Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The history of dazzle

My interest in patterns and colour has lead me to research Dazzle camouflage. The following article details the history of dazzle.

"In late October 1917, King George V spent an afternoon inspecting a new division of Britain’s merchant naval service, the intriguingly named “Dazzle Section”.

The visit came during one of the worst periods in war that had already battered British sea power. German U-boat technology was a devastating success; fully one-fifth of Britain’s merchant ships, ferrying supplies to the British Isles, had been sunk by the end of 1916. The next year brought fresh horror: Desperate to grind down the Allies and bring an end to this costly war, the Kaiser declared unrestricted submarine warfare on January 31, 1917, promising to torpedo any ship that came within the warzone. Imperial U-boats made good on that promise – on April 17, 1917 a U-boat torpedoed a hospital ship, the HMHS Lanfranc, in the English Channel, killing 40 people, including 18 wounded German soldiers. “Hun Savagery” read the headlines. The Lanfranc’s sinking was outrageous, but it was by no means the only one – between March and December 1917, British ships of all kinds were blown out of the water at a rate of 23 a week, 925 ships by the end of that period.

So it was imperative that what George V was about to see worked.

The King was shown a tiny model ship, painted not standard battleship gray, but in an explosion of dissonant stripes and swoops of contrasting colors. The model was mounted on a turntable set against a seascape backdrop. George was then asked to estimate the ship’s course, based on his observations from a periscope fixed about 10 feet away. The King had served in the Royal Navy before the death of his older brother put him first in line for the throne, and he knew what he was doing. “South by west,” was his answer.

“East-southeast” came the answer from Norman Wilkinson, head of the new department. George V was astounded, dazzled even. “I have been a professional sailor for many years,” the confounded King reportedly said, “and I would not have believed I could have been so deceived in my estimate.”

Dazzle, it seems, was a success.

How to camouflage ships at sea was one of the big questions of World War I. From the early stages of the war, artists, naturalists and inventors showered the offices of the United States Navy and the British Royal Navy with largely impractical suggestions on making ships invisible: Cover them in mirrors, disguise them as giant whales, drape them in canvas to make them look like clouds. Eminent inventor Thomas Edison’s scheme of making a ship appear like an island – with trees, even – was actually put into practice. The S.S. Ockenfels, however, only made it as far as New York Harbor before everyone realized what a bad and impractical idea it was when part of the disguise, a canvas covering, blew away. Though protective coloring and covers worked on land, the sea was a vastly different environment. Ships moved through changing light and visibility, they were subject to extreme weather, they belched black smoke and bled rust. Any sort of camouflage would have to work in variable and challenging conditions.

Wilkinson’s innovation, what would be called “dazzle,” was that rather than using camouflage to hide the vessel, he used it to hide the vessel’s intention. Later he’d say that he’d realized that, “Since it was impossible to paint a ship so that she could not be seen by a submarine, the extreme opposite was the answer – in other words, to paint her, not for low visibility, but in such a way as to break up her form and thus confuse a submarine officer as the course on which she was heading.”

In order for a U-boat gunner to fire and hit his target from as far as 1,900 meters away (and not closer than 300 meters, as torpedoes required at least that much running distance to arm), he had to accurately predict where the target would be based on informed guesses. Compounding the difficulty was the fact that he had typically less than 30 seconds to sight the target ship through the periscope, or risk the periscope’s wake being seen and giving away the submarine’s location. Typical U-boats could only carry 12 very expensive and very slow torpedoes at a time, so the gunner had to get it right the first time.

“If you’re hunting for ducks, right, all you have to do is lead the target and it’s a simple process. But if you’re a submarine aiming at a ship, you have to calculate how fast a ship is going, where is it going, and aim the torpedo so that they both get to the same spot at the same time,” says Roy Behrens, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa, author of several books on Dazzle camouflage and the writer behind the camouflage resource blog Camoupedia. Wilkinson’s idea was to “dazzle” the gunner so that he would either be unable to take the shot with any confidence or spoil it if he did. “Wilkinson said you had to only be 8 to 10 degrees off for the torpedo to miss. And even if it were hit, if [the torpedo] didn’t hit the most vital part, that would be better than being hit directly.”

Wilkinson used broad swathes of contrasting colors—black and white, green and mauve, orange and blue—in geometric shapes and curves to make it difficult to determine the ship’s actual shape, size and direction. Curves painted across the side of the ship could create a false bow wave, for example, making the ship seem smaller or imply that it was heading in a different direction: Patterns disrupting the line of the bow or stern made it hard to tell which was the front or back, where the ship actually ended, or even whether it was one vessel or two; and angled stripes on the smokestacks could make the ship seem as if it was facing in the opposite direction. One American dazzle camoufleur (the actual term for a camouflage artist) referred to the optical distortion concept undergirding Dazzle as “reverse perspective”, also known as forced perspective and accelerated perspective, optical illusions that create a disconnect between what the viewer perceives and what is really happening (think of all those photos of tourists holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa). In practice, that meant that the system did have its limitations – it could only be applied to ships that would be targeted by periscopes, because it worked best when seen from the low-down viewpoint of a U-boat gunner.

