Fury1/FuryZ // LAST YEARZ INTERESTING NEGRO, ROWDY SS AND SHELLEY PARKER

Every time I see Jamila Johnson Small dancing in Fury I remember how it feels to stand on a dance floor undulating, oscillating, swinging and wavering. 

I used to be a party girl, and as such have often lost track of many things going on around me whilst I was trying to lose myself. 

Every time I see Jamila Johnson Small dancing in Fury I can look for those things, trying to recognise me and the indistinct multitudes that trundle around a dance floor seeking for love. We are all falling, and slouching, and seeking for love.

- Camilla Carè

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Last Yearz Interesting Negro (Jamila Johnson-Small) - Fury1/FuryZ

Art in the Club - Crack Magazine

Dance Memory - Duke University

Clubbing, Dancing, Ecstasy, Vitality - Ben Malbon

Who's Afraid of Ideology? (part 1) // Marwa Arsanios

A woman is standing in the middle of a valley, a brown landscape of mountains and rocks. She walks towards the camera and starts to talk. The camera retreats, slowly and continuously, keeping her in frame as we listen to her voice. But something seems to be off. The movement of her lips doesn’t match the voice we hear. There is a kind of displacement, something that we still cannot fully understand. By disconnecting the voice from the body in the image, Marwa Arsanios seems to suggest that we need to slow down a bit, to escape immediacy, to pay attention and listen carefully. 

The body will be later replaced by landscapes. Snowy mountains from elsewhere. The words reverberate in that space, and when they come back to us, they seemed to be charged with something else. The connections are there but we need to jump into a space of contemplation and reflection in order to find them. It’s as if it’s not necessary to find answers, but to inhabit the questions in-between the silence and the landscape. 

The film is built from material - images, interviews, conversations and thoughts - collected by Arsanios during a period in which she stayed with the Autonomous Women's Movement in Rojava in northern Iraq. It presents a series of stories and reflections that are linked to the experience of the Kurdish people’s resistance, and to the relationship between ecology and feminism within it. 

To think about ecology, especially about an ecological consciousness developed within the frame of war, makes me think about the very idea of protection, and the spaces of protection that we have left, or believe that we do. A later voice talks about a common understanding of the liberal system, that individuals and groups must surrender the means of protection to the State. The State, therefore, has the monopoly of violence as the only one authorized to exercise it. It reinforces that the use of force is most frequently a tool for the maintenance and the support of the established geometries of power. That is still constituted today by the definition of the bodies that must live and of those who can die, an idea that the philosopher Achille Mbeme has developed under the concept of necropolitics. 

When the state no longer defends us, what kind of strategies can we use in order to defend ourselves? Where do we flee and where could we find protection when the experience of life itself cannot be separated from the mediation of the state? 

The idea of protection as a right granted to a citizen of a certain state becomes especially problematic when the very notion of nation-state is falling apart, and if we take into consideration the huge amounts of individuals that are continuously pushed out of this system. In the same way, the idea of peace, or of living in peace, has become a strategy of governance in the systems that we live in. To live in peace means not only that we should surrender the fight but also to accept the conflict that is imposed on us by others. This dynamic might also be what allows the transfer of violence to the red zone of the world, far away from the centers of power. Violence became then a distant idea, something that happens outside of the safety of the west, making invisible the mechanisms of control that operate or our societies.

When the idea of peace became a strategy to govern bodies within certain geographies, how can we understand resistance and radicality? Is it possible to operate under a different paradigm? 

A voice from the screen talks about how the state works to break the relationship of the individual with nature, as the only possible way to legitimise its power. And I’m led to think that this is no longer just about safety or protection, but about the individual's ability to establish relationships of survival without the State as their intermediary: “existence is based on the ability to defend yourself”.

Who is afraid of ideology? opens space for us think about ecology, not only in relation to nature, but in the very set of relations that individuals establish with all their surroundings, with communities, knowledge and territories. And the question that remains is, as artists and individuals, how can we learn from the experiences of those who live in different communities, under different paradigms, to build strategies of resistance? When difference is continuously threatened, can art still be a space of protection?

- Túlio Rosa

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Who’s Afraid of Ideology? Ecofeminist Practices Between Internationalism and Globalism - E-Flux Journal

Kdo se boji ideologije? / Who is afraid of Ideology?

Thinking Projects - Marwa Arsanios

NECROPOLITICS - Warwick University

Hope Hunt and the Ascension into Lazarus // Oona Doherty

The audience hubbub subsides as a clapped-out old car with a bin bag taped over the front passenger side window revs up to just in front of Vooruit, its shell suited occupants diving out to fall to the floor. From the car blasts out music, lyrics suggesting the Northern Irish origin and Belfast base of the artist. People crane their heads in the drizzle to see over the shoulders of people in front of them, and the two who tumbled from the car continue to dance.

This street scene makes sense as the place where the piece begins. It reminds me of the earlier days of teenage licenses, aimless driving around and the blaring of music on suburban streets. Of brief furtive incursions into the city, from where you live to where it all happens. And then the car drives off, leaving the artist alone in the road with the reedy bass from the car fading off into the distance. This forlorn figure, angry in their loneliness, turns back to the crowd.  

