Using a combination of museum style presentation, film and found objects, Mental State Signs at Paradise Works (Salford) sets to work on the viewer’s subconscious. The solo-exhibition by Manchester-based artist Nick Jordan contains no immediately obvious or direct message; rather it creates its own kind of psychological space in which only inferences may be drawn that can’t necessarily be traced back to the artist himself.
Traditional display cases and framed documents are offset by text-based paintings and large black-and-white photographs. The work leads the viewer – both literally and conceptually – through the gallery space to the video installation ‘Thought Broadcasting’ (2017) presented at the back in a darkened room. The film draws on real-life accounts of a particular form of schizophrenia whereby the patient believes their thoughts are being transmitted and heard by others, in this case mediated electronically. It is the mistrust of media technologies on the part of these patients that raises the most interesting questions here.
“It’s not just mobile phone signals, my thoughts are carried through electricity, transmitted, everywhere. I can feel it.” *
It seems that, as a society, our only way of dealing with various forms psychosis is to document them fastidiously, from a place of remove. But how far are we willing to discuss the extent to which these disorders are symptomatic and indicative of what is fundamentally wrong with the world we have created for ourselves?
“I think that other people must be sick in some way.”*
After all, can the feeling that one is constantly being watched and surveyed really be the delusion of a paranoid mind in light of today’s ‘surveillance society’ and recent debates surrounding data protection? The whole aesthetic of the show seems to hint that not just media technologies but our urban environment itself (or the combination of these elements) can have a pernicious effect on the human psyche. In Jordan’s work, man-made structures seem more unnatural than ever. Technology emerges as a strange, unsettling force of which humans are subjects rather than masters.
“The technology is already, like, betraying me.”*
The patient interviewed in the film doesn’t necessarily come across as being ‘mentally unstable’, so much as a coherent individual troubled by genuine phenomena. Rather than focusing on attitudes towards those with mental health disorders (though this could be a fruitful line of discussion), Jordan raises a very different set of questions such as: Why do we study these conditions in the way that we do, and why is it that we seem to find mental illness so infinitely more disturbing than physical illness? It is as if society regards ‘neurotic’ conditions as some kind of threat to our way of life.
The attitude of the psychiatric patient towards the world seems more relevant here in its own right, than a discussion around common perceptions of those diagnosed with mental health disorders. What is truly unsettling about Mental State Signs is the frightening but unavoidable suggestion that the psychiatric patient may have something important to tell us about the world we live in and certain aspects of our society. It is almost as if this is the true reason why so much research has gone in to mental health disorders.
Overall, the exhibition offers an open-ended argument via a series of hints and suggestions which subtly warn of the potential effects of urbanisation, surveillance and a too-close relationship with media technologies. One possible inference from the film is that cases of psychosis or schizophrenia may even be a kind of early warning system for potential alterations in the human condition, resulting from our ongoing relationship with technology. In any case, Jordan’s work offers an engaging, even absorbing discussion of the nature of sanity in the 21st century.
*(Patient in ‘Thought Broadcasting’)
Mental State Signs runs 1st – 24th June 2018 at Paradise Works, Salford and features an original soundscape by Lord Mongo