“It’s counterintuitive. People can’t really believe that you could interfere with the visibility of something by making it more highly visible, but they don’t understand how the human eye works, that something needs to stand out from the background and hold together as an integral figure,” says Behrens.

Wilkinson was, in some ways, an unlikely innovator. At 38, he was known as talented painter of landscapes and maritime scenes – his painting of Portsmouth Harbour went down in the smoking rooms of the Titanic. Nothing in his work augers the kind of modern, avant garde aesthetic that Dazzle possessed. But crucially, Wilkinson had both an understanding of perspective and a relationship with the Admiralty and merchant shipping authorities. An enthusiastic yacht racer, he’d joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves at the outbreak of war. In 1917, he was a lieutenant in command of an 83-foot patrol launch that swept the central English Channel for mines, according to Nicholas Rankin in his book, A Genius For Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars. And where other innovators, including John Graham Kerr, a Scottish naturalist whose similar camouflage ideas were used briefly and discarded by the Royal Navy, failed, Wilkinson’s straightforward charisma helped his rather outrĂ© idea be taken seriously by important people, wrote Peter Forbes in Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage.

After earning support for the idea, Wilkinson was given the chance to test his theory in the water. The first ship to be dazzled was a small store ship called the HMS Industry; when it was launched in May 1917, coastguards and other ships sailing the British coast were asked to report their observations of the vessel when they encountered it. Enough observers were sufficiently confused that by the beginning of October 1917, the Admiralty asked Wilkinson to dazzle 50 troopships.

Though the new initiative had backing from both the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy, it was still operating on a wartime budget. The Royal Academy of Arts offered up four unused studios for headquarters and Wilkinson went to work with a team of 19– five artists, three model makers, and 11 female art students who hand-colored the technical plans for the final designs (one later became Wilkinson’s wife). Each design not only had to be unique to prevent U-boat crews from getting used to them, but they also had to be tailored to individual ships. Wilkinson and his artists designed schemes first on paper, and then painted them on tiny, rough-hewn wooden models, which they’d place in the mock seascape George V saw. The models were examined through periscopes in various lighting. Designs were chosen for “maximum distortion”, Wilkinson later wrote, and handed off to the art students to map out on technical drafts, to be then executed by ship painters on ships in dry dock. By June 1918, less than a year after the division was created, some 2,300 British ships were dazzled, a number that would swell to more than 4,000 by the end of the war.

The United States, which joined the war on April 6, 1917, was then grappling with as many as six systems of camouflage, most of which peddled low visibility or invisibility to private ship owners. The Navy, however, had little confidence in the claims of diminished visibility and moreover, was also dealing with the fact that many of its ships had been German ships – meaning that the enemy knew their speed and vulnerabilities. When news of the dazzle system and its ability to mask the speed and kind of ships reached Britain’s new ally, a young Franklin Roosevelt, then assistant to the secretary of the navy, agreed to meet with Wilkinson to discuss it. After another successful demonstration of dazzle, in which a confused U.S. admiral reportedly exploded, “How the hell do you expect me to estimate the course of a God-damn thing all painted up like that?”, Wilkinson was asked to help set up an American dazzle department under the Navy’s Bureau of Construction and Repair. Wilkinson spent five weeks in the U.S., with Everett Warner, an artist and Naval Reserve officer who would head up the Washington, D.C. dazzle subsection, as his host. Chummy as that sounds, it wasn’t.

“There was a lot of fighting or jealousy or whatever between the U.K. and the U.S.,” says Behrens with a chuckle. “If you go to the correspondence, you find that the American artists are making fun of [Wilkinson] and all sort of that thing. Warner arrived at the idea that Wilkinson didn’t know what he was doing and that what he was doing was quite haphazard.”

However the British and American departments felt about each other, they were still creating visually disruptive designs that on the face of it, were very much alike: Broad stripes and curves of white, black, green, blue, spiky and jagged and very Modern art. This was not lost on contemporary journalists, who branded the dazzled ships a “futurist’s bad dream” and “floating Cubist paintings”, as well as “an intoxicated snake”, “a Russian toyshop gone mad”, and a “cross between a boiler explosion and a railroad accident”. That dazzle bore such a similarity to burgeoning movements in art wasn’t lost on the artists, either – Picasso even claimed that Dazzle was actually his idea.