Go inside the theatre! Go inside the theatre!’ they bellow.

Obligingly trudging up endless stairs and taking up seats, the solo movement which follows trips and wallows in the universal visual language of bored and disaffected men. Gender is the subject throughout, a physical and vocal cycling through anger, cockiness and vulnerability in language after language - from German to English to guttural cough. The transition from space to space is as smooth as the invisible seams between dialect shifts, suggesting perhaps a universal European anxiety, an illustration of a free movement of deprivation, forgetfulness and the rejection of empathy that prowls round the backs of our superficial wealth. 

The solo ends in rapturous choral form, before the back doors swing open to reveal the picture of the missing driver, long lost from the car and alone at a cheap folding table. Watching tinny football on a glowing laptop whilst drinking beer. It’s an image that could be snapped in any country in the world of an isolated man and the undocumented experience of small room unhappiness. The audience are invited to share a beer in the space of the stage, a social bond to be formed in the dim half-light from the sad picture behind. The move-down begins and ends in the slow shuffle of feet, with drinks clasped to our breasts like guards against feeling. The football plays on. 

-      Lewis Church

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Oona Doherty - Hope Hunt and the Ascension in Lazarus

Oona Doherty takes on Belfast’s Hardest Men - Irish Times

La danse virulente et poétique d’Oona Doherty - Le Monde (en Français)

The Crisis in Modern Masculinity - Guardian

A Tale of Two Masculinities - The New European

Fury1/FuryZ // Last Yearz Interesting Negro, Rowdy SS and Shelley Parker

Fury1

Standing in a club space with occasional flashes to illuminate the dancing body and the active DJ. Wielded by the audience, beams of torchlight tracing back the gaze and the slow traverse of the space by a single figure on the floor, watched over by the music. Snatches of text singing out of the audio blur. 

FuryZ

Sitting on a dance floor, staring up at the dancer weaving between the crowd and moving on the high podium. A whispered negotiation of support leading to a step up the back of a kneeling man. Furious dance filled with flashes of neon colour. Transitions across the floor to these stages as much a part of its content as what happens up there.

Fury1/FuryZ

In both, the music pounding through my chest as it does through the body of the dancer. Involuntary swaying and nodding around the central defiance of the performer, the audience perhaps unsure of their expected role but staring away. Left in the moment, outside but in.

In both, the intricacies of experience traced across the body by the eyes of those watching. An assertion of experience, of difference and sameness marked by race/gender/sex/ability. Each of the pieces unstable in its liveness and immediate in its impact.

Sound as a partner not accompaniment, responsive to the movement of the crowd as much as the journey of the dancer. Blurring the border between ‘dance’ and ‘Dance’, the questions of form and participation that define and insist on integrity to established forms. 

- Lewis Church

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Last Yearz Interesting Negro (Jamila Johnson-Small) - Fury1/FuryZ

Rowdy SS (Soundcloud)

Shelley Parker (Soundcloud)

Different Angles - AQNB

In Conversation with Last Yearz Interesting Negro - Skin Deep

Some Thoughts on Capital-D Dance - Movement Research

As the Body Is, So it Knows // Kopano Maroga

Kopano begins this workshop by offering a congratulation to the participants for taking the time to honour yourself in a society that doesn’t want you to. For often pressures on our time remove us from our bodies and the things that they know, cutting us off from the knowledge contained in bones, muscles and the way we move. Our time here together asserts writing as a bodily practice as well as a cerebral one, and it asks its participants to share intimacies with each other as they share the space, filling pages with dialogue as we fill the space with our dance and shouting.  

Many of the movement exercises engage with the trauma that lives in the body by borrowing movement practices from somatic therapy. The notion that trauma is a physical reality is one that is increasingly understood by psychiatric professionals - a biological process where the rush of adrenalin migrates deep into the core of tissue. Within the workshop, Kopano instructs us in an extended period of shaking and trembling designed to free whatever experience of this form of trapped history we may own. We then turn from this movement to the writing of letters to those people or things that we might want to forgive in our lives, linking this freeing of emotion through movement to the production of text. Writing in silence before sharing these letters with a partner, the movement sparks new connections across language, nationality and experience. 

Its paradoxical that self-care can become an added pressure to an already hectic life. Competitive wellness is a fundamentally modern phenomenon, with time spent in exercise construed as achievement. What the time here in this workshop reminds its participants is that the brain and body are not only linked but one and the same, with subjectivity created through being and relation rather than internal definition. My body is what writes, and my mind and emotions are what direct my body to move. By taking time to link the two once again, I understand the extent to which my practice relies on this relation.

