With Cork Photo Festival 2018 launching next week we continue to showcase our ELASTIC artists and their work for the collective exhibition.
Today photographic artists Courtney Husslemann give’s us personal insight on how communication breakdown can be a source and symptom of anxiety.
‘8-9-7-8 / 12-13-23’ is a two-fold project that presents a zine exploring a variation of thought that can occur in conversations regarding mental health, and how that can encourage a different approach to communication to develop deeper understanding. ‘8-9-7-8 / 12-13-23’ also showcases new work from an on-going project following release through the creative process.
The expanse of space is a common theme in my work. The science can seem confusing and nonsensical at times, which fuels the fantastical landscapes in the series. When communication becomes a difficult endeavour and control seems out of my hands, I find solace in the creation of scenes that give me full reign in a positive way. The scenes don’t need to make sense or say anything in particular, and that removes the pressure of a lot of the image-making process, so that I can escape into a place that is like no other.
Text on Show with imagery
Born in South Africa and raised in the UK, I’ve always felt an undercurrent of displacement. My mother always wanted to block out our lives from the past, and yet our closest families lived by the customs they knew so well from a life now a distant memory.
When I started school, I went the opposite route to what my family considered to be a traditional South African girl, studying art rather than just hoping I’d make a decent Christian and a good wife. I just fell in love with making and creating, drawing, filming, producing; the weirder the piece the more my teachers loved it, and from this acceptance, I knew I wanted to create for the rest of my life. Naturally, when I studied photography at university, I was drawn to more of a fantastical style that allowed me to make what I wanted without restrictions, a different planet, a new perspective. I didn’t have to be one thing or another, and from then onwards collage became an outlet.
Moving from the tiny city of Portsmouth to London was more of a challenge than I’d expected. I was renting in a commercial property without windows, my friends seemed so far away, my family was demanding a level of commitment I couldn’t provide, and a darkness snowballed from there. The more I felt I couldn’t keep up, the further I fell, until I started feeling like a different person entirely. I pushed everybody away, I became lethargic to the point it was impossible to get up, and my partner started to notice that something was seriously wrong. It took a long time for him to convince me I needed to see someone; I didn’t think I was going to be the sort of person who needed ‘help’, and it hurt my pride to even make the call.
Of course, within my first session I felt relief; for the first time I was talking to someone who knew what I meant when I described myself. The worst part about this thing I was going through was that my loved ones just were not getting it. There’s such a danger of seeming lazy, uninteresting, unmotivated when you talk about how you feel without having a name for it, so I then – naïve in my interpretation of my own thoughts – convinced myself I was those things. But suddenly there’s someone with some suggestions that helped, and things started falling into place.
I started talking to my partner more, and this quickly became a trigger for me. I wanted to explain why I was behaving differently when it impacted our time together, but it wasn’t easy for him to understand. Communications became tumultuous, but eventually my therapy ended, and I had ways to deal with situations in a way that has since prevented the crossed wires.
It’s been a while since I got through that dark place, and although it’s still very much a part of how I see the world, I now have the tools to manage and live with it in peace. However, the most incredible change happened for me when I started this project. I knew I wanted it to be a collage; instantly I saw fantasylands with giants and creatures roaming the landscape, with confusing features and textures, and I got lost in the idea of making the ambiguous land that I thought I could relate back to my situation with a humorous twist.
When I got home and explained it to my partner, we struggled to understand each other again – he felt I was making light of the issue, and I instantly felt disheartened because I knew it: I don’t know how to communicate my own thoughts to others unless they’ve been through what I’d been through; the concept it too abstract. And that was it – I knew that I wanted to produce a piece that tackled the difficulty of communicating this confusing place in my mind.
The piece itself is in two-parts: the physical images and the zine. The space outside our planet is illusive, daunting, unpredictable at times, vast and ever changing, and I find significant parallels between my understanding of this science, and my personal experience of mental health. The images are each altered differently, each manipulated to fulfil a sense of unease in the viewer. The lines are broken, the previously satisfying spherical shape of the bodies are disjointed, they’re recognisable and yet confusing and difficult to understand.
The zine explores the real sense of trying to communicate with my friends, family, my partner – clearly – in black and white, and feeling like I’m speaking another language. It’s taken courage and confidence to speak openly about the conditions that I work and live with, but it is important to know that they’re more common in these recent days than we as a general society believe. Therefore, the meaning of the zine is revealed when the viewer takes the time to understand it.
The beauty of the work for me has been how easy I have found to work so closely with my partner on these images. For a project exploring the difficulties of talking openly about mental health, we’ve made it a real part of our everyday lives. He is my soundboard, my biggest fan, my retoucher; he has helped me get this project to where it is, and most surprisingly, we did it through the art of communication – the concept we’d struggled with all along.
So, it is with great appreciation, that I give him special mention in this project. I wouldn’t have been able to see this project for what it is without our experience together, the unexpected issues that have arisen throughout my experience with depression and anxiety, and his willingness to be a part of it, whole heartedly.