But Modern art, which had been introduced in America at the 1913 Armory Show, was an object of derision and suspicion for contemporary newspapers. “Very frequently in newspapers and magazines, they were trying to explain it to the public and I think [the public] had great difficulty believing it was legitimate,” says Behrens. “But on the other hand, that’s why it was fascinating.” This amusement and fascination in equal measure reflected how the public saw dazzle. It was lampooned in newspaper cartoons, of course – one image shows painters tarring a road in dazzle patterns – but its distinctive look also popped up on bathing suits and dresses, cars and window displays. “Dazzle balls”, for which attendees dressed in dazzle-inspired costumes, gained popularity as ways to raise money for the war effort.

Still, convincing Naval personnel dazzle was more than just fun was difficult. “I had a large of collection of [correspondence from] experienced Navy officers and ship captains making fun of it. It made them sick that their pristine ship was painted with all these Jezebel patterns,” says Behrens, noting that the idea of these flashy ships seemed to subvert their sense of military order. The ships were so wild that some American observers started calling them “jazz” ships, after the improvisational style of popular contemporary music. But Warner, who applied a scientific rigor to understanding how his designs worked, rejected that comparison. Dazzle was, he said, “firmly grounded in the book of Euclid” on geometric principles of visual disruption and proportion, and was not the work of a “group of crazy Cubists”, Behrens recounted in his book, False Colors.

However founded on science it was, determining whether Dazzle actually worked is difficult. In theory, it should work: Behrens found that in 1919, near the end of the war, an MIT engineering student studied the efficacy of individual designs using one of the original model observation theaters provided by the Navy. Three sets of observers were given the same test that George V and the unnamed American naval commander failed. Designs that yielded a higher degree of course error were considered successful; the most successful were off by as much as 58 degrees, when just 10 degrees would be sufficient for a fired torpedo to miss its target. Similarly, in 2011, researchers from the University of Bristol determined that dazzle patterns could disrupt an observer’s perception of the speed of a moving target, and could even have a place on modern battlefields.

But lab conditions are hardly real life. Forbes, in his book, writes that the Admiralty commissioned a report on dazzled ships that came out in September 1918. The statistics were less than conclusive: In the first quarter of 1918, for example, 72 percent of dazzled ships that were attacked were sunk or damaged versus 62 percent of non-dazzled, implying that dazzle did not minimize torpedo damage.

In the second quarter, the statistics reversed themselves: 60 percent of attacks on dazzled ships ended in sinking or damage, compared to 68 percent of non-dazzled. More dazzled than non-dazzled ships were being attacked in the same period, 1.47 percent versus 1.2 percent, but fewer of the dazzled ships were sunk when hit. The Admiralty concluded that though dazzle probably didn’t hurt, it also probably wasn’t helping. American dazzled ships fared better – of the 1,256 ships dazzled between March 1 and November 11, 1918, both merchant and Naval, only 18 were sunk – perhaps owing to the different seas in which American ships were sailing. Ultimately, Behrens said it’s difficult to retroactively determine whether dazzle was truly a success, noting, “I don’t think it will ever be clear.”

And in truth, it didn’t matter whether dazzle actually worked or not: Insurance companies thought it did and therefore lowered premiums on dazzled ships. At the same time, the Admiralty’s investigation into dazzle noted that even if it didn’t work, morale on dazzled ships was higher than on non-dazzled and that was reason alone to keep it.

By November 1918, however, the war was over, though the battle between Wilkinson and the Scottish naturalist Kerr over who actually invented dazzle was just heating up. Kerr argued that he’d introduced the Admiralty to a similar idea back in 1914 and demanded recognition. The Admiralty eventually sided with Wilkinson and awarded him £2,000 for dazzle; for years after, however, Kerr never gave up the idea that he’d been cheated and the two men would trade snide comments through the next war. But exactly what they were fighting over was soon forgotten. Ships require frequent painting – it’s part of what keeps them preserved – so the Allied vessels lost their dazzled coating under a more sober gray. Though World War II saw a resurgence of dazzle in an effort to hide a ship’s class and make, its use was limited and dazzle’s legacy was again buried under layers of maritime paint.

Sort of. Because though dazzle’s influence on naval warfare may have been short-lived, its impact on art and culture remains significant even now. Dazzle, though functional in its intent, was also part of a wave of Futurism, cubism, expressionism, and abstract art that eroded the centuries of representational art’s dominance. The look of dazzle later re-emerged in 1960s Op-art, which employed similar techniques of perspective and optical illusion, and in the mass market fashion that followed. Even today, dazzle remains fashionable, recalled in the aggressive patterns of designers like Jonathan Saunders, or more directly referenced in the “Urban Dazzle” collection of French sportswear designer Lacoste, the Dazzle rainboots from Hunter, and upscale British handbag label Mulberry’s Dazzle collection.

