Today we are pleased to preview an article from the December double issue, Vanessa Bartlett’s Psychosocial curating: a theory and practice of exhibition-making at the intersection between health and aesthetics.
Dr. Vanessa Bartlett is a curator and McKenzie Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Culture and Communication at University of Melbourne. She explores how curatorial and artist-led research can support inquiry into emotion and affect in a digital age.
Vanessa has edited two books for award-winning academic publisher Liverpool University Press (UK), the most recent of which was co-edited with neuroscience researcher Henrietta Bowden Jones (OBE). Her exhibitions at major international arts spaces, such as FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), UNSW Galleries and Furtherfield, have been seen by over 40,000 people internationally and have featured in The Guardian, Creative Review and BBC Radio 4.
Can an exhibition support its audience to think critically and imaginatively about mental health and wellbeing? Addressing this question is vital, as museums and galleries increasingly position themselves as mediators of public engagement with psychological health.
As a curator, I am always searching for experimental ways to understand what critical questions and new perspectives audiences might develop while viewing an exhibition. This article documents my experiments with psychosocial theory and practice as a way of achieving this. It argues that adopting a psychosocial audience research method called the visual matrix enabled me to speculate on affect-driven and unconscious reflections on wellbeing prompted by my curated exhibition Group Therapy: Mental Distress in a Digital Age. Key artworks discussed include Madlove—A Designer Asylum (2015) by the vacuum cleaner and Hannah Hull and Labyrinth Psychotica (2013) by Jennifer Kanary Nikolova.
The article is particularly concerned with forms of care that might be built into an exhibition that explores psychological distress. While the methods explored here may not be suitable for every curator, it is hoped that this work may stimulate the devising of other small-scale experimental curatorial research processes that prioritise affective forms of audience receptivity.