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FACT, the centre for digital art in Liverpool is currently hosting the Lesions in the Landscape exhibition, which seeks to draw parallels between one woman’s experience of amnesia and the evacuation of St.Kilda’s island in 1930.

Dubbed ‘the island with no memory’, food, fuel and building materials were extremely difficult to come by, and citizens started to leave in the mid 1850’s. St. Kilda’s was finally depopulated in 1830, after years of hardship and very poor living conditions.

It is this sense of isolation and alienation that artist Shona Ilingsworth seeks to link with the experiences of Claire, an ordinary woman who is experiencing amnesia.

It is St.Kilda’s imposing barren landscape that we are confronted with when we enter the exhibition, as three screens almost swallow the viewer whole. Gulls screech and swoop overhead as we are offered images of the coast of St.Kilda’s. That is exactly what the newcomer would be met with on the boat to the island, and quite the welcome it would be (should you want to call it that).

It may also be useful to draw the first parallel here – that the early stages of amnesia are likely to be a foreboding, all-consuming experience. The film loop also highlighted that art can just as successfully be generated in austere, confined spaces as it can in throbbing, vibrant capital cities. If you look hard enough, interesting artistic perspectives can be found everywhere. The sense of time on the archipelago was fractured – perhaps an island that has its own sense of time amidst its restricted space. There is a brutality in the slowness on the island, as if the spectator is wishing for something, anything to happen.

I particularly liked the nighttime segment, when the inhabitants of the island were shown to be making their way across different parts of the land, with a torch at hand. It lit up the island in a warm glow, and happened to be the only point in the exhibition where I found myself thinking “I could live there’. It also made me think of how the damaged brain might be mapped out via an MRI scan, finding new or alternate pathways for someone to function.

I then visited the Amnesia Museum installation and came across an Iron Age fingerprint preserved in clay. This clearly is an environment man has been trying to make habitable for a long period of time. Who’s to say that the living conditions were more harmonious and hospitable 500 years ago than now? There were also no men photographed in the exhibition – was St.Kilda’s a matriarchal society?

I finished my time at the exhibition looking at a piece involving one of Ilingsworth’s collaborators in the project, Martin A. Conway. The Sensecam is a wearable digital camera that aims to help people with memory loss by capturing footage to help with memory recall. It was fascinating to see the positive results and the power of memory and how it can wane when lost or interrupted.

The exhibition didn’t just reflect what it was to be isolated geographically but emotionally too and the wild environment proved a worthy backdrop to show the effects amnesia can have on someone’s life. As the remotest part of the British Isles, it still attracts visitors due to its UNESCO World Heritage site status. A place of great beauty, almost intimidatingly so. As for amnesia, it is these very memories that fade to dust. Here’s hoping new technology can emerge to help us all preserve some of our fondest memories.

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iT DID stop

And it will start again

Unfortunately the chocolate hourglass

Has turned against you today

For tomorrow it will turn again in your favour

This is the consequence of love

In an Indian summer.

Where to start

At the boring middle

The knotted top

Or the interesting bottom.

I’m not sure if you’re still snookered

If so

This is my last roll of the dice

And I’ll leave you alone

And catch a rising star

Which may be better

Than gripping

The cure to no cause

My year

Spent scorching

Saw envelopes opening

But I never read the letters inside

I guess ‘c’ is my favourite letter

But is it vital

To my future

To know where your stature

Belongs

SE or NW

I’m currently a leisure-able gentleman

Care to join?

Question Time ire.

And not really missing it. It means you have to dig a bit for things, and *wow* pick up the phone but it’s actually going OK. Whowouldathunkit?

The desire to be part of something can be man’s best friend and his worst enemy.

To be somebody who voted x into power. To be somebody who was there for that match. To be somebody who felt a surge of passion as the band took to the stage.

We all want to belong. Sometimes this involves adopting something. Sometimes this involves rejecting something. But it always comes accompanied with expectations. Expectations to conform. Expectations to perform. Expectactions to excel.

These expecations are fine and what drive collectivity. A collective can not exist without a shared vision.

But this vision can send us into overdrive. We all want to compete as well as belong to a collective. Who can be skinniest. Who can make the most sales. Who has the biggest house.

