MAKING IT OK: ART, BRAVERY AND MENTAL HEALTH

Featured Artists: Jess Hirsch, Bobby Marines, Melissa Borman, Christi Furnas
Curated by Artistic Director Sheila Dickinson

In Making it OK: Art, Bravery and Mental Health, four Minnesota artists reveal with honesty and hope what it means to live with mental illness or be affected by close family members struggling with mental health issues. These artists are brave in their ability to creatively reveal what society can often stigmatize or shame. Each of the artists in this exhibition approach the topic of mental health in entirely different ways, reflecting the humanity in how each person finds their own path toward mental health.

For Jess Hirsch, the earth, nature and the beauty of each breath comes into the gallery through the presence of dirt that grounds you as you are invited to meditate in the space. The dirt is a reference to the process of gardening, of getting her hands dirty as she planted the three outside gardens as shown in the printed map you can take with you.

The grounded feel of the earth in the gallery extends to the gritty authenticity of Bobby Marines’ look back on childhood trauma from growing up around gang violence, drugs, incarceration and homelessness. The cornhusk shack represents both his Mexican heritage and the shack he lived in with his father, who spent much of Bobby’s life in prison. Pieced together is an array of family photos where the identities fade as the toll on their mental health from living in a marginalized community where family members are cut out due to imprisonment or gun violence, lost outside a system due to drugs and undocumentation. Children grow up in this type of environment, often outside the care of mental health professionals.

Children can also become caretakers at an early age when a parent is mentally ill. For Melissa Borman this meant learning the seafaring rules of how to manage a boat on stormy waters. In Storms Are Part of Life at Sea, we are invited into a private viewer to see the inner turmoil of a child coping alone with what feels overwhelming and out of control. Words work to calm, giving instructions on how to stay calm and keep on course despite the waves pushing the small boat, trying to capsize it.

Navigating the diagnosis and care of her own mental illness, Christi Furnas bravely tells the story of what it is like to live with schizophrenia. Using the cute character of gender neutral Fox Foxerson, Christi takes pen to paper to relate complex issues through her simple, clear comic book style. Taking ownership of the word “crazy,” Fox goes through all sort of situations seeming like the only one who truly makes sense. The childlike mode of comic book expression belies the mature and serious matters Fox encounters.

Artist Statements

Storms Are Part of Life at Sea | Melissa Borman

The text-based video Storms Are Part of Life at Sea addresses the challenges I faced and the coping skills I developed while growing up with a parent who suffered from an untreated mental illness. The work correlates the symptoms of borderline personality disorder with advice on how to survive a storm at sea. Imagery of lightning and shifting seas link these two separate lists of information. As the piece progresses the distinction between to two sets of texts breaks down and eventually becomes one set of instructions.

Enclosed in a small wooden box, the video is shown as a rear-projection from a hidden mini- projector onto vellum. Viewers peer into the box opening one at a time. This presentation allows for an intimate experience of the work. It also emphasizes its deeply personal nature by allowing me to share my story with one audience member at a time.

Artist website: https://www.melissaborman.com/

Fox Foxerson: Adventures in Schizophrenia | Christi Furnas

I have been working as a professional artist since my teens. At twenty-four, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. My latest and most ambitious project is a graphic novel. I created Fox Foxerson, a gender neutral protagonist faced with the onset of an unfamiliar mental illness. Fox battles symptoms and tries to stay employed. Fox navigates the health care system labyrinth and attempts to maintain friendships, even as defining “reality” becomes a challenge.

In the realm of fiction, Fox can tell my adventures while I stay free to have fun with my characters: Sock Puppet Doctor, Jellyfish Boss-lady, Goth Fairy, monsters and such. My goal for Fox is that by presenting a string of easily identifiable moments, I am able to bring folks into the totality of an experience that they might not otherwise imagine. My goal is to keep the story accessible. When Fox is experiencing symptoms, the visual structure of the storyboard changes. I want folks who have a diagnosis to know they are not alone. I want folks who know someone with a diagnosis to be able to understand that experience a little better. I want to invite everyone to be entertained, to have fun, fall in love with art and start a conversation.

