As an artist, I embrace the unusual and the different - thinking about and imagining the world from the perspective of others, provides me with inspiration, ideas and, I like to think, possibly solutions to some of the problems we face in our world.
I’ve heard more than one psychiatrist state they can’t actually see what’s happening inside someone’s head and that they don’t actually know why some medications seem to work more than others. I’ve also heard professors of psychology say that understanding the mind is more of an art than a science, and that multiple perspectives of understanding really matter and can make a huge difference to their work assisting others.
I truly believe that when we normalise difference we enter a much more just and equal world. We all have mental health, that’s a fact - so shouldn’t we all acknowledge this hidden truth, accept that we might have mental ill health at some point and stop being afraid of the unknown?
When we look at a blank page or an empty canvas we can ask ourselves why we might feel frightened of it and question what we are really saying to ourselves when we think we can’t create? Art making can enable us to listen to our inner thoughts and feelings, which we can quite often choose to hide away or ignore. Developing a sense of focus and understanding of these processes are as much challenges of understanding our true nature and questions of psychological wellbeing as they are of art making.
I’ve always been fascinated by our relationship with the natural world and our relationships with each other, as a result I’ve spent a lot of time using my creativity to share the value and importance of nature with others.
When the Coronavirus arrived and quickly started spreading around the world, I immediately thought it was the earth fighting back, rebalancing itself due to our toxic behaviour. Of course, for everyone this has been an emotional journey, but I am acutely aware that I’m not homeless or destitute and that I do have a place of safety and security. I also know that this situation has meant each and every one of us has had to face ourselves and reconsider our place in the world.
One of my ways of coping with the anxiety and restrictions of the pandemic has been to give myself the opportunity to create new artworks.
Over the last few months I’ve collected a lot of lost and damaged tennis balls, presumably abandoned by dogs or washed up by the river; I’ve noticed that each one has its own beauty, there’s even one that has been so eroded it has the fragility of an eggshell.
As I started to collect more and more balls I realised that the ones that were brand new, and potentially thought of as ‘perfect’ were actually quite boring. Coming straight from the manufacturer their form spoke only of product, manufacturing and packaging, they had no story to tell. The others who’d had real life adventures; they had been thrown, played with, lost and found. They may have been damaged and felt that they had no purpose left, but then I am now making them into a new artwork and seeing them all in a new way.
This artwork Just Bounce Back is a parody in the making, exploring how society expects people to just bounce back to some kind of normal, after they have experienced significantly complex and sometimes traumatic life events.
As I write this I can feel my anger start to rage, who is saying "bounce back from ill-health and trauma", and to whom? What is normal anyway? In addition to finding solutions, art can also help us to tell our stories, and this process can often provide us with a much needed healing. Perhaps some things that we experience just cannot put into words and are better told through drawing, painting, dancing or music?
If you happened to live in North Lancashire, you might have seen me picking up pieces of rubbish and carefully washing, drying and disinfecting each garnered treasure. If you came into my studio you might even see me photographing every object as a thing of beauty.
Why? Well, because I am making a new artwork called I am Bower Bird: A friend recently told me about the nesting habits of this unusual creature which is native to New Guinea and Australia, The males of the species construct brightly coloured nests from found objects; within the space of a very short conversation I found myself imagining making my own nest to demonstrate my profound connection with the natural world.
For me it is about saying every single part of our environment matters and we are interdependent with it... a bit like saying I’m coming home, I’m no more and no less important than you. I’m a natural and instinctive part of the planet; the bird life, plant life and the animal kingdom are as much a part of me as I am of them.
I don’t know whether this idea will work or whether it will inspire others to see the world in a new way, but I do know that the making of it will help to keep me sane.
Making art helps me to process complex feelings, reconsider my relationship with the things around me and makes me feel good, because I am putting my voice out into the world in my own way. If nothing else the making of this artwork will mean that I have cleaned up litter in a place that is very special to me.
Perhaps people will think my behaviour is a little odd and unnatural, but I don’t care, I need to do this.
As a result of this I really think we can use creative processes to make madness be seen as a new kind of normality.
I also believe we can use art to break down the stigma surrounding mental ill health and start to build a much happier and healthier society.
Sue Flowers 2020
Sue Flowers is a LENS NW Regional Champion. She is an artist, Co- founder and Director of Green Close, a not for profit arts organisation in Lancashire.
With thanks to Arts Council England Emergency Relief Funding, Green Close is currently working in partnership with Lancashire and South Cumbria (NHS) Trust to deliver The Phoenix project a new visual art mental health and wellbeing programme. The programme is being delivered online, by phone and post, by 23 visual artists who will use creative processes to address the diverse themes that the pandemic has raised for many in our community such as isolation, anxiety, depression and bereavement. Courses are available until October. To find out more please visit https://greenclose.org/the-phoenix-art-health-project/