Is there anybody out there who doesn’t wish to belong? Is there anybody out there who doesn’t follow the herd? We all make decisions every day that are affected in one way or another by the influence of somebody or something else.

The greatest power we have is independence of thought. Unfortunately, it seems all to often that we are locked in a cycle of obligation. I HAVE to go here, I HAVE to do this, I HAVE to say this…

The moment we realise that we are all chasing something we’ll never get is the moment we start to accept the real rather than the ideal.

Why am I saying all this?

This is in response to an article that appeared online today that suggested, among other things, that our materialistic, commercialistic society is having detrimental effects on our mental health.

This can no be doubted. If man could just be happy with his lot, there would be nothing new to buy or sell.

Wrinkle creams would perish. Magic pants would disappear. Self help books would look at each other blankly.

The pharmaceutical companies that sustain Western society’s rictus grin would have to find a new way to sell the American dream.

Is this some kind of nightmare vision of the future?

Well, to some yes.

But how can we liberate ourselves from all of these expectations and obligations?

It’s really quite simple. Think for yourself.

Do you really need to buy that new MP3 fridge? Do you really need to distress your mince pie? Do you really need the new limited edition third kit only available for one day?

They are all just things. These things will not be your legacy.

Stop and look around. The moment you stop sprinting, the moment you see things for what they really are.

Here is an article I have just written for Young Minds magazine (due out in Ocotber)-

I arrived at Leeds University in September 2005 to begin my degree with the usual combination of excitement and nerves.

However, what made both my excitement and nerves more palpable was my pre-existing mental health condition.

In the summer of 2004, I had an acute stress induced psychotic episode whilst on holiday in Rome. I returned to the UK and spent a week in a psychiatric ward. Although I was discharged I started to feel depressed. After being prescribed anti-depressant medication, my mood picked up and a few months later my application to study Spanish at Leeds was accepted.

I settled in to uni life reasonably well. I had friends in my accommodation and was enjoying the course. However, something was missing. I was still healing from what happened in Rome, and really needed support. What I needed was someone who had been through what I had, a student or group of students who could help me back on to my feet and vice versa.

I had the idea in the back of my mind to start up a group but didn’t have the confidence to step up and organise it. For the first two years at Leeds, I relied solely on CBT. It was only in the final year of the course that I felt strong enough to take the plunge and get something started. I mentioned the idea to my best friend who thought It could really work. “If you don’t do it now, you’ll regret it,” he said. I thought these were wise words and started to act.

I started off by producing some posters saying that I wanted to form a mental health society in the university, and put them up around campus. I got about 10 emails back, including an especially enthusiastic one from a guy called Eddy.

Eddy had been thinking of doing something similar, having been affected by mental ill health in his family. Together we planned how the society would operate, when our first meeting would be etc. It was a very exciting time getting everything together and figuring out how to get people to join up. We decided we wanted to get as many people on board as possible, from medical students to those passionate about campaigning. It was going to be quite a challenge getting mentally ill students to sign up to the society, but we persevered. Emails went out all across the uni and we soon had our first meeting.

At the first meeting, people interested in sitting on the committee were asked to submit an application. With the committee in place, we could start planning our first big event, The Mind Matters Day.

Set to take place in the university’s Healthy Week, The Mind Matters Day would be a unique opportunity to promote positive mental health within the university. Society members were delegated various tasks and regular committee meetings were held to get everything in place. The event turned out to be a huge success. More than 200 people came and we had everything from free massages to how to cook good brain food. It was enormously satisfying seeing it all come together and a real team bonding experience for the committee.

The Mind Matters Day set the wheels in motion and we had a couple of successful events afterwards. Rufus May, an experimental psychologist, came to speak to the society. We also had a talk from a local writer, Jean Davison who has written a book about her experiences in a psychiatric hospital.

The Mind Matters Society gave me a huge confidence boost and got me engaged with mental health. I loved every minute of it and know that next year, it’ll continue to grow. Eddy is currently travelling round the country encouraging students at other universities to set up similar societies.

