Antonia Attwood is a photographer and film maker that has been making work surrounding the subject of mental health for around 2 years. She is a recent graduate from the (London College of Communication) BA Photography course and has been working since with The Institute of Inner Vision on a number of projects and commissions within arts and mental health.
This body of work is as an exploration of a mothers experience with Bipolar disorder, as imagined through the eyes of her daughter. The body of work builds on how the condition is experienced by the mother, scrutinizing her internal and external worlds. By juxtaposing moving image on two screens, I aim to illustrate and visually interpret how the illness ‘feels’. The metaphorical symbols create an attempt to raise awareness and understanding of the mood affectations and the phenomenology of mental illness. The work interrogates how it feels to be vulnerable and overwhelmed by the world living with a medical condition. The viewer is forced into the uncomfortable reality of the illness. It arises from but transcends the mothers experience with Bipolar. It is not about communicating a straightforward message, but it interrogates an idea exploring aspects of that intended message.
What prompted you to produce work surrounding bipolar disorder?
The work was prompted by my mothers experience with the condition. I was inspired by how she dealt with her disorder. We wanted to share our story and raise awareness of the illness. With the hope that it would help people understand what is going through someones head when they are in an altered state.
What kind of research did you carry out on the condition before beginning work on My Mother Tongue?
Most of the research was through direct conversation with my mum. We talked a lot about her experiences and how she felt during episodes of the illness. It was a great way for me to learn more about what she was going through. I also read a lot of books on the condition such as ‘Strictly Bipolar’ by Darian Leader and ‘the Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
Was there an element of catharsis related to making this work, for yourself and/or your mother?
Yes definitely. It helped me understand what my mother had been through much better. We have always been very close but I think it was a great therapy for us to work on this together.
What drew you to work with mental health in your art?
The first time I started working with mental health was when I made a film about my own experiences with panic attacks. I tried to use film to visually interpret how I was feeling whilst having a panic attack. Since making this film around 2 years ago I have not experienced a panic attack since. I felt that my art was a great therapy for me and wanted to help other people too.
Do you think it is important to use art to represent issues relating to mental health? Why? Can it help with wider understanding of such issues?
I felt that many people suffering with mental health problems were misunderstood. Illness is often explained in medical term through complicated reports. I felt that my experience was much more personal and learning about my mothers illness through a visual language really helped my understanding. I think making art about mental health can be a really helpful tool to make more easily understood and accessible.
What is it about the video format that appeals to you?
I think video lends itself really well. Because often what is going on in the mind is such a visual thing. I think using moving image and sound can create an experience, which is exactly what I want my work to portray. That is not to say I don’t think other art forms and therapies aren’t helpful. But personally film works for me.
What have responses been like to My Mother Tongue? Have you had feedback from people living with bipolar disorder?
Yes I have had loads of great feedback, both from people suffering with the illness and people who know people who are suffering. Many people have thanked me for visually explaining what they have been going through, something they have struggled with themselves. I even had someone want to show the film at a friends funeral who lost her life to the disorder. Which I found immensely touching. I hope that it keeps helping people understand someone suffering with the illness, and helping people who are struggling to explain what they are going through.
Can you tell me more about the Institute of Inner Vision?
The Institute of Inner Vision was set up by Sal Anderson around 2 years ago. The primary aim of the Institute is to create and curate programmes of moving image, performance and public engagement exploring individual and collective inner visions. This initiative endeavours to bring artists, academics, and audiences – with or without lived experiences of mental health conditions – into the heart of interdisciplinary art-science research and artistic practice.
What is coming up next for you?
I am currently working on a commission from the Institute of Inner Vision. It is another short film that follows on from ‘My Mother Tongue’. Its still very much in progress but I am excited about it. I am still working closely with mental health and exhibiting work. I recently did a film showing and talk with the ‘Acting Out Festival’ in Nottingham. If you want to find out about any other upcoming events I update them regularly on my website – antoniaattwood.com/NEWS.