Artist’s Statement: Modelling Psychosis

Artist’s Statement for Modelling Psychosis Series of works

What is compulsive writing?
What ‹rules› might define the behaviour that is compulsive writing – can I make a model of compulsive writing? I have experimented by conducting my own compulsive writing projects, ‹modelling› myself on one compulsive writer (Emma Hauck) in order to understand another (someone who has stalked me for many years). I have also analysed the components of some compulsively written texts (the form of the handwriting, the objects described in the texts) to gain insights about the author.

Letters to me from a stalker
Over the course of 25 years I have been the unwilling recipient of hundreds of letters, ranging in length from two words, to almost a hundred pages long. All have been written to, and about, me by a delusional stalker diagnosed as suffering from psychosis. My interest in ‹modeling› psychosis is driven by this experience – I feel compelled to understand his state of mind. To induce a psychotic episode in myself is to close the gap between us, to resist the urge to make the man who stalks me ‹other›, to immerse myself in my own unconscious, however uncomfortable. These letters are a starting point for me to ‹model› psychosis: to consider the ‹rules› that define psychotic behaviour (as evidenced in the letters-as-objects) and to ‹execute› these rules, like a computer program might execute a code, in order to try and trigger a psychotic state of my own.

Writing received, writing in response
Writing is the source of all the works shown here, the writing I have received and the writing I have produced in response. I have focused on a dozen letters, received in 2000, taking their content and handwriting style as my inspiration. By so-doing I have entered an isomorphic relationship with my stalker. Isomorphism comes from the Greek isos meaning «equal», and morphe meaning «shape»; a similarity of structure or form. I wanted become similar to him in form: obsessed, seeing connections where others see none, making images from words and finding analogues for those images via google image search).

The codependent nature of the connections between mind and object
In his book, Thinking Through Material Culture, Carl Knappett [3] discusses «the codependent nature of the connections between mind and object». He takes a relational approach to perception and concludes that our understanding of material culture is a codependency of mind, agent and object. Assuming my perception is relational and codependent is a useful tool as I interrogate my perception of the letters that I have received, and as I conduct my own writing experiments. It has also been useful to look at copies of letters inscribed by allegedly psychotic writers. The well-known letters by Emma Hauck have become key works, touchstones that have helped to push my thinking and my writing. In the exhibition, Beyond Reason: Art and Psychosis [4] were a series of so-called «artworks» made by the patient Emma Hauck, titled Letter to Husband. These pencilled letters are typified by one in which Hauck wrote (ca 1909) over and over again «Sweetheart, come», in pencil, until the single page of paper is reminiscent of a field painting, a dense layering of text that becomes image. I look at these works reproduced in a catalogue and imagine Emma Hauck writing them, and find it hard to believe that she did so on the understanding that she was making art and that they would be exhibited in a gallery after her death. It makes more sense that they were letters, a correspondence from her to her husband, willing, through text, her husband to visit. To rescue her from the asylum? To hear what she has to say? Who knows because the implication of these being in the Prinzhorn Collection is that her letters were never sent. If this is the case she was doubly betrayed, once by whomever she trusted the letters to, believing they would be posted, and secondly by the re-branding of them as art. The works are labelled with her name and her apparent mental illness, as though the illness (if it were accurately diagnosed) was as much the author, or as though the letters-cum-artworks were a gauge or expression of her illness. If such repetitive writing was an expression of psychosis, could a state of psychosis be induced, temporarily by writing in a similar way, repetitively?

Simulating and triggering psychotic states
When I embarked on the Bad Hand writing series I did so to test whether the process of writing a brief phrase, repeatedly, would afford me a sense of psychosis. My mimicking of Hauck’s situated cognition was very partial (I wrote not from an asylum but from the comfortable, safe, quiet freedom of my basement) and was an attempt to explore the potential connections between the bodily, situated, experience of such writing; the concurrent ‹state of mind› of the writer and the resulting letters. When I began I felt self-conscious, though I noted that as soon as I held the pen I ‹knew› what short phrase I would write, «Leave me alone». I was surprised that within a few minutes of beginning I felt a rush of emotion and that as I wrote on, I felt waves of anger, fear, despair and calmness, the intensity of which belied the physical environment in which I was situated. Later, when I looked back at the writing ‹unfolding›, and heard the sound of the pen and my hand moving across the paper, the changes in handwriting style prompted a body memory and I remembered which emotion I had felt at which phase of the writing. After the act of writing, the letter, especially when played back as a video, was an object that afforded me insights into my emotional state, and the potentiality to experience that state again. My letters became a ‹model› for my behaviour at the time of writing.

Emotional isomorphism
If Hauck’s writing can be used as ‹model› of the way someone suffering from psychosis expresses themselves then by following that model, by using their handwritten letters as a ‹hand book›, could I experience a sense of psychosis myself? This is using the term ‹model› slightly differently, as a preliminary work or construction that serves as a plan that can be used in testing or perfecting a final product. The sense here is that the ‹model› is not the same in quality or size as that which it represents. Similarly, the connection between my letters and emotional state, and Hauck’s, can be seen as temporarily and partially ‹isomorphic›. By producing a form (handwritten letter of repeated short phrase) similar to those of Hauck’s I wanted to see if I would experience a psychological or emotional isomorphism (would my psychological form become similar to hers through the act of mimicry). By working in this way I was using Hauck’s letters as a partial, scaled down ‹model› of psychosis and my intention was to ‘model’ my behaviour on hers in order to try and get a sense of the feeling of psychosis.

See the art works in this series Manifestations, Second Skin: StraitjacketSecond Skin: Parka, Bad Hand, Taking your Hand.