Although I initially just wanted to be part of a support group, acting as president of The Mind Matters proved to be something which empowered me to feel comfortable with my problems and much more able to talk about them openly.

However, I realise there is a silent majority of students who choose not to talk about their problems. We carried out a survey which found that 16.6% of students would not even seek help if they had a mental illness. More worryingly, 48.8% of students were unsure or did not know where to get help for mental health problems on campus. It is evident that more needs to be done throughout UK universities to promote university counselling services. Over 50% of Leeds’ students still felt there was a stigma attached to mental health. It is societies like The Mind Matters that will help to reduce this figure and enable students with mental health problems to come forward and not be embarrassed about their problems.

A: The intrusion of your private life by gossip thirsty no marks and shameless sensationalisation of your mental illness.

And so I begin my first blog with a scathing rant. But I feel this is a good place to start. I sat down in front of the TV last night, and in a moment of boredom flicked on to MTV.I saw that the programmeKerry Katona: What’s the Problem? was just about to start. I knew the programme was a reality show based on Kerry Katona and her battle with bipolar disorder, and being interested in mental health issues, I tuned in.

I had one of the most uncomfortable viewing experiences ever. From the outset the programme angered me, but as is the case with most reality TV there was that strange X factor (pardon the pun!!) that kept me watching. This X factor is what keeps the MTV generation happy and passive- the minutiae of celebrities’ private lives.

The programme is produced in such a way that Katona’s illness is both sensationalised and devauled. The sound of doors slamming is amplified as Katona and her husband argue. Close up shots of her children listening in to Katona swearing add to the sense of unrest. Editing means that Kerry is constantly shown either buoyed by mania or gripped by depression. Furthermore, the use of music in the programme is absolutely disgraceful. Razorlight’s jaunty Before I Fall to Pieces soundtracks one of Katona’s low points. If that wasn’t cringeworthy and inappropraite enough, the ‘fairground waltz to signify mental illness’ is employed frequently when Katona is behaving manically.

I couln’t help but feel sorry for Katona. She is trapped within the confines of her own house by a TV camera poised and ready to capture Kerry’s latest breakdown and a cesspit* of paparazzi urging her to act out. The viewers of this show are nothing more than paying entrants to MTV’s very own zoo, which features its very own mentally ill former girlband member. “Look Mummy she drinks too much! And look at all those cigarettes she smokes! And what about her funny moods!”.

North One Television, the production company responsible for the programme, handle the issue of Kerry’s illnes completely wrongly. Instead of choosing to educate and inform the audience, the makers of the programme opt for scandal and flashpoints. For a more accurate and informative study of bipolar disorder, the BBC’S The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive is much better.

Now you may say that people don’t tune in to such programmes to be educated about mental illness. But in a mediascape where mental health is only just emerging, such programmes may be young people’s only way of learning about mental illness. It is vital that MTV redresses the balance and starts to educate as well as to entertain.

However, earlier last night I watched an excellent BBC programme called Tourette’s: I Swear I Can’t Help It. The programme documented the lives of two Tourette’s sufferers, John and Greg and how they dealed with their problems. Funny, sensitive and with a lightness of touch, this is how television programmes should approach mental health issues. I found myself close to tears at some points in the programme as intimate insights into the condition were presented and the participants spoke from their hearts about their difficulties. There were funny moments too. I wasn’t laughing at John and Greg but with them, as they both recognised the humour that accompanies some of their tics.

Reality TV is simply the wrong format to explore mental illness. We have already seen the effect it can have on vulnerable people, for example Susan Boyle’s descent into mental illness. It’s about time TV producers adopted a more measured approach to the topic, and one can only hope that more documentaries and educational programmes recieve funding and reality shows are consigned to TV’s own Room 101.

* Cesspit is probably NOT the official OED approved collective noun for paparazzi.

It’s usually one of the first things to go. I know things are going downhill when I lose my connection to it. The moment I lose interest in music, the moment I am becoming mentally ill.

It isn’t a conscious decision I take when I start to get ill, to stop listening and enjoying music. It’s more a feeling of complete apathy. My iPod sits unused on my desk, Spotify doesn’t get a look in and any music I do hear completely washes over me. It’s like your brain is jammed on a negative loop and very little breaks it. You might hear something that used to make you tap your feet or trigger a fond memory, but its effect is now deactivated, meaningless.

