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Omphaloskepsis Blog

The stigma. The Risk. A Non-ordinary reality.

Apr 25, 2013

The Risk by Anne Sexton

When a daughter tries suicide

and the chimney falls down like a drunk
and the dog chews her tail off
and the kitchen blows up its shiny kettle
and the vacuum cleaner swallows its bag
and the toilet washes itself in tears
and the bathroom scales weigh in the ghost of the grandmother

and the windows, those sky pieces, ride out like boats
and the grass rolls down the driveway
and the mother lies down on her marriage bed
and eats up her heart like two eggs.


This week we had the incredible honor of taking part in the Art and Social change exhibit at the Conference for Cultural Congress at the Seattle Center where Bill Ivey was the keynote speaker. We extended a portion of our exhibit, The Human Condition.

Ivey was the seventh chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts and has written: Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights, and Handmaking America: A Back-to-Basics Pathway to a Revitalized American Democracy


In his keynote address Ivey provided the perfect opening for our curator, June Sekiguchi. He spoke about the lack of funding v. the plethora of passion making for a crazy profession, crazy people to the left and right of him. What else could June do but spring off that platform and dive on in, and dive she did. According to Holly, she was fierce and fearless.


Sitting in a hotel room in Lockport, NY—a suburb of Buffalo—while I assist my oldest during a trying time I'm learning two things about this issue: being here is giving us time to work through some past hurts and difficulties; participating in the exhbit together is giving the three of us strength to speak up, hopefully in service and to the benefit of all.

The incredible intensity of just being human*—de-stigmatizing mental illness

It is not unusual for mental illness to first present during puberty, a time of great changes in a person’s body and a difficult time in a young person’s life. We live in a culture that is frequently fearful of mental health issues. This propagates a culture of silence within the families in crisis, making it difficult to seek the resources and care their child needs when mental illness issues arise. False and antiquated social stereotypes assigning blame to the family continue. As long as we live in a culture of shame and blame regarding mental illness, the suffering caused is compounded as families struggle to find ways to cope.

The central idea of the Non-ordinary Reality paintings (water paintings) is to give voice to the unscreamed scream, to what has been silent and demands to be heard — so that my point of departure is one highly charged with anxiety but also with the promise of breaking through. The scream seems hallowed, sacred somehow and violent, excessively so. It is cloaked by society and everyday life. In this work, I am exploring how the scream travels through and over water, where gesture and presence may be refracted, expressed in both particle and wave. The denser atmosphere of water allows me to create a visual manifestation of the aural.

When my own son was 15, our family was plunged into crisis. My newborn was seven days old at the time. I remember it like a dream from which I cannot wake—sitting in my office when my son walked in, tense, “Mom, I have something to tell you.” He looked frightened as he held up his wrists to show me what he had done.

I did not know, eight months later, when the escort service escorted my son at 3 AM to the out-of-state residential treatment center that my job raising him had all but ended. I delivered him to the care of psychiatric professionals until he was legally an adult. I don’t think he knew it at the time either. All that mattered was that he find some way to live in this world that he found so painful—for that I had to surrender him quite unexpectedly.

During the desperate first days, weeks and months, I discovered quickly the pervasive blame-the-mother mentality among family and mental health professionals from whom we sought help. Their stereotypical thinking only compounded the problem and impeded our ability to find the help he needed. I was the only person between life and death for my child. In hushed conversations since then, other mothers have shared similar experiences; from the difficulty of finding care, to the shame and the blame, to knowing the desperate responsibility of being their child’s only life-line.  

In these paintings the viewer perspective is from beneath the surface of the water — underwater. Water is a metaphor, both for keeping afloat and for a tide of change. The way that water alters gesture, conferring ambiguity and disguise but ultimately revealing all, suggests the necessity of opening our eyes under water, learning to see through moving water. Amid fear and loss and disorientation, we are signaling wildly; this could be a time for making new connections and building new strengths.

*Anne Ellegood, Sr. Curator Hammer Museum LA

I'm pleased to announce June Sekiguchi's new project! She has partnered with founders Mary Coss, Paul D. McKee, and Paula Stokes Join them in the space first Thursday, May 2nd! They'll be showing their art in a sneak peek exhibit.
METHOD is housed at Project 106 at 106 Third Ave S. Hours: Fridays and Saturdays 12-5

METHOD is a collaborative project committed to exhibiting challenging contemporary art. Established by a consortium of four Seattle based artists, the gallery is dedicated to showing experimental sculpture, installation, media based work, and performance. Founders Mary Coss, Paul D. McKee, June Sekiguchi, and Paula Stokes will exhibit work in the space for the month of May.


Category: Artist Statement
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