“Dazzle is just everywhere, it’s such a successful visual design system. It’s hugely attractive… I think it’s been used – plundered as it were – but used as a kind of inspiration certainly in fashion,” notes Jenny Waldman, director of 14-18 Now, an ambitious arts program working in partnership with the Imperial War Museum, the British government, and U.K. arts organizations to commemorate the centenary of the World War I. Dazzle was everywhere but on ships – even if the designs themselves weren’t forgotten, the link between them and the war was. “There are a lot of great untold stories, and the dazzle ship is a kind of whopping great untold story,” says Waldman.

That changed, however, when in 2014, 14-18 Now called on contemporary artists to dazzle real-life vessels. Explains Waldman, “The brief was very much to be inspired by the dazzle ships rather then try to recreate the Dazzle designs or functionality in any way.”

Finding artists, Waldman says, was easier than finding ships, but they eventually managed to locate three. The Snowdrop, designed by Sir Peter Blake, the artist who created the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, is actually a working ferry on the River Mersey in Liverpool and will be operational through December 2016. The other two ships recently finished their deployment: The Edmund Gardner, an historic pilot ship in drydock outside the Mersey Maritime Museum in Liverpool, was painted in green, orange, and black stripes by Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez and the HMS President, which is permanently docked on the River Thames, was dazzled in grey, black, white and orange by artist Tobias Rehberger. The President is one of only three surviving Royal Navy ships that served in the First World War; called the HMS Saxifrage when it was built in 1918, it was actually dazzled by Wilkinson and his team during its tour of duty.

So far, more than 13.5 million people have seen, visited, or sailed on the dazzled ships and 14-18 Now recently announced that a fourth ship, the MV Fingal, a former lighthouse tender docked at the Port of Leith in Edinburgh, will be dazzled by Scottish artist Ciara Phillips. The ship will be unveiled in late May, in time for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

“The wonderful thing about our ships is that they are very big and they’re very public, and the Mersey ferry you can go on, it makes them hugely accessible,” says Waldman. The fact that they show very well on social media has helped to spread the story of the dazzle ships. The ships also speak, as Waldman says, to “the power of contemporary art to reveal and explore the unknown stories of the First World War.” Waldman continued, “People see the dazzle ferry and they think, ‘I want to go on that, that looks phenomenal’ and when they’re on it, they find out more. And then they tell their friends and 13-and-a-half million people now know about the dazzle ships.”

So perhaps this time, the story of the dazzle ships and their place in the science and art of making war won’t be forgotten."


Sunday, 28 January 2018

The Women Artists of the North East Library invites…The Walking Library for Women Walking

The Walking Library is an ongoing art project created by Misha Myers and Dee Heddon, that seeks to bring together walking and books – walking, reading, reflecting, writing… Each Walking Library they create responds to – is specific to – the context of its walking. Each walk changes the shape – the content and the actions – of the library.

Using The Walking Library as a catalyst for The Women Artists of the North East Library, we took a selection of books on a walk around Newcastle.

We each had to choose a book from either the Walking Library or The Women Artists of the North East Library, and carry this with us as we walked round Newcastle. The books on offer in the libraries were varied, ranging from art books, fiction, poetry, books on walking, books about weather to feminist texts.

The book I chose was A field Guide to getting lost by Rebecca Solnit. I had not read it before.

We set off from The Northern Charter and were told that we would go on a stroll during which we would be looking out for women and stopping at places that people felt were appropriate to share a reading from their chosen text. As many of us had never read our chosen books, we were encouraged to flick through the books as we walked (at the same time as remaining alert to passing traffic and avoiding injury!).

Holly Argent lead the walk, having prepared a route with various points of interest in relation to women in the city. For example, we stopped at Ellison Place where Ethal Bentham once lived. Ethal was the first woman doctor and the first woman to drive a car.

I was amazed by how easy it was to find a relevant passage of text from the unfamiliar books as we walked through the city.

Our route included

- The Golden woman on the jewellers at the top of Pilgrim Street

- A stop outside Fenwick's where the upstairs cafe was said to be a personal favourite of Ethal Bentham's and the first place where women could meet together to chat and enjoy tea. We also found out that the powder rooms in the toilets are a sight to admire!

- Some benches on Northumberland Street that had seahorse decorations (one of the group was carrying a book with a seahorse on the front cover)

- A plaque commemorating the release of Kathleen Brown, one of the sufragettes

- St John's Church where Christina Umfred (Anchoress) lived

- The Beehive pub, where we were watched by a crowd of men inside

- Bigg Market

and finally The Lit and Phil Library

Over the duration of the walk we shared extracts from nearly all of the books, and it was a good way to discover things to read that you may not otherwise have discovered.