- Lewis Church

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

 Kopano Maroga - As the Body Is, So it Knows

Time to Move Beyond the Mind/Body Split - The British Medical Journal

Working with Traumatic Memory in the Body - NICABM

Somatic Therapy - Psychology Today

Writing Dance - Lila Dance UK

Self-Care Won’t Save Us - Current Affairs

21 Pornographies // Mette Ingvartsen

The performance pivots on a body harsh in the light, with power, sex and violence evoked through the calm narration of decadent sexuality. Dukes, kings and magistrates taking part in an orgy of privilege are slowly revealed through a slow drip of context, delivered by the artist in a measured storyteller’s tone. Ingvartsen orients the audience within the geography of the narrative. The room within her description is layered over the top of the one we sit in. Watching quietly becomes participation and culpability, a rehearsal of our own participation in the desiring looks that run under the societies we walk through. It reveals our acceptance of sexualised interactions and of abuse used as a plot point, and the fictionalisation of experiences that are a reality to thousands across the world.  It raises the unequal dynamics of power at play in who gets to see and who gets to be seen as a sexual being.

Part of a series of choreographies (the ‘Red Pieces’) that explore sexuality, Ingvartsen draws those listening into the decadence she narrates. But this storytelling continually contrasts against the fierce and sudden use of movement. Ingvartsen barks like a dog through swift image flashes, unsettling the conventions of interaction with the audience set up moments before. Bare skin glows under naked strip light, and smoke, strobe and dance provide a parallel narrative to the text the artist recites. Occasionally aligning but rarely exact, the significance of the movement is one that builds to question looking itself through the brightness of light. Watching the body spin becomes impossible to sustain, forcing the audience to look away as their eyes involuntarily close against the glare. Noise explodes forth without warning to disrupt the passive listening to stories of sexual atrocity.

The dissonant combination of text and movement requires careful attention to the questions it asks. The piece offers no solution or remedy but stages and makes explicit the tension within the display of the body in a culture of desiring looks.

     Lewis Church

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Mette Ingvartsen - 21 Pornographies

Mette Ingvartsen - Delving into Dance

The Voice of the StorytellerThe New York Times

Sex, Health and Society - The Conversation

The Representation of Women in Advertising - AdAge

Children's Free Play // Dr David Whitebread

Children's Free Play explored the role of play in pre-school and beyond, and the impact that overlooking this in education has seen over the last thirty years, with increased childhood mental health and obesity problems and poorer cognitive, emotional, and psychological capabilities.   

In 2008 the Children's Society reported that 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) had a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, yet 70% of them had still not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early stage. Heads Together tell us that more than 1 in 5 children are overweight or obese when they begin school and almost 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.

Dr David Whitebread from Cambridge University 'grew up in a very different era' where as a kid he was packed off to ‘play out’ for the day and wouldn’t return until teatime.  I relate to that as, similarly to most kids back in the 1950s and 1960s, after having been taken to infant school once or twice you then took yourself.  I had a friend who was waiting for heart surgery due to a birth defect and two of us would take it in turns to push her there and back in a trolley.

Dr Whitebread tells us about how experiments have demonstrated that adults who don’t know how to play with their kids are less successful parents. Hovering supervision over children gives little wriggle room for them to test their boundaries and take risks. He recommended that instead of telling kids not to do something because it's dangerous, like rolling down a hill, we positively encourage them and do it together. Whitebread mentions that some early learning classes have discarded play areas in schools, which bypasses an opportunity to harness a child's creative imagining. Task-based projects, by contrast, give a wider brief to incorporate multiple subjects, develop better reasoning skills, and a passion for enquiry.  

Dr Whitbread informs us that brain development regarding games and their rules starts as early as three.  He shares a video to demonstrate how some little kids of this age invent a game which incorporates an unspoken rule of lining up in an orderly fashion to walk through a puddle of water.  And that when slightly older, children will spend more time negotiating the rules than they will playing the game itself. Roughly 80% of brain development is completed by age three and 90% by age five. A study in Jamaica which taught mothers to play with their children and twenty years later the results showed that those children were comparatively better adjusted, committed less crime and were earning 25% more than children who didn't get the learning through play intervention. Dr Whitebread's talk shows the ripple-effect that not prioritising 'play' is having on society as a whole and why policy makers MUST take these hazardous indicators more seriously.

-      Jane Unsworth

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

All Work and No Play - The Atlantic

Unstructured Play is Critical for Kids - Mother.ly

Children's Play Advisory Service

Play is Vital for Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing - KidsMatter.edu

Lego Serious Play

Policy Resources - Young Minds

What the **** is Normal? // Francesca Martinez

Although this was the second time I’d seen Francesca Martinez, her show was still my highlight of Normal? 2018. Francesca’s experiences of school and life beyond mirrors my own. She describes how school ground the confidence out of her and how bullying, by both pupils and teachers, affected her mental and physical health, and then describes how she found a way out of the course that had seemingly been set for her.

Her description of her life draws empathy rather than sympathy. 

She doesn’t want to be patted on the head and told 'Poor little thing'. She totally rejects the description of herself as ‘disabled’, preferring instead to call herself 'wobbly'. The stories she tells are laugh-out-loud funny, but she is also a campaigner and educator, addressing school children to give them the confidence that she was robbed of. Martinez points out that society deliberately makes us feel inferior, or, as she puts it: 'Society breeds self-loathing'. Many of us can remember being told, during our teenage years, that ‘how we look is not important’. But, of course, at that stage of our lives, how we look can seem to be the most important thing in the world.

