ATTIC was a contemporary art project and gallery space in Cardiff dedicated to exploring personal, cultural and scientific understandings of the mind with a particular focus on the spectrum of mental health and mental illness. ATTIC had no agenda other than to provide an impartial platform and opportunity for encounters, dialogue and creative expression from a variety of perspectives. The previously disused attic space is now being utilised by the mental health charity that occupies the rest of the building and ATTIC has come to an end but this website serves as a record of the project and a resource for future conversations…
Consciousness, spirituality, neurology, genetics and genomics, biology, statistics, psychology, psychiatry, counseling, politics, history, and the wider and fluctuating culturally constructed notions of the self are all aspects of the territory represented by the terms ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’. The term mental illness is hemmed in with cliché and narrow association, while actually its connotations are profound.
Located in the third floor attic space of a building accessible by an unmarked side entrance, the private and ‘hard to reach’ aspect of ATTIC complemented the historically taboo nature of the subject matter. Highlighting the gallery as a ‘hidden place’, we contrasted this with the use of other more open and public formats to reveal the activities of ATTIC, a deliberate act of disclosure. This act is a commentary on the current move towards reducing the stigma and discrimination of mental illness by drawing the private into the consciousness of the public. This was especially central to our remit because marginalisation is a common experience for individuals with a diagnosis of mental illness. Our activities aimed to raise awareness, provide insight and also operate on an educational level.
In January 2013, ATTIC launched its Rapid Cycling programme and selected six artists to develop and show work through a sequence of residencies and exhibitions. Initiated by each artist’s particular line of enquiry from within their creative practice, ATTIC provided the space for artists to develop work and open that process up to outside influences and perspectives through complementary activities and events such as academic discussions. This was assisted by working closely with Dr Jamie Lewis, a sociologist from Cardiff Univeristy.
Running alongside the Rapid Cycling programme was MARGIN, a monthly writing group, led by writer and educator Christina Thatcher. Each month MARGIN brought together artists and community members to encounter the artistic work from the residencies during which they discussed mental health issues, secrets, privacy, manipulation, and all manner of topics often not raised in everyday conversation.
ATTIC also invited and supported four ‘Responders’, creative people with a mental health diagnosis, who were interested in following the activities of ATTIC and its ‘Rapid Cycling’ artists. Each of the four responders developed work as a critical and creative reflection on the activities of ATTIC whilst drawing on experiences of mental distress and their own creative practices.
Collaboration, cross-disciplinary dialogue, mutual support, authenticity and honesty were central to ATTIC’s creative approach and ethos. Acknowledging the pressures that can come with making artwork for a public audience, we shifted the emphasis from exhibition to the developing of new work that could be documented. As the work developed, anyone who decided to show that work publicly was then supported in that decision and process. With a particular emphasis on the potential dialogue that ATTIC would generate both at the time of the project taking place and as a resource for future conversations, the activities were documented through photography, film, audio and writing.
ATTIC was co-founded and curated by two artists Julia Thomas and Sara Annwyl. Concerned with dialogue, reciprocity and negotiations of disclosure, their personal art practices embody much of the central concerns of the organisation.
Sara Annwyl is an artist, film-maker and curator with a particular interest in the spiritual and the psychiatric. Her practice revolves around communication and reciprocity.
Julia Thomas is an artist who works at the intersection of art, science and health with a particular interest in creative practice as a process for dialogue and meaning making.
The Arts Council of Wales provided financial support for the artists whereas documentation of the artists’ activities was funded by the Medical Research Council’s Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics. Much of ATTIC’s activities, however, were artist led and also relied heavily and very gratefully on the involvement of a number of volunteers and the provision of space by the mental health charity ‘Journeys’.
ATTIC was received with great interest and provided an impartial platform and space for dialogue and encounters between disparate groups brought together by our human desire to understand the mind.