This always worries me. How can something which means so much to me disappear so quickly? I still don’t have the answer to that one, but I think depression is a strange and at times unquantifiable thing. Maybe it just does.

I can only listen to quiet folky stuff or classical music when I’m depressed. Anything with a quicker tempo is just too much. The music which normally really pumps me up, or gets me running to the dancefloor, I have to leave to one side. It’s best to get back to that stuff when it’s flicking my switches again.

However, the moment when the flame sparks again, when I start getting back into music, it’s bloody brilliant. I normally get back into it with feverish intensity, downloading, listening, reading it all comes back. It’s like you’ve got your ‘you’ back. The bit that’s the gas in your tank.

When I open the CD drawer, look at the tapes I have and flick through my reasonably paltry vinyl collection, a whole whirlwind of emotions, memories, sights, people and places comes over me.

There’s the Louise Louise tape. I was 12 when this came out. I guess that’s around about the age when hormones dictate your musical persuasion. The quality of the music is inconsequential; if it gives you a bit of a pubescent tingle, then you damn well buy the music. I remember watching Louise performing ‘Naked’ on Top of The Pops. I was a changed man/boy. If you’re out there Louise, look at Harry. That’s the Redknapp pedigree. That’s all I’m saying.

There’s quite a few Ministry of Sound compilations in my collection. I went through a pretty bad patch in my mid teens music wise. Listening to Dave Pearce’s Dance Anthems on Radio 1 on a Sunday night, I tried to feel some kind of allegiance with the party kids who’d spent their Saturday night in Godskitchen or Cream pilled up to the eyeballs. I, on the other hand, had been at a house party watching how quickly people could eat doughnuts and drinking a few Bacardi Breezers. Justin caught me big fish little fishing to one of Dave’s ‘anthems’ in my room once. Dear oh dear.

There are some questionable holiday puchases too. The Balkan folk compilation that sounded so fitting in a Krakow marketplace doesn’t quite cut the mustard back in rainy England. I think it’s a bit like the dodgy looking alcohol you bring back, good idea at the time but looks a bit lost when you get home.

I have lots of albums I bought on the strength of one song. Staind, The Four Tops, Chromeo and The Datsuns all fall under this unfortunate category. But each album/song evokes something. Dancing in a scuzzy indie club. Watching Peter Kay with my family. Psyching up for a trivial football match.

However, there is also plenty of music that reminds me of good times at festivals with thousands of people. There is also some music that is private to some degree, that I discovered on my own via the radio or in a record shop. There is some music I have laughed to. I have never cried at any music I own. I guess that’ll be a biggie when that happens. The nearest I have come to crying was on a recent trip to Anfield, listening to the Kop sing You’ll Never Walk Alone. I’m not a Liverpool fan, but the slow, lilting melody and the booming, rousing swell of voices is truly something to behold.

The brilliant thing about it is that I know that I’ve still got so much more to find. It’s like a never ending quest. There will be always new artists to listen to, more stories to read and more gigs to go to. How great is that? I think everybody has stuff out there that they’re a bit of a geek about. But that’s what gives everyone a story to tell. Isn’t it great to see the look in someone’s eye when they’re talking about their favourite football team, the author that changed their lives or the place that captured their heart?

What inspired me to write this entry was a moment I had a couple of days ago. I was tucked up in bed, looking out at a snow dusted Wales. I had spent most of the day downloading music videos off the Blogotheque website. The concept behind the videos is to take the artist or band out of the conventional gig venue to a live performance and into more unusual settings, from tube stations to dilapidated warehouses.

I watched these two videos on my iPod and was just blown away. This is music at its best. Rage, protest, ire, desperation, heartbreak and loss all have their place at the table. These can all be expressed proficiently through music. But music is best when expressing hope, community, love, passion and joy. So go on then, sing for your supper and dance up the bobby dazzlers you bright young things!

“I’m so blessed to have spent that time
with my family and the friends I love
with my short life I have met
So many people I deeply care for.”