Martinez’s show emphasizes :

‘Don’t fear difference’

‘Being different is important’

‘Only care what you think of yourself’

‘Life is too short to be spent doing something that you hate’

- Keven Blake

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Francesca Martinez - Russell Howard's Good News (YouTube)

A Wobbly Girl's Battle Against the Last Taboo - The Independent

Martinez and the WOW Welfare Bill - Disability News Service

Francesca Martinez on Woman's Hour - BBC Radio 4

Street Wisdom // Phillip Cowell

At the core of Street Wisdom is the idea that every moment is extraordinary, and each street full of inspiration. With an open mind, comfy shoes and clothes fit for the weather, the streets can provide answers to a myriad of questions. All we have to do is ask.

And that’s what we did at Normal? Festival of the Brain, expertly guided by the genial Street Guide Phillip Cowell in a fun and practical mix of psychology, cognitive science and mindfulness. 

We began with some ten-minute exercises. One asked us to notice 'what you’re drawn to' (and what you’re not attracted to) whilst another, tailored to each person, asked us to look for 'the patterns and what connects them' or, in my case, 'sense the story'. Stories, it turned out, were everywhere.

After the warm up, we set off with our own questions in mind, open to whatever answers the streets provided. These, Phillip explained, could come in any form: street signs, passers-by, shop windows, doors, windows, graffiti or overheard conversations…

We live in sped-up, switched-on times. Street Wisdom gave us permission to slow down and focus on the signs and signals all around us. This method is useful for anyone struggling with day-to-day personal stuff, tackling a challenge at work or seeking a creative breakthrough. Philip advised us to keep our questions manageable – not too big nor too small. In forty-five minutes, walking slowly and with purpose, each participant found the answers they sought.

The session closed with a chance for us to share our stories of what the street has taught us. The response was overwhelmingly positive. The walk had given us an opportunity to get out of the autopilot mode we live in for so much of our time. Answers had come to us in the form of a poster in the window, or down by the beach. We were excited at how fluid and magical the streets became when we tuned in to their hidden messages and unexpected discoveries.

Street Wisdom has grown into a global movement, and it’s not hard to see why. With free public events, these immersive walking workshops teach participants that answers are everywhere. Just remember your waterproofs, and bring an open mind.

- Charlotte Forfieh

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

10 Good Reasons to Go for A Walk Street Wisdom

Go for A Walk – You Could Discover the Meaning of Life - Guardian

MindfulnessMind UK

Have You Heard About Walk and Talk Therapy? - Counselling Directory

My Head Hurts

My Head Hurts explored grief beyond that which stems from the loss of a person. In this talk chaired by Michael Bassett, the speakers shared their experiences of grief:

Artist, Jim Lockey spoke of ‘feeling orphaned’in the seeming conflict of being both an artist and a Christian, through the suspicion of a liberal art world towards churchgoers. He accepted the feelings of loneliness and loss that ensue. The latter is reflected in his work Boat, also exhibited at Normal? There he comments on the ‘entropy of all things’ by constructing and setting sail in a cardboard boat which inevitably disintegrates. 

Occupational Therapist Rayya Ghul relayed the grief experienced by her refugee parents through geographical changes and cultural shock.  Her German mother’s way of coping was to enact an elaborate, traditional German Christmas every year, even changing the curtains. Ghul also expressed her grief in ageing and accepting ‘the loss of a past that cannot be had and the loss of hopes for a future that is no longer possible’.

Clinical Psychologist Reinhard Guss raised the notion of political grief in terms of the current US presidency and Brexit. His own grief, as a German who calls the UK home, stems from being in a place where he is no longer welcome.  He remarked that although there seemed to be a pressure to ‘work’ on grieving or to refer to stages or psychological models, in reality the ways of grieving are less structured.

The panel all pointed to acceptance as key in coping with grief.  Rituals, in their widest sense, such as Lockey’s creating Boat or through the performative aspect of Ghul’s mother’s German Christmas may act to assuage grief.  My sense is that although every grief has a shape of its own and cannot be easily boxed or wittingly healed, and certainly not to a convenient timeline, through acceptance and practices like these there lies a possibility for its eventual transmutation.  

- Lubna Gem Arielle

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Boat - Jim Lockey

Ephemeral Art, What a Beautiful Thing - That Creative Feeling

Why the Five Stages of Grief Are Wrong - Psychology Today

Pema Chodron / When Things Fall Apart - BrainPickings

Physical Effects of Grief - BBC News

Talking to Grief - Denise Levertov

Grief is the Thing with Feathers - Max Porter

The Beat of Our Drums // Kevin Richards

How and where do you feel the beat of drums? Ask people to give a word to describe their experience and the most common one is ‘visceral’. The response starts in the head, the heart, the hips, the toes…a different place for each person. Many will say the rhythm touches their souls and wakes their spirit. Watch those who have let themselves go with the drumbeat. They can seem to be in a dream, on drugs or disconnected from the world beyond the rhythm. The music of band leader Benny Goodman was banned for some time because the drum playing of Gene Krupa was thought to be encouraging sexual responses.

