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Inspire Cheshire West has closed. Thank you to everyone who took part. Your contributions, stories, ideas and experiences about life under lockdown restrictions were a valuable resource to the communities of west Cheshire.

Art, anxiety and me…

by Phil@CWC,

When artist Joe Richardson returned to his Cheshire roots to exhibit his work at the Winsford Cine-Window, it became an exploration into his family history and mental health.

Through his work, he has found international acclaim and has undertaken residencies in New York and Beijing.

His Cine-Window installation, Hang on a Minute urges passers-by to take a few minutes out of their day and consider the gesture and motions of his work.

Here the artist talks frankly about his own struggles with anxiety and how his art is helping him to manage his condition and can even support the creative process…

Art, anxiety and me…

The opportunity to exhibit at Cine-Window Winsford offered me the space to reflect on my family history, not only on their creative practices of blacksmithing and horology, but also the experiences of anxiety I uncovered in my research.

Whilst visiting Winsford to film ‘Maddock’ ( https://vimeo.com/528976230 ) and having conversations with my relatives to learn more of their creative talents, I began to uncover stories of my anxious ancestors. This led me to consider how they used their creativity to cope with anxiety and reflect upon my own experiences of managing my mental health through creative and physical activity.

I have experienced a mild but very real form of anxiety my entire life. In my early years this manifested as a fear of going to school, more recently I catastrophise the most ordinary situations such as ‘when will I eat?’ or ‘how will I fit all these tasks into one day?’. These feelings often arise when I’m in the process of making artworks.

I regularly feel frozen in a state where my muscles become tense, my mind is racing and I struggle in making the simplest of decisions. It is as if I have been suspended in time, my body remains still, yet, there is ample energy in the form of adrenaline running through my veins, akin to the static tension present in my balloon and anvil work (Include image); the gas pulling the balloon upward and the counteracting weight of the anvil and gravity pulling it back to Earth.

I often feel the need to use this energy to perform some form of physical activity in an intense burst that can take the form of a five kilometre run, sculpting material or producing a passage of writing. My body often feels tired and exhausted after these moments, but softer and no longer tense. My mind focussed on what I have just been working on, be it covering ground, making a form, or trying to put into words what I’m feeling.

I find it valuable to remain still after these periods of intensity. This time helps me to digest what has just happened, what I have achieved, where I would like to progress to and most importantly how I feel in both my head and my body. I realise now that this approach has a lot of crossover with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

For a long time, I resisted the idea of speaking to someone about my daily anxieties and managing them. When I finally made the decision to make a call to my local counselling authority, it made a huge difference to my life. Speaking with a counsellor helped me to gain perspective on my patterns of anxiety. By breaking down and analysing the situations in which I feel anxious I am able to examine the root cause or trigger of my anxieties and the subsequent events.

This helps me to spot trends and put coping mechanisms into place. This process is very similar to how I evaluate my art practice, deconstructing the nuts and bolts of what makes up the work and evaluating how I can make changes to help improve and develop my ideas and attitudes to managing potential problems.

I think creativity is a fantastic outlet for managing my anxiety as it provides me with a focus and often the opportunity to perform meditative acts such as repeating a gesture whilst simultaneously giving voice to thoughts and feelings that might be difficult to articulate otherwise. Combined with my routine of regular exercise, breathing exercises, seeking professional help, or, simply hanging upside down in moments of high tension, this has helped to help me feel grounded and to build a daily and ongoing practice of managing my mental health.

I hope that this exhibition will add a small contribution to the ongoing national conversation of the need for increased resources to help people access support in managing their mental health.

For local mental health support: https://livewell.cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk/Search?CategoryId=3822&UDG=True&OrderBy=Relevance&InfoPageIndex=1&SM=ServiceSearch&SME=True&ServicePageIndex=1

To access culture activities from your home: http://westcheshiremuseums.co.uk/culture-from-your-home/

‘Hang on a Minute’ will run throughout April and May at Cinewindow, Winsford. The exhibition has been made possible with support from the DCMS Cultural Recovery Fund awarded as part of Cheshire West & Chester Council, Cultural Services.

Joe Richardson has previously undertaken residencies in New York City, Beijing, China and Stokkøya, Norway. He is a recipient of both the Red Mansion Art Prize and the Cass Art Prize.

In 2020 and 2019, he received commissions from Universal Music Group to create a collection of video works which are on permanent display at their London Headquarters. Richardson is a Central Saint Martins, MA Fine Art Graduate (2018).

Find more information about Joe visit his website: https://www.joerichardson.net/ and Instagram: joepdrichardson.

Cine Window Winsford also has a Community Window which is a free exhibition space for local artists, photographers, crafters and makers to showcase their work and nurture and inspire film making in Winsford. If you would like to exhibit your work there in the future, contact cinewindowwinsford@gmail.com for more information.

You can find out more on Instagram and Facebook @cinewindowwinsford

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