Curating/containing: Exhibiting digital art about mental health
Vanessa Bartlett and Lizzie Muller / Australia
UNSW Art & Design
Museums and galleries have always been recognized as creating wellbeing outcomes. This paper builds upon this existing dis- course with a study that is specific to the curation of digital art- works addressing the topic of mental health. It documents my own practice based research and audience response to the exhibi- tion: Group Therapy: Mental Distress in a Digital Age, held at FACT, UK in 2015. Audience feedback was gathered using a psychosocial research method called the visual matrix, which is designed to capture more affective responses than existing meth- ods of arts evaluation. Presenting this feedback, I focus on a perceived dichotomy between the historical and the digital, where audiences understood the asylum as a place of sanctuary and the digital content as anxiety provoking. I use this tension to propose next steps in my own practice alongside some wider considerations for curatorial approaches to digital art dealing with mental health. Issues of curatorial care are central, as I consider how a curator can support audiences to encounter challenging digital artworks that deal with mental distress. I adapt and test Wilfred Bion’s concept of container-contained (also a key theoretical component of the visual matrix method) as a paradigm for this caretaking function.