Hearing Voices: Durham 5th November 2016 – 26th February 2017
Thursday, 10 Nov 2016, 08:53
Visible to anyone in the world- Edited by Steve Bamlett, Thursday, 10 Nov 2016, 16:32
Hearing Voices: suffering, inspiration, the everyday. A Free and wonderful exhibition at Palace Green Library in the City of Durham 5th November 2016 – 26th February 2017
For information about the exhibition and how to get there, click here. For an online version of the curation of the museum select this too.
See especially the wonderful audio-visual installation based on participation by people who hear voices and see visions by Victoria Hume. This is available on the online version. However, experiencing the simulated recorded voices and sounds on the screens, in the context of a university building corridor on which it is placed, mixed together with the contingent voices and sounds of the learners conversing as they pass you on their way to their studies, the sounds of the café nearby and so on – is UNBEATABLE.
Curation is an art – selecting materials and placing those ‘objects’ in space and time is always part of the multimodal experience offered and facilitated by a true exhibition. All of these factors are included in this great exhibition, which is not only academically multi-disciplinary but experientially multimodal – a continual integration and tense separation of auditory, visual, kinetic, and tactile experience. Yes tactile – as you brush against the banners, for instance bearing the words of ‘voice-hearers’ on both sides you experience not an exhibit but also complex relationships to it as you turn your body and parts of your body to assimilate, if never quite accommodate the experience that surrounds you.
The space contains multiple pathway and niches – in one you may stop and sit and write, touching the material by which to get ‘heard’. Two others places sport a round black rug in positions at which you experience what ‘hearing voices in the head’ MIGHT be like – created by suspended auditory equipment well above your head. These simulations help you not only to experience but to experience in context. Hearing the kind of voice that motivated Samuel Beckett, you gaze at his words and artefacts that memorialise him and his art. Compare that to the chance to don headphones and, momentarily escaping the curation’s multiple pathways, hear the VOICE of Virginia Woolf in both ears.
You don’t just see exhibits you begin to understand what it means to see ‘exhibits’, which is to hear, feel, touch both as sequential and sometimes integrated experiences. Yet you enter the curation through a most ‘conventional’ portal. Displayed in the requisite cases are copies of an ancient Chaucer and Boethius’s ‘Consolations of Philosophy’ side by side (although I would have loved to see Chaucer’s translation of the latter too). Read the text that introduces it though and begin to see what the rest of the exhibition forces you to see. Chaucer’s verse in Troilus and Cryseide mimes, or attempt to do so, some of the multimodality of experience we miss if we merely SEE text.
And the space defies conventional hierarchies. The hegemony of science (cognitive and / or neurobiological) is in the exhibit but not dominantly. It is present in three small video-slide installations in a pathway at the back of the exhibition. They provide a coherent narrative of neuroscience that is reaching out to other disciplines, through the thought of Vygotsky on the origin of speech in external dialogue and its journey through the child’s private speech to inner speech, being transformed as it travels (in part by abbreviation). Next to this is an exhibit on the phenomenon of childhood experience and the ‘imaginary friend’, facing its literary expressions in children’s literature.
Around the corner are exhibits on the asylums, including the soft jackets which replaced straitjackets. No obvious constraints but long sleeves so that ‘patients’ lost use of their hands (a version of the liquid cosh of largactil). Prepare yourself for real suffering.
There are other traditional ‘rare’ pieces in the exhibit. An original drawing by Charles Dickens of the podium he designed in order that people would hear and ‘see’ (in his energetic gestural communication) in his ‘readings’ the characters he claimed to see and hear (such as Nancy as she is murdered by Bill Sikes). Similarly the religious reliquary which takes up the theme of mystical experience of voice-hearing and its translation, as in Shakespeare’s depiction of Joan of Arc, into fearsome metaphors – of witchcraft, black magic and sorcery.
And there as well is Marius Romme and the texts and persons by which a Hearing Voices network began to be born in the Netherlands. In Britain, the great Ron Coleman (whose teaching as nurse and voice-hearer I remember through its reflection in training on the ‘normalisation’ of hallucinatory experience when I myself worked in mental health services) features. The exhibition includes a letter to Ron from Community Integrated Care (a charity I once worked for) – a remarkable exhibit.
But most of all people who hear and see voices both curate and become a presence in this exhibition – asked to record that on noticeboards as they pass. And what we might we see in that is that ‘hallucination’ is not merely pathological but on a continuum of experience, where the issues that make experience into what we recognise as ‘hearing’, ‘seeing’, ‘touching’ get made into problems to be thought about as well as experienced. I’d like to call it ‘multimodal metacognition’ (so tainted with the notion of ‘abnormality’ is conventional psychology’s take on synaesthesia).
But burble on no more, Steve. Do see this exhibition!
When I went with my husband, I had an interesting experience – people seeing the entrance and corridor exhibits skirted the entrance to pass it by, although it was clear that these people were tourists out to see Durham’s sights. My worry is that the biggest exhibit of this exhibition might be stigma against the very portents associated with ‘mental illnesses’.
To go and see is to take a step against such stigma. To begin to understand – and experience the beginning of your understanding – is a step further.
All the best