There are few people who can remain still when they hear drums. A very few reject it, maybe because they recognise that it is reaching inside to a part which they do not want exposed. 

In The Beat of Our Drums Kevin Richards, who has been running djembe drumming sessions throughout Kent for twenty years, took a roomful of adults and children through the basics of playing the djembe, a chalice-shaped drum from West Africa. 

Rather than just giving out instructions, Kevin used images and analogies to teach us, making the learning easier and more interesting. Instead of 'Hit the drum', he would say 'Lift the sound out of the drum' Instead of 'get quieter', 'fade as if you are walking out of the door'.

Kevin explained that the drums were often used to send messages so we played to simple phrases using just the bass (B) and the tom tom (T) tones:

‘To the pulse, to the pulse. Won’t you take me to the pulse.’ (TTB TTB TTBT TTB)

We practised these phrases for several minutes before Kevin told us to listen to his playing and add our own rhythms. Initially there was a cacophony but gradually we synchronised and varied volume and pace along with him. We could feel that our quieter playing was soothing, while our louder playing created urgency. We became confident and everybody seemed to be lost in the rhythms. This combined drumming continued for many minutes and, as many of us closed our eyes to let the rhythm take over, it was mesmerising.

Each participant responded differently…some moved nothing except for their hands; some moved their heads; others almost bounced. It was interesting to see some of the passers-by adapting their pace to the sound of our drums; some even started dancing. 

Eventually Kevin led us deliberately faster and louder until we finished with a liberating ‘boom’.

Learning a new musical instrument can be frustrating when you are unable to make the sounds, the notes, the tune. But with the djembe, we were clearly playing it to a level with which even a beginner can be satisfied.

One participant came out and said she had found it satisfying, inclusive, democratic and a session which had created a sense of community. Not bad for just 60 minutes!

- Joy Pascoe

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Rich Rhythms - Drum Workshops in Kent and the South East

Bruce Allen Drums

Mamapama Live at the Folkestone Harbour Arm

What Goes On In Your Head?

Let’s start with some questions. R+ + you = what? What would you do for dopamine? What goes on in your head? What goes on in your teenager’s head? The last question was focus of workshops run by artist Jim Lockey, and the culmination was What Goes on in Your Head?, an installation and talk on behaviour and the brain.

The installation presented a range of answers to this question from the teenagers that took part. The art and words they created ranged from the direct and light-hearted to the profound. The installation aimed to show that when we ask a teenager this directly, or in the form of an exasperated rhetorical monologue, the answer is more complicated than you might think.

Tracy Mapp, an expert in the field of behaviour management, built on this with research about the growing teenage brain, paying particular attention to several areas. The first was the relationship between a person’s behaviour and the behaviour of those around them. The second was on dopamine and a teenager’s high senstivitity to it, as well as its implications for behaviour. What Goes on in Your Head?also looked at the changing structure of a teenagers’ brain, at the process of synaptic pruning in operation that takes the brain from a child to an adult. Moving on to consider ways of changing behaviour, Mapp challenged the view of punishment as an effective technique and explored instead the power of positive reinforcement - otherwise known as R+.  What Goes on in Your Head? explored behaviour; it’s origins, it’s influences and techniques to change it using science and experience.

-       Dave Horn

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Why Is Synaptic Pruning Important for the Developing Brain?Scientific American

Swedish Speed-Camera Pays Drivers To Slow DownWired

Wild teenage behaviour linked to rapid cognitive change in the brainGuardian

Kevin Becomes a Teenager Harry Enfield and Chums (1994)

Love and Other Devices

Love and Other Devices

To what extent should we medicate a lack of love?

Is a chemical attraction better than a digital distraction?

Or should we just be left to our own devices?

Google Trends report a surge in searches for ‘mobile phone addiction’, closely followed by ‘social media addiction’. Mine is on my lap. It’s not off. It’s never off. Because this is Normal? 2018, and we are living in an always-on culture. The conversation is ‘Love and Other Devices’. We are here to talk about love, and how the rise of mobile phone addiction might be the death of romance.

Love is critical to our survival. Babies are literally helpless without it. Without attachment, they die. They need us to be responsive to their cries, attending to their needs. Love carries us through life. Arguably, it is all we seek.

Yet in our relationships, we are choosing to be elsewhere. Sat with our phones never more than a reach away, we scroll through a never-ending sea of content. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we respond to each ring, ping and notification with a panting, slavering hunger. Leaving our partners starving for our attention. Our screens are the new seductress. What is left of love, if we are so easily drawn away into our mobile phones? And should we be chemically resuscitated to our desire once we have lost our passion?

I admit, the discussion wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Anticipating a chat about addiction to scrolling, the conversation swiftly segued into love and medication of love. It’s a difficult conversation. I confess to not knowing the voices of everyone who has a stake in it. Medicating those with depression, children with ADHD, prescribing pills, can sometimes problematise more than it solves. But it did beg the question. Should we ever be ‘prescribing’ love? Or, more fascinatingly, suppressing love?

