Breaking the Mental Health Stigma
While I was at Sanford House, the residents and I painted desert plates with all the bad things we wanted to banish from our lives forever (in my case fear, white wine, insecurity, addiction, self-sabotage and Raisinets – I sort of needed a dinner plate…), and then we got on a bus to ArtPrize, a juried art show in downtown Grand Rapids, and put on an ill-fitting welder’s helmet, entered a makeshift booth and threw our plates against a hard wall, smashing all our psychological issues to smithereens. Goodbye fear! So long processed sugar! Take a hike transfer addiction!
Well, actually some of us did.
I have never been much of a pitcher or a plate smasher (although I did wing an ashtray or two at my ex-husband in the old days). When I got into the breaking booth, an oddly intimidating thing to do, I lobbed the plate in a sort of underhand, ineffective swoop and instead of projecting forward to the hard wall, it fluttered upwards, skittered along a plastic tarp roof and landed at my feet intact. What does that even mean?
I eventually did break my plate, but it wasn’t the same as some of the women from Sanford who went into the booth with a slow-cooking purpose, pulverizing their plates into shards too small to use. Sanford House co-owner, Rae Green had a similar issue to mine, she had written “Stigma” with a Ghost Busters red X through it, and even though she connected with the wall three times, the plate remained whole. Because she is an optimist (and a better sport than me) she said, “Well, I guess it just means we still have a lot of work to do!”
The artist said it was uncanny, but that the word “fear” almost always remained intact, and that part of the beauty of the work was how the plates broke – like a divining rod or a palm reader’s prediction…
The installation, called “Breakthrough” is the brain child of Laura L. Bennett, Mark Bird and Randy Flood – partners in an artistic attempt to smash the stigma of mental health. My bad pitch aside, the point of the piece is to empower those who are carrying around their emotional issues like twenty pound weights, and make them part of a “new whole”. The piece was built out of the smashed plates of those who had participated by “throwing their struggles against a wall.” The artist used the pieces of broken plates to create a huge mosaic of a rising Phoenix, and some of the shards of people’s worries are readable within the body of the work.
The art partners say, “‘Breakthrough’ shows that the pieces or experiences of our lives are never lost or meaningless. Rather they can be powerfully and beautifully rearranged and reborn in new form…”
How clever of Rae Green and the folks at Sanford House to arrange this field trip to ArtPrize; we were all energized, connected and hopeful after the experience. How perfect a message to those in recovery – from the broken pieces of our lives, we can assemble a beautiful new whole…