Talking Sense: Exhibition Review

‘Talking Sense: The Changing Vocabulary of Mind and Brain’ at The Portico Library

Written by Meg Parrott

Photography by Lewis White

The Portico Library, hidden within the heart of Manchester, stands proud: walls are adorned with old editions, crowned with a stained-glass dome and peaceful amongst the hustle of the city. In the centre, the library’s newest exhibition, ‘Talking Sense: The Changing Vocabulary of Mind and Brain,’ strives to shine light on how society is approaching the conversation of mental health and rehabilitation, through