The World is Never Quiet

Last night I visited Durham Town Hall to watch a rehearsed reading of The World is Never Quiet, a new play by David Napthine.

David was writer in residence for the world’s first major exhibition on voice-hearing – Hearing Voices: suffering, inspiration and the everyday – that took place at Durham University’s Palace Green Library from November 2016 to February 2017. David has used this experience to construct a play about Durham and its voice-hearers.

The event was held in a very grand room within Durham Town Hall. The layout of the room was cabaret style seating. 

After a brief introduction to the event, 9 actors took to the stage in an arched line facing the audience.

The narrative featured a range of individuals all of whom experienced hearing voices in some form. For example, one character, Carol, was caught in the middle of a nagging motherly voice and the voice of her better self. Another character experienced spiritual and religious voices. The narrative skipped from one actor to another, giving the impression that these voices were scattered around the city.

Given that this is a work in progress, the audience were encouraged to provide some feedback:

The grand setting of the Town Hall had an impact on my reading of the performance. I could not help but feel a distance between the actors and the audience. The formality of the hall placed me in an unfamiliar situation somewhat disconnected to contemporary society. The sense of grandeur that was created by the venue, did not seem appropriate for the play. My feeling of slight unease at being in such a venue made it more challenging for me to connect with the action. There was a sense of hierarchy and the actors were presenting to the audience as opposed to being integrated within the audience.

This was particularly true of one of the actors who exaggerated their lines in a way that was quite patronising and as though they were narrating and talking to a child. They were giving an account of hearing voices as opposed to some of the others who seemed to be sharing their experience of living with voices. This second approach was much more genuine and engaging.

I appreciated hearing the range of different types of voices that the characters experienced. I saw this as an effort to avoid conforming to the stigma that associates hearing voices with mental illness, psychosis and schizophrenia. I believe this is a real strength of the play and is commendable.

Overall, I found the narrative enjoyable, and think that with some simple adjustments to the staging and delivery of the lines, that the play could be really good.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Cameraless 16mm film animation

Following from the cameraless 16mm film animation workshop that I did with Hands on Film Lab in December, I have become a member of the film lab and have been working on my own film strips. 

I used the lab to splice together the film stirps and preview them on the 16mm projector. Here are some stills from one of the film reels.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Studio is Sudden: Nadia Hebson

Image: Vyt Residency programme, New York May, 2014

Between November 2017 and February 2018 Giles Bailey & CIRCA Projects have invited a number of guests who take interesting and unique approaches to working with archival material, rethinking the contemporary by moving away from dominant narratives in history. This week's event was a conversation with Nadia Hebson as she reflected upon her recent practice.

Nadia writes

“When considering the legacy of American painter Christina Ramberg and her creative female circle I have made paintings in concert with large-scale prints, objects and text. When called to I’ve described the work through a narrative of recuperation, a reconsideration of overlooked histories, aware this was a partial truth perhaps more diminishing than expanding.

One afternoon in Antwerp the writers Daniela Cascella, Kate Briggs and myself met to discuss Daniela’s book ‘Singed’, Daniela had just read an excerpt that described her coming to Clarice Lispector, a woman writer drawn to a woman writer, but a description of recuperation wasn’t enough to describe this exchange. Daniela, Kate and myself searched for another way to acknowledge this work, our work and the impulses that drive it, criticism seemed like the only option.

Italian feminist Carla Lonzi had a theory that in order to break the monologue of patriarchal history women needed to articulate their subjective experience through a collective endeavour, as unexpected subjects they could converse with other women both in and across time. Lonzi named this political act resonance, a means by which to avoid complicity with the patriarchy, a means by which to undo the roles linked to women’s oppression.

If the work I make needs to resist categories, how do I talk about it, how do I make it and what is it? Not interested in re-configuring canons but addressing alternative histories through self-reflexive means (maybe?) how do we even start a conversation, please let’s start a conversation”.

I admire Nadia's articulacy and depth of knowledge, and have held the impression that her work is heavily researched and academic. I was therefore surprised to find out that the way her work is framed in the academic field is not necessarily how she wants the work to be understood. Throughout the conversation Nadia spoke about her personal reaction to other artists work and the memories and associations that are attached to particular materials. Framing her work in terms of archives seems to ignore the more subjective and intuitive nature of Nadia's practice.

Sadly, I did not have long to spend in Nadia's studio, but what was obvious was that there was a continual process of play with materials, colours, forms and imagery and I think that the language used to describe Nadia's practice does not necessarily recognise these important aspects of her process and work.