A relationship expert, an addiction expert and a man with a PhD in Love walk into a bar…  

The conversation drifts from phone addiction, towards the ‘answer’ of medication. Why is medication the solution? Why should we not be left to our own devices? Have gone so far over the line that we no longer discuss the cause of the addiction, but head straight for medication?

The research is exciting. That we can track the brain's signals and chemicals and reproduce them as a cure, is a positive advance in science. I think. But.

What is love?

Baby don't hurt me

Don't hurt me

No more

- Bex Bell

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Love and Other Drugs - Philosophy Now

America's Love Affair with Prescription Medication - Consumer Reports 

Chemical Attraction - Observer

Phone Addiction is Real - Forbes

Unthinkable // Helen Thomson

Life is stranger than fiction. On the same day that I watch an episode of Black Mirror and consider the brutal potential consequences of living with extreme empathy, I join the audience for a talk by Helen Thomson. We listen to Joel’s life story. He is also a doctor in a hospital and, by dint of an extremely rare neurological condition, is also able to feel another’s pain as his own. His condition is the result of a faulty mirror neuron response. If he witnesses an event that causes an emotional or physical response in another person, he feels it as though it is happening to him. 

His is one of ten stories contained in Thomson’s book Unthinkable. As an audience, we inhale in simultaneously sympathy as we hear that if he sees a patient die, he feels his own breathing falter and his body begins to shut down. Even though he’s developed techniques to override these powerful sensations, his mirror touch synaesthesia impacts every waking hour of his life.

Thomson: scientist, writer and consultant for New Scientist, is fascinated by the infinite ways human beings see the world. She is an explorer, satisfying her obsession with learning more about those brains that don’t look like everyone else’s by travelling to meet people with rare conditions across the planet. What is it like when you live your life thinking you are a tiger or wake up dead?

The talk feels a bit close when I realise that I most likely have a mild form of synaesthesia based on her descriptors of the condition. I wonder, does everyone else in the room feel prompted to consider their own unique brain chemistry and connections?

Susan is constantly lost in familiar surroundings due to deficits in her ability to form a consistent mental map. Thus, even finding her way from the bedroom to the bathroom is a daily challenge. What is more extraordinary than this unusual perception of the world is her resourcefulness. She has developed remarkable strategies to combat her condition. She spins like Wonder Woman to reset her brain and flip her map into some semblance of familiarity. Every day she behaves like a superhero.

The talk prompts us to ask questions of ourselves. What are our own powers in the face of adversity? How might we overcome life’s considerable challenges? Most importantly Unthinkable encourages us to become more curious about who we are and which of our myriad perceived flaws make us unique and powerful.

- Melissa Jacob

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Helen Thomson

Synethaesia

What is a Mirror Neuron? - American Psychological Association

The Strange World of Synesthaesia

Black Museum - Black Mirror

Patterns of Trauma

It is an age-old question: where does the best art come from, happiness or melancholy? It is a hard question to answer, and Patterns of Trauma explored the role of trauma in an artist’s work from the perspective of three artists, covering a range of disciplines. 

Patterns of Trauma was an informative and candid talk drawing on experiences of neurological disorders, racism and mental health related traumas. Multidisciplinary artist Nwando Ebizie, musician and poet Arike Grant and poet Byron Vincent guided the audience openly and honestly through their experiences. Chaired by clinical psychiatrist and meditation teacher Gemma Beckley, they explored the differences and the similarities in their practice and experiences. All participants brought their own insights but found common ground in the way they use empathy. Empathy becomes an incredible vehicle for sharing the true impact of trauma and connecting to people, whether audiences have similar experiences or not. Vincent showed the power of connection and the change it can create when he mentioned the work of the violence reduction unit in Scotland. Interestingly, the talk examined areas of traumas in art not often considered, such as the impact of revisiting the trauma on the artist. Patterns of Trauma highlighted how personal trauma and the responses to it are. It also looked at the impact this might have on any performer revisiting this in their work, and offered ways they could stay emotionally safe. 

Patterns of Trauma was a different take on trauma and what it means in the production and performance of art. What do you say? What do you leave out? How do you take care of yourself? It is important to consider.

- Dave Horn

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Your Reality is Broken (Wellcome Collection) - Nwando Ebizie

Violence Reduction Unit

Emotional rescue: how personal trauma has been turned into art - Guardian

Art Can Heal PTSD’s Invisible Wounds – Melissa Walker (TED Talk)

Art and Trauma: Creativity As a Resiliency Factor - goodtherapy.org

Sleep Over // Geraldine Pilgrim

Sleep, that final frontier. We can put man on the moon, split the atom and prove that water has memory, and yet we still do not really know why we sleep. What scientists do know is that without proper sleep our cognitive ability is impaired and the middle part of the frontal lobe in our brains is affected as a build-up of proteins occurs.

