the end of this period, we brought all the elements together in the form of an exhibition in the Link and Studio Galleries in the VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art. In a ceremony at the opening of the exhibition, participants carried the boat out of the gallery and launched it on the pond in the grounds of the arts centre. In this final and public act of display, participants, community and artists were revealed together in a new equality.
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Artists - Denis Roche, Emma Finucane, Brian Maguire
Commissioner - Carlow Local Authority
Arts Officer - Sinead Dowling
Producer - Aoife McM Kavanagh
Collaborators - Carlow Local Authority, St.Dymphna's Hospital Carlow, Sth Carlow Mental Health Services, HSE, Carlow Institute of Technology, Dolmen Studios.