The conversation was a very effective way of learning more about what Nadia is interested in and her process of making work. Thank you to her and CIRCA Projects for sharing this with me and the audience.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Emily’s Voices by Emily Knoll reviewed by Nancy Nyquist Potter

Emily’s Voices by Emily Knoll (Knoll Publications, 2017).

Reviewed by Nancy Nyquist Potter, Professor of Philosophy and Associate with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Louisville.

Emily Knoll offers readers a first-person account of her experiences with voice-hearing, telling of her journey of fear and despair, and her growing path to understanding not only herself but the phenomenon as well. Her memoir is aimed at a young adult audience and is written accessibly but powerfully in the present tense, giving an immediacy and concreteness to Emily’s story. This memoir is extremely rich in conveying to readers a non-pathologizing way to think about voice-hearing and voice-hearers. It should be read not only by voice-hearers themselves, who will find comfort in her narrative, but also by mental health professionals, as it presents a challenge to the biomedical model of voice-hearing as evidence of psychosis. 

Emily describes in detail the experiences of overwhelming emotions that accompany and sometimes lead up to voice-hearing. Terror, shame, confusion, anger, failure as work and education become too difficult, and low self-esteem are almost constant companions in her path toward knowledge, recovery, and employment. These varying emotions are conveyed clearly in ways that many readers can relate to and which may help them understand what Emily’s experience of being a voice-hearer has been. As Emily interprets them, her voices are separate from her (87). During one period of her early life, she develops eating disorders as a way to cope with her emotions. Later, she turns to alcohol, which she learns makes her feel more depressed and even suicidal. She also goes through agonizing periods of isolation, which serve to protect her but tend to increase the voices and her anguish. She longs for connection—to tell others what she was feeling, and she needs listeners who will understand and not treat her like she’s crazy. But as she begins to see psychiatrists who diagnose and medicate her, she fears that she is ‘trapped within a world of illness’ (108). ‘I’m not who I was before I cracked up,’ she screams at her mother (p. 90). Cycles of retreat and resistance are discouraging and defeating. She does have some close friends, such as Beth and Daniel, who listen, spend time with her, and stand by her, and the role of these people in her life cannot be over emphasized; friends keep her tethered to love and reality, and give her hope that she is capable, worthwhile, interesting, and fun just as she is.

Challenging the biomedical model. 
Emily’s experiences with mental health professionals illuminate the need for more clinicians to learn to think differently about voice-hearing and to challenge the prevailing model. While some clinicians in Emily’s story play a crucial role in departing from the biomedical model, others do so less. The question directly arises in Emily’s story of what the ontology of voice-hearing is and what meaning to make of it. Emily receives numerous diagnoses, including Borderline Personality Disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia; none of them seem to fit. Schizophrenia seems to be the most common diagnosis given, perhaps due to an ontological and epistemic commitment to categorizing voice-hearing as a symptom of psychosis. But, as I explain below, it has become increasingly clear that not all voice-hearers are mentally ill, and the question arises as to just what to make of such experiences and when to think of them as symptomatic and when not to. Causality is also a contested issue in voice-hearing. Emily, who as an adult is an academic student working towards her Master’s degree, is a brilliant, talented, and sensitive child when we meet her. Her childhood development occurs in the context of her father’s abandonment, pressure from her mother to be a high achiever, and tension between her grandmother and her parents. Early on, Emily draws on imaginative powers to entertain herself and to escape difficulty in daily life. She often needs to retreat from uncomfortable and tense environments. Yet it is not clear that her voice-hearing is caused by traumatic experiences. After undertaking considerable research into others with such experiences, Emily concludes that ‘This trauma paradigm risked being as reductive a model as the biomedical explanation that psychiatry gave for voice-hearing’ (154).

In terms of treatment, some clinicians suggest that she needs to lower her expectations, and they medicate her in ways that she finds are dampening her creativity (96). These forms of treatment are fairly common experiences for voice-hearers. But other clinicians normalize Emily’s voice-hearing, bringing together questions of ontology with questions about treatment and recovery. When Emily arrives at University, for example, her therapist Daphne Coton explains that ‘You can hear voices and not be psychotic,’ a position that some clinicians who are committed to the biomedical model of mental disorders may reject (154). Daphne also tells Emily that ‘the voices are parts of yourself’—an idea that seems antithetical to Emily’s belief that they are separate from her— and she asserts that no medication can make the voices go away. ‘We all hear inner voices,’ Daphne says to Emily. ‘It’s just that yours are outside your head. So you have to work hard to remind yourself that they come from within you. And that it’s your mind creating them’ (104). Later, when Emily tells Daphne, ‘I just wish that I was like the others, and I didn’t hear voices,’ Dr. Coton bluntly replies, ‘Well tough, you do. So you’ve got to think of ways to cope.’ A central part of Emily’s coping and recovery includes becoming part of a network of people who are talking about voice-hearing and reframing it so that it isn’t as stigmatizing and damaging (see below.) Many clinicians guide Emily toward communities with whom she can feel more comfortable. For instance, she is recommended to attending a ‘hearing voices’ training course to learn to facilitate peer support groups, and this somewhat alleviates isolation and stress by finding connection with others who will listen openly and respectfully and will be encouraging of change and growth.