To believe the media hype we are in the midst of a sleep-loss epidemic, putting us at heightened risk of cancer, dementia, heart disease and weight gain. So as part of Normal? 2018, a sleep-over was held in the auditorium of the Quaterhouse. Not for scientific analysis, just purely to emphasise and highlight the importance of sleep to our mental wellbeing.

Geraldine Pilgrim designed the installation, which looked like a cross between a field hospital and a supersized hostel/hotel room. One of the sleepers disclosed that she dreamt that the pillows came from Premier Inn and the mattresses from Dunelm - strange that we dream of such mundane things! Fourteen sleepers and one male matron hankered down for cocoa or Horlicks, bedtime stories and a recording of the old and soporific version of the shipping news, followed by seven and a half hours of undisturbed rest in comfy beds with Egyptian cotton sheets and super soft pillows. For the insomniacs a room was kitted out with food, drinks and a video diary.

At 8am, piped birdsong filled the auditorium and bodies started to move and then rise from their cotton comfort. Why though, did those who normally wake to sunrise still manage to do so despite the darkened room? At breakfast, Tim Rittman, the in-house neurologist answered questions on sleep matters whilst a delicious breakfast was served. Everyone seemed curious to know if we had slept well but I was more interested to hear how our matron Gary felt, given he had endured the whole night in a darkened room. Coincidentally he spent the night reading about the Normandy Landings as he watched over us in our dystopian hangar style bedroom.

Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep tells me that prolonged sleep deprivation can be fatal. In our 24hr society individuals are torn between the necessity to work and battling against their circadian rhythms. What risk is this posing for tomorrow’s generations?

‘To sleep perchance to dream’

If only!

-       Sandra Elkins

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Why We Sleep - Matthew Walker

The Sleep School

How to Cope with Sleep Problems - Mind

Sleep Tips - BBC News

A New Theory Linking Sleep and Creativity - The Atlantic

Swearing Is Good For You // Emma Byrne

Dr Emma Byrne works as a robotics scientist whilst extending her fascination with profanity. Today she posed and answered questions, giving descriptions of her research.

Does swearing help us?

It can reduce stress, encourage teamwork and better friendships, and deal with pain. It can also deflect rather than act as a proxy for physical violence.

Why do we swear when in pain? 

Byrne invited a volunteer to leave his hand in ice water for as long as possible, firstly saying only ‘straight’. He later repeated the exercise but was allowed to say ‘shit’. ‘Straight’ resulted 19 seconds whereas ‘shit’ gave 45 seconds. So, had the swearing eased his pain or given him the courage to withstand it?

Why is swearing good for us? 

Apart from anything else, we gain information. For example, we can assess which team is winning by listening. Football fans tend to use ‘shit’ when things are going badly and ‘fuck’ while they are going well.

What are swear words?

Swearing has been used as a diagnostic tool for over 150 years, yet there is still no definition. There are recognised topics but most gradually lose their potency. Blasphemy has little impact now; sexual terms are becoming less shocking as they are incorporated into more normal language and used as a kind of verbal seasoning. Words used against the individual, as in sexism, racism and homophobia are the most taboo now.

Why do we resist it?

We all have the right to swear but some people are offended and assume others will be too.  When we hear swearing we consider our feelings rather than think what it is doing for the speaker or what s/he is trying to do.

Do men swear more than women?

Some suggest that swearing by women is odious to God and women are too innocent to even understand the words. Huh! Whilst Byrne suggested it is true that, in public, women are milder in swearing than men, when together we say whatever the fuck we want. 

Emily Bronte wrote swear words when they were appropriate for her characters, and that word ‘appropriate’ is crucial to any consideration of swearing. We could have spent longer exploring questions about appropriacy; different languages; animals and swearing; judging or accepting those who swear; physiological effects; etcetera, but we had no time.

Did we expect Byrne to swear her way through the presentation? Probably. But her use was entirely appropriate and showed how much swearing can enrich what is being said.

- Joy Pascoe

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Swearing is Good For You - Dr. Emma Byrne

Swearing is Good For You (Article) - RSA Journal Issue 1

Dr. Emma Byrne: The Sweary Scientist

Why We Swear (Four Thought) - BBC Radio 4 

Why Swearing Makes You Stronger - Alan Burdick, The New Yorker

Autism Roundtable // Imagining Autism

Finding Your Own Group Of Weird

Prior to the Living with Autism roundtable I had my own pre-conceived ideas about what it meant to be autistic. I bought into the Rain Man ideology and believed that autism was predominantly a male domain, with the notion that to be autistic meant living in an isolated bubble. I thought that certainly within those constraints public speaking would be impossible.

