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Urban Psychosis

14.07.14 - 22.08.14

John Baldessari – Matthew Buckingham – Sophie Calle – Marc Camille Chaimowicz Moyra Davey – Luke Fowler – Gillian Wearing – Catherine Yass
The modern city has frequently been identified through its intensity - a busy and bustling environment of potentially creative and productive activity. For the spectator, this intensity can also tip over into a state in which reality is temporarily obscured. It is this finely balanced state which the exhibition explores, the condition of urban psychosis is presented as a recurring theme, a shadow which continues to haunt the city.

When Georg Simmel was writing 'The Metropolis and Mental Life' in 1903, there was a sense in which the work was drawing on the idea of the modern city as a recently formed phenomenon. It suggested that inhabitants needed to take on a more 'blasé' stance in order to avoid overstimulation. The notion of the city as a potential threat to individual balance and perceived 'normality' could also be seen in work of writers such as Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer - that is, narratives which explore the effect of 'estrangement'. In writing about the contemporary city (110 years after Georg Simmel) Will Self has noted that the feelings produced from negotiating the spaces of the city might be seen as being similar to that of a 'clinically defined psychotic state'. This might suggest that psychosis is not just caused by a failure to adapt to change, but is a by-product of the city in its everyday mode of existence.

Urban Psychosis is seen through the work of eight artists who have engaged with the theme in contrasting ways. Gillian Wearing's Dancing in Peckham which opens the exhibition is a film of the artist completely absorbed in dancing to the sounds in her own head in the middle of a Peckham shopping centre. The reactions of the passers-by provide as much of a focus as the intensity of the dancer. Sophie Calle's The Bronx engages with the public in a different way, in 1980 she wandered the streets asking people to take her to a place of their choice. In making herself vulnerable in this way, the interaction is more intense and provides more of an insight into people and place. Moyra Davey's work returns things to some of the literary origins of the exhibition, but in a more everyday setting, Subway Writers concentrates on those absorbed in writing in the midst of their commute. The images are then posted to the gallery where their marks and scratches bare witness to a different kind of transit. Marc Camille Chaimowicz also has a fascination with movement and transit, Pendulum Polaroids are taken en route on regular trips between Oxford and Paris. The artist works as the observer, capturing moments in a state of constant flux. With Luke Fowler the attention is devoted to psychology itself and in particular the controversial figure of R.D. Laing, the film is made of a carefully edited and collaged collection of archive clips and sound recordings to give a sense of Laing's alternative to traditional treatments. John Baldessari's series Crowds With Shape Of Reason Missing, Example 1- 6 provides an alternative view of crowd behaviour; with the subject of their attention missing, the viewer is left to speculate on what might be determined from the way people gather together. Matthew Buckingham deals with a more modest form of protest, Unzufrieden can be translated as 'dissatisfaction'. The banner, which is noticed by some passers-by and ignored by others, is perhaps a more fitting response to the stresses of everyday life. Works by Catherine Yass explore a range of elements from the controlling conditions of institutional space through to the overwhelming effects of the material structure of the city.


Friday 11 July, 6-8pm

Urban Psychosis Events

The exhibition will be supported by a series of events, which have been developed in collaboration with Clive Parkinson, Director of Arts for Health at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Dr Katherine Taylor, Clinical Psychologist and Research Associate.

25th July 2014, 6-8pm
Public talk with Will Self

Leading novelist and critic Will Self will talk about urbanism, psychogeography and the theme of urban psychosis. Will Self is the author of twenty books including My Idea of Fun, Psychogeography and his recently published novel Umbrella. His latest book Shark is to be released later this year.

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20th August 2014, 6-8pm
Psychosis in Context

Can poverty help drive you mad?

Professor John Read will summarise the research showing that, contrary to the prevailing 'wisdom' that psychosis is a genetically based 'brain disorder', poverty - and relative poverty - are powerful predictors of who ends up experiencing psychosis and being diagnosed with 'schizophrenia'.

Professor Rhiannon Corocoran will share initial research from the Prosocial Place Programme exploring the relationship of the urban environment to mental health and wellbeing.

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  1. John Baldessari, Crowds with the Shape of Reason Missing, 2012
  2. Moyra Davey, Subway Writers, 2011
  3. Urban Psychosis installation image, 2014