An important message in Emily’s book is that there is no monolithic way to frame voice-hearing. Instead, there exist diverse experiences and many strategies of dealing with voices. Some reject their voices and yell at them to go away, others have a dialogue with them. Emily learns that some voice-hearers accept their voices and even welcome them.

Goffman describes stigma as an experience of being deeply discredited due to some characteristic or attribute of a person. He argues that, rather than thinking of stigma in terms of negative attributes, it is better to think of it as a relation between groups. In mental illness (or perceptions of it), the relation is that the stigmatizing attributes are always understood in the context of the ‘normals’ (Thachuk 141). ‘Public stigma encompasses negative stereotypes, prejudice and discriminative behaviours present in the general public, while self-stigma refers to internalization of these stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination’ (Vilhauer 2017, 6). Thus, stigma is part of a complex knowledge structure that negatively affects marked social groups (Corrigan 2004). In fact, Thachuk reports that people considered to have mental illnesses often find the stigma attached to them to be far more painful than ‘having’ the mental illness itself(141). Just referring to voice-hearing as ‘auditory hallucinations’ is stigmatizing, because hallucinations are clinically and popularly associated with schizophrenia and psychosis. Vilhauer (2017) found that media associates voice hearing with schizophrenia; she performed a literature review on damage experienced by voice-hearers who are stigmatized. Harms suffered by the stigma of voice-hearing include not being able to talk with others about the experience because of fear and shame; isolation; low self-esteem; and heightened stress of living alone with a confusing problem. Additionally, when mental health professionals hold low expectations for recovery, voice-hearers can become discouraged and trapped in illness (see 108; 173). These are all difficulties that Emily writes about in her memoir, where she makes vivid how destructive the stigma of voice-hearing really is.

Emily’s story is one of struggle, terror, and pain—but it is also one of persistence. Readers come to see that lowered expectations of people who hear voices and have a diagnosis of psychosis are not always appropriate and may even be undermining. Despite mistakes, Emily continues to pick herself up, find avenues of recovery, and dedicate herself to playing the cello and to research on voice-hearing. In fact, I have permission to report here that Emily is a pseudonym for Roz Austin, who received her Ph.D. in 2017 from Durham University as a member of the ‘Hearing the Voice’ research project. Drawing on work in cultural and emotional geography, Dr. Austin’s survivor-researcher-led project investigates emotional aspects of the experience of hearing voices and demonstrates the significance of space and spatial metaphors in voice-hearers’ relationships with their voices.

Emily’s Voices is a poignant and ground-breaking memoir on the phenomenological experience of one voice-hearing person that plainly illustrates the fears, hopes, and strength it requires to face stigma and loneliness yet come out radiant. I was moved by reading this memoir and urge clinicians to read it and consider the limitations of the biomedical model and the successes of other treatment options for voice-hearers.


Corrigan, P. 2004. How stigma interferes with mental health care. American Psychologist: 614-625.

Thachuk, A. Stigma and the politics of biomedical models of mental illness. International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, Special Issue: Feminist Perspectives on Ethics in Psychiatry, 4(1): 140-163.

Vilhauer, RP. 2017. Stigma and need for care in individuals who hear voices. Int. J. Soc Psychiatry, 63(1): 5-13.



Saturday, 20 January 2018

Against Everything - Mark Greif as part of Reading for _____ at The NewBridge Project

On Monday, at the first of what is intended to be a regular series of sessions at The NewBridge Project, Daniel Russell selected Against Everything by Mark Greif as the text to be shared and discussed.

"Against Everything is a thought-provoking study and essential guide to the vicissitudes of everyday life under twenty-first-century capitalism. He challenges us to rethink the ordinary world and take life seriously."

Dan chose to focus on the first essay within the book, Against Exercise because he had noticed a similarity between the behaviour and mentality applied when going to a present-day gym and that of production line employees in the industrial society. Has our change of working conditions i.e. less manual labour, had an impact on the way we want to exercise? Are we nostalgic about factory work?

Rather than operating the conveyor belt, we turn to the gym to walk on the conveyor belt.

We employ a personal trainer to punish us in order to liberate ourselves.

