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Dolly Sen is a visual artist, writer, film-maker, and performer interested in non-consensual reality, outsidership, empathy, authenticity and absurdity. She has been labeled ‘mad’ by society. Her work aims to show she makes perfect sense. She thinks reality is a cheeky bastard, and wants to put him over my lap and slap his naughty arse.
Dolly shares with Fragmentary two of her films — Greenhouse Of Hearts and Life As A Side Effect.
Life As A Side Effect: A Survivor made film exploring the effect of psychosis and medication on the quality of life of those experiencing it. This film shows how it can affect every corner of life, even simple things like answering the phone. This film follows Stu Adams, a man with the experience of schizophrenia. A walk in the park is not simply a walk in the park….
Your work is deeply engrained in exploring mental health, both in your films and other artwork. How have your own experiences fed into the making of your artworks, if at all?
I would say most of my own experiences have fed into my creativity. People don’t seem to understand psychosis unless I translate it through film and art. My reality needs more than me just viewing it alone. My passport is stamped with lands no one has visited. I cannot return to the homely tyranny of psychosis, even though I still think in that language. I have become a stateless person, not accepted in my new land. My mind is too strange to pay the adequate amount of taxes. My soul is too hurt to accept any more bullshit. My dreams do not belong in this world. I can’t say society is meaningful and that I am happy to be part of it. So what can I do but share my experiences through my art?
Is there a message or common thread that binds your works together?
That unusual states of mind should not be pathologised, but accepted as human experience; that reality is sometimes naughty and deserves its arse slapped; and that ‘mental illness’ is more to do with a broken heart than a broken brain.
What initially drew you to filmmaking?
I have had a life-long interest in it that stems from being a film extra, such as being in films like Empire Strikes Back. I did think it was a documentary at the time. I lived in a world of pain then and film provided a different reality to escape into. Now it validates my different reality.
What is your creative process when working on a new film?
The idea comes first, after I usually need a person to bounce ideas off and to help me develop them. Words then flood the creative space. Then the sounds. The pictures and images come last, funnily enough.
Is there a cathartic drive behind your work?
I don’t know, to be honest. It does feel like after I create, one more ghost is exorcised, one more monster is humiliated. But at the same time the bigger monsters seem to have more room to dance.
What has it been like sharing your work? Have you had any anxieties around sharing work that is often seen as a sensitive subject matter?
I was anxious at first, but then I realised I can only be true to my own experience and to show the world where shame can go and do one. I don’t aim to be representative of an experience or label, only of what my experience has done to me.
What are you working on now and what are you working on next?
I am interested in how mental health is represented in archives, whose narrative on madness has the power, so am doing some work around that. I am curating, exhibiting, and giving talks for the next few months. But the main project will be a studio film on hearing voices. Next year I want to do a Phd.
Greenhouse of Hearts: A short documentary about Portugal Prints, a mental health arts project, exploring art, being an outsider, the heart and mental health, commissioned by The Royal Academy and Disability Arts Online.