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23.11.2017 | Words by: Floor van Hulsen
Photo by: Yasmijn Karhof, cropped from "Reality is a finger print"

We’re happy to celebrate the 4th edition of our recurring exhibition called Tijdgenoten. For this edition, De School will be opening its doors to the Beautiful Distress Foundation from New York and foundation Het Vijfde Seizoen in Den Dolder. Both organisations work to emancipate mental illness, and host rather similar artist in residence programs in mental health institutions.
 
Personally, I was once upon a time labelled a little mad, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, also known as ADD. A mental condition which causes those who have it to be distracted quickly, not have the greatest short-term memory and to be a bit dreamy overall. In short, you live your life like a chaotic whirlwind that runs all over the place. My teachers used to have me face a white wall while doing my assignments, hoping this would force me to get the assignments done in the same period of time as my class mates.
 
This turned me into a bit of an outsider that couldn’t tag along all too well with the rest of the kids. That’s because my teachers weren’t prepared to try and understand what was happening in my head. Years later, I had many people around me who’d had the same experience. Together we embraced our disorderly minds and used them for cool projects. I have the type of brain that forgets to wish you a happy birthday, but also the type of brain that comes up with a really creative present.
 
To what extent are people with a mental disorder involved in society? How do we make sure these people are embraced and understood? Is there a division between ‘normal’ people and ‘mad’ people? And if so how do we bring these two groups of people together, and bridge the gap?
 
In order to challenge the stigma that surrounds mental disorders, artists have participated in a residency program in psychiatric institutions. For three months, the artists immersed themselves in the minds of people with different mental disorders, yet they were free to choose how exactly they immersed in the institutions, as long as it took place in a respectful manner. Beautiful Distress and Het Vijfde Seizoen both regard visual artists as the ideal translators of the stories their clients cannot get across.
 
I asked contributing artist Tobias Groot about his experience at Den Dolder. During his last year at the Gerrit Rietvelt Academie, Groot participated in a workshop organised at het Vijfde Seizoen. He observed that the institution is like an isolated society within its own. ‘When entering the institution you notice that some things are completely normal, even though you wouldn’t expect them to be so as an outsider. All the clients greet each other, say good morning and people are very open to conversation, perhaps even more so than outside the institution.’
 
I also spoke to Yasmijn Karhof, who confirmed Tobias’ account. She thought it would be difficult to gain trust of the patients and have a conversation with them. But actually, they were very open to communicate and seemed to appreciate her interest. ‘You find out that the patients are dealing with problems that aren’t that different from ours, they’re just a bit more complicated and the patterns are more difficult to understand.’
 
On November 23rd, the opening of the exhibition in collaboration with Beautiful Distress and Het Vijfde Seizoen will take place from 20.00 til midnight, hopefully unveiling new insights in the human psyche, and how to cope with behaviour that is not regarded ‘normal’. The artworks on display all represent, in their own way, a manner of dealing with mental illness. It’s a way to learn more about how a disordered brain works and which triggers might cause someone to be unable to participate in society.
 
Supplementary to the exhibition, there will be a symposium, and three editions of Het Klaslokaal, a lecture series to provide a more in-depth view on the subject.
 
Beautiful Distress will be on view until December 23rd from Tuesday to Friday between 17:00 and 22:00 and during regular club nights. An entrance fee is required when visiting the exhibition spaces during regular club nights. More info on our art program page.
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