We track progress by focusing on numbers - output = kilometres walked, weight lifted, calories burned etc

We criticise those who don't partake in the gym culture

The need to go to the gym is another example of the desire to be productive, doing something worthwhile with our time and even manage to do two things at once at the gym, workout while catching up on the latest television, listening to music etc.

The gym is a public space where private activities are carried out. Acts that previously would be regarded as private actions are now done in front of others, we puff, pant and grunt as we put our bodies through hard labour.

And the reason for these efforts? Greif argues that our actions are intended to prolong our lives, yet argues that in doing so, we are forgetting how to live.

I do not necessarily agree with this argument. He fails to consider the enjoyment that many people yield from participating in exercise and the social aspect of going to the gym.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Reading for _______ at The NewBridge Project

On Monday evening I attended Reading for _______ , a Practice Make Practice event at The NewBridge Project. It was programmed with Nathaniel Whitfield, who is currently undertaking Practice Makes Practice – A Social Residency at The NewBridge Project.

“The purpose of Art” James Baldwin wrote “is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers”.

"With the aim of provoking discussion, engagement and even disagreement with each other, we hope this space will shed light and provide us with new ways of seeing and articulating ideas."

This was the first of what is intended to be a series of sessions "where we can come together to share each other’s ideas through the texts we are reading individually."

The sessions take the following format:

  • A group member brings to the session a text / essay / book / podcast / film that they are currently engaging with 
  • The group member briefly presents to the group the reasons they are reading / listening / watching them and how they are finding them
  • The group reads from / listens to / watches some selected sections of the item to be discussed
  • The group has a discussion, shares ideas and opinions and makes suggestions of other sources that are related and could be of interest
"In listening to one another we are able to engage in a process of unlearning which opens up a space for re-articulation and re-materialization of ideas. We are 'undone' by one another, as Judith Butler would say."

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Jacqueline Donachie - Right here among them at The Fruitmarket Gallery

I fondly remember the artist talk that Jackie Donachie delivered to the Environmental Art students at Glasgow School of Art. I was in the second year of my undergraduate degree, and was really taken by the social aspect of Jackie's work and the way in which she goes about making work.

I specifically recall her telling us about how she struggled to make work immediately after graduating. She explained that after going to Art School, she needed to earn some money and so worked in a bar. It was while working at the bar that she created Advice Bar (1995), "a makeshift bar manned by the artist, who gave out drinks in exchange for problems, for which she would offer advice." It has since existed in many versions. For the Fruitmarket exhibition the gallery has been developed into Advice Bar (Expanded for the Times) (2017), a long concrete bar which cuts intrusively through the lower gallery. I enjoy the way that Donachie adapts the work according to the context. It seems particularly relevant that we have an opportunity and space to discuss problems given the current political and social state of the world. 

Also in the downstairs gallery, Temple of Jackie (2011), is another work that I was familiar with in a previous iteration. The adapted camping trailer was used to serve soup and drinks at the opening of the Glasgow Sculpture Studios when they relocated to Kelvinhaugh Street. I was working at Glasgow Sculpture Studios at the time, and so was involved in the set-up of this installation. The trailer has also been used "to screen films, as a DJ booth (as here), as part of the impromptu, socially engaged part of her practice. The Temple will be used for several events throughout the course of the exhibition."

Upstairs, the work took a slightly different slant. Through my knowledge of Donachie's work, I was aware that she has being investigating myotonic dystrophy, an inherited muscular degenerative disorder that affects several members of Donachie’s family, but not the artist herself. "In the video, Pose Work for Sisters (2016), shown upstairs, Donachie and her sister, Susan, pose before the camera in homage to Bruce McLean’s Pose Work for Plinths (1971). The sisters interact with the props in different ways, striking complementary poses that require various amounts of flexibility, balance and strength. Though the family resemblance can be seen, a disparity in the physical capabilities of the women becomes apparent."

The monitor showing Pose Work for Sisters (2016) is placed upon In the End Times (2017), a steel ramped platform that has been powder-coated dark grey. This non-slip surface is often used for stairs, walkways and ramps, and for the floors of trucks, trailers and ferries.

In the End Times (2017) has the appearance of an item of 'urban furniture', as do other works such as Walk With Me (2017), a green line of aluminium tubing that cuts through the gallery and acts as a drawing in space. 

The large drawings of lampposts and CCTV cameras on poles belong to Glimmer (2013–), an ongoing series. In the context of the other work, I became aware of the fragility of the structures, how they lean and can take on quite human-like stances.


It was fascinating to see such a range of new and old work made by Donachie. I enjoyed the more sculptural, material-focused aspects of her work alongside the more socially engaged event-based part of her practice. At the root of all the work there is an underlying interest in how individuals exist in the world, things that unite us, and things that distance us from others. There is a sense of trying to find a way of existing within society.