Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sandi Dooley Reviews "Fine Line: Mental Health/Mental Illness", by Michael Nye, #5

I viewed Fine Line: Mental Health/Mental Illiness by Michael Nye, at the Wittliff Collections, Texas State University, in early March. The exhibition had 55 black and white portraits, which were warm toned silver prints mounted on 24" x 30" archival board, each made with an 8 x 10 view camera. There were separate audio stories (earphones were provided) for each person.

Michael Nye begins his statement with two sentences: "1. Mental illness is not caused by weakness of character. 2. Mental illness is treatable." He asks each person coming into the gallery to discard stereotypes and to listen to the stories of each of these people. Diagnosis are listed at the beginning of the exhibit, but not tied to specific people, so that we are not thinking about arbitrary labels before deciding to listen to each person. The size of the portraits along with the audio allows you to feel as if these people are sharing their life with you.

The last print shows a jury, with the audio playing a woman laughing hysterically at what I interpreted as inappropriate and absurd contact with the criminal justice system. The courts seem to be the last resort for many with mental illnesses. One realizes after listening to the audio stories that these people do not belong in jail; they seem like people we know. If they end up in jail, perhaps it is because they do not have the right health insurance (some kicks in only in emergency situations), cannot find the right hospital for treatment, have no access to medications, no effective supervision, or are homeless.

I thought the exhibit was very effective at helping to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness. It got the point across that we would be better off trying to proactively provide access to care for these people who are so much like us, instead of waiting until it is too late, disaster has struck, and the only thing that can be done is to involve the police and courts.

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