Translating ‘the mind’ into a physical (or indeed digital) piece is a profound task. Those words might conjure up images of the head, the brain, or a thought-bubble, yet the concept of the mind isn’t something we can place in or around the body; it’s abstract, esoteric and highly personal. Thoughts, processes, subjectivities, fears, peccadilloes and internalised world views don’t lend themselves well to neat pictorial illustrations, yet they are the building blocks of many artworks. The mind and art-making share a complex, co-dependent relationship.
On a similar bent, artists are often connected with the subject of mental health. Aside from well-worn tales like Van Gogh’s severed ear, and the wearisome (and arguably, pretty damaging) notion of the tortured artist, a 2014 report published in the Guardian stated that “painters, musicians, writers and dancers were, on average, 25 percent more likely to carry the gene variants [for depression] than professions the scientists judged to be less creative, among which were farmers, manual labourers, and salespeople.”
This year has been highly challenging for many people, when it comes to mental health. Creative studio and magazine Emulsion has been working on a project that unites both of these threads, called Sub-Merge: Visions of the Mind. The project, which takes the form of an online photographic print sale, draws together a raft of exciting artists, who have worked with photography to explore the intersections of mental health, art and technology.
Much of the work, according to the Emulsion team, is focused on themes of artifice, nature, and perceptions of reality. The project explores ideas around imagined realities, unseen perspectives, collective memories and diverse identities to “represent a new kind of cybernetic experience through photography”. All profits raised from sales of the £100 prints will be donated to mental health charity Mind. Among the digital artists, filmmakers and photographers featured in the show are Ed Atkins, Amartey Golding, Harley Weir, Jean Vincent Simonet, Nhu Xuan Hua and Ben Rivers, to name but a few.
“The concept of the mind isn’t something we can place in or around the body; it’s abstract, esoteric and highly personal”
Emulsion’s photo and film editor Nick Hadfield, who co-curated Sub-Merge with the organisation’s creative director, Mikey Opie, describes it as “a reaction to one of our generations biggest challenges—our relationship with technology”. He adds, “Using photography in its broadest sense, we wanted to encourage innovative and creative uses of new technologies, alongside our ‘natural’ states of being, to promote healthy living and to expand consciousness.”
However, the project deftly dodges making binary judgements around tech: it’s neither presented as a utopian godsend, nor does it take that predictable Black Mirror-ish stance that digital futures are, for the most part, terrible. Indeed, while acknowledging the potentially fraught consequences of tech-reliance, the show also celebrates the possibilities it has engendered for image-making. As Emulsion puts it, tech in photography enables the medium to become “a forum for a fluid, sensual and technological experience”.