Two women on the panel, Annette and Chloe, were diagnosed as being autistic in their mid and late thirties, but were articulate, confident and gave a clear and coherent insight into their world of autism. They explained how society expected them to conform to a neurotypical model of what it is to be human, and how this leads to a myriad of mental health issues: obsessive behaviour; anxiety and sensory overload. Being female better equipped them to act out the neurotypical role publically but in their private lives they had frequent ‘melt-down’ moments. Listening to their testaments it was apparent that the reason for their late diagnosis was that as women they were able to mask things better than their male counterparts. This theme of ‘masking’ was also explored in a short film by Sharif Persaud, The Mask

Chloe showed a list of all the words that have been used by others to represent her, all derogatory and representative of the expectations of a neurotypical ideal. She now has found her ‘own group of weird’ and acknowledges that she is autistic and that is a intrinsic part of her personality. It cannot be removed. The overriding message of the roundtable was one of acceptance and inclusivity. Autism has its own set of rules. As one of the parents on the panel learnt, great minds don’t always think alike and sometimes we just have to learn to play differently and allow everyone to find their own group of weird.

-       Sandra Elkins

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Imagining Autism - University of Kent

National Autistic Society

Live It Well - Kent County Council

Mental Health Matters

Autism Research Centre

Touch Laboratory 'Weight' // Aistė Jančiūtė

A blindfold applied before the start of any performance somewhat hampers the critical gaze. One minute you’re a potential audience member, the next you’re in Guantanamo. But it’s by the seaside. And gentle hands are touching yours, guiding you across a pebble and sand landscape as your own weight makes you stumble and slide. The noise comes at you from all sides and there’s a woman’s voice checking off body parts and their weights: brain 100 grams, upper lip 20 grams. Then blindfold off, headphones on, lie down, look up …there’s light above … blindfold on and you’re stumbling again and as you sit, the cold weight of the world on your shoulders.

Touch Laboratory 'Weight' is an immersive piece of work resulting from the artist's month-long residency at the Folkestone seaside. She offers participants the 'experience [of] the concept of weight from physical, artistic, psychological and philosophical perspectives'. The reality of this intense hour in a room is an immersion in the world of the senses and sense deprivation, that at times can be hard to take. 

With immersive theatre under scrutiny this experiment-installation-performance at one point made me feel like the coyote in Joseph Beuys' I Love America and America Loves Me. Was I performer, participant, part of the installation, or just an unwitting subject of an experiment I didn’t quite understand?

A previous day at the Normal? Festival was given over to discussing autism, a condition that is often accompanied by hypersensitivity. Weight‘s assault on the senses was introduction to the feelings of overload that unexpected touch can bring. Cold heavy objects were tied to our bodies whilst all the time we are being watched. With new research suggesting that there could be a relationship between a lack of a normal sense of touch and more complex behaviours resulting in anxiety, Weight created numerous opportunities for participants to experience how each of the five human senses can be overloaded.

The show’s link to the town around it was explicit, and the performers’ careful engagement with each of us was evident. It was an intense and moving experience. But the acute sensory assault of participating in Weight could be overwhelming for anyone unprepared for the vulnerability of the human condition that this work exposes.

- Audrey Green Oakes

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Autism and Touch - Spectrum News

Immersive Theatre Growing Big Quickly - The Stage

I Love America and America Loves Me - Joseph Beuys

Senses Working Overtime - XTC

The Weight - The Band

Touch Laboratory 'Weight' by Aistė Jančiūtė


Bake Tell Tarts

What if you could use the nation’s love of cakes and the universal language of baking to open up conversations about dementia? This was the innovative, fun approach taken by Emma Harding in Bake Tell Tarts, a workshop at Normal? Festival of the Brain. 

Dementia - an umbrella term used to describe a range of conditions that affect the brain – is experienced by more than 850,000 people in the UK. And there are more than 200 types of dementia. These figures may seem surprising, and that’s because the condition’s impact on those living with, or caring for, those affected is still relatively unknown. 

Harding combines her love of baking and her position as a researcher at UCL’s Dementia Research Centre to push the conversation forward. After a brief roundtable, workshop participants brainstormed ideas as to who could benefit from learning more about dementia. Imagine the difference it might make if shopkeepers were more aware of the challenges a seemingly everyday task – shopping – presents to someone with dementia. Or if politicians kept this demographic in mind when allocating resources to health budgets and support services. For this to happen, we need to talk about the condition. 

And this is where the cakes come in. 

Through the practice of creating icing stamped with dementia-related phrases, I participated in conversations about the experience of living with the condition. These phrases: still the same old melife is not overemphasised the idea that those with dementia do not want to be defined by it; that it is a part of their identity rather than the whole. 

Once complete, the cakes could be used outside of the workshop environment to continue the conversation, spreading awareness of the condition and, perhaps increasing empathy. 

Bake Tell Tarts’cake-led engagement is a delicious way of exploring, challenging and shaping understanding of dementias through the creative arts. It is especially relevant as cooking and baking is an activity that stimulates the senses, and for some with dementia, can trigger memories related to food – a powerful and positive experience. 

Cakes bring people together. How wonderful would it be if, alongside eating them, we could have a fuller, more realistic conversation about the experience and impact of dementia on society. 

- Charlotte Forfieh

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

BakeTell Tarts

Activities for People with Dementia Based Around FoodSocial Care Institute for Excellence

Her Memory Fading, Paula Wolfert Fights Back With FoodNew York Times

Dementia UK

5 Things You Should Know About Dementia - Alzheimers Society

University College London Dementia Research Centre

Created Out of Mind