Artist website: http://www.christifurnas.com/

Mind Over Matters Bobby Marines

How do environments of poverty, drug and gang culture, domestic violence, and divorce affect mental health? Do they diminish and permanently damage one’s sense of morality, judgment, and perspective or is there hope for positive change? These are questions that serve as points of departure in my work. Questions I unknowingly grappled with throughout my life till one day, everything reached a breaking point.

Several years ago, I discovered my absolute rock bottom. I had recently quit my factory job, left my four-year relationship (along with my son), and re-immersed myself in the lifestyle I had grown up in. A lifestyle laced with all the trappings all-too-familiar to impoverished people of color. After spending all my savings, being shot at, and not seeing my son for months, I found myself anxious, depressed, and ready to end it all.

I thought to myself, “What worth do I, or my life, have anymore? What is there left to offer?” Nothing. That was my answer. But as quickly as this thought flashed across my mind, in came another. One which began slightly curious but exploded into a full-blown epiphany: “What about art?” In an instant, I remembered how creativity had been a consistent emotional and mental relief through every phase of my life. Whether drawing in school after turmoil at home, tagging trains as a runaway, sketching while surrounded by addicts and delinquents in smoke-filled rooms, or studying old masters like El Greco while monotonously working an assembly line, art was always there. It was my escape and my expression. My sliver of hope.

I now thought, “Well, if I’m at the point of no return, why not turn life into an experiment? Why not take this tiny sliver of hope and see how far it can take me? Can I use it to speak to and for those who live a similar life?” I made my choice. Since then, I have dedicated my life to dissecting the questions I initially asked. For myself and the countless others who seek to understand and be understood.

My work is now an interdisciplinary exploration of environment and perception. I use memory and personal archives as reference so the concept begins on a personal level. However, the work also serves as a catalyst between the audience and their own view of the world. It is an invitation to empathize with those who navigate different realities while simultaneously reminding the viewer that we all have our own questions to answer. If there is hope for them, there is hope for all of us.

Prescription Gardens | Jess Hirsch

As a hyper-anxious person, at one stage I became ill with an undiagnosable stomach ailment. I was dropping weight and was often bedridden with unbearable nausea. Knowing that my illness was spurred by stress, I feared for my body’s health when I accepted the offer to attend the Masters in Fine Art program at the University of Minnesota. I regained the 15 pounds I lost through chronic bouts of stomach pain and headed to Minneapolis. When I started grad school, I also started attending Common Ground Meditation Center. There I gained the skills to cope with stress. I have avoided using Buddhism in my work for the past 7 years because of the tenuous relationship between art and religion. I hope this work lies outside the realm of religion. I want to share this philosophy that benefits our ability to understand emotions and has transformed how I deal with stress and a thinking mind.

Prescription Gardens includes three outside gardens planted around Rochester and a “garden” inside the gallery. This interior gallery garden is for you to grow in and be a part of, therefore this garden does not have flowers, but consists of dirt from the earth. There are three benches around the dirt and you are invited to sit, take off your shoes and plant your feet, feel the cool dirt on your toes. You are asked to call a number from your cell phone, you are asked questions about how you are feeling. Based on your response, the voice takes you through a guided mediation, lasting around 15 minutes. You are given a map to guide you to the other three gardens.

In the three Prescription Gardens that are located around the city, each one hosts plants that treat the mind states of greed, aversion, and delusion found within Buddhist philosophy. When you enter a garden, a small bench beckons you. You sit amongst the flowers and call a phone number. The plants growing before you are identifiable by small placards. A voice on the phone leads you on a meditation that connects you to the plant.

Artist website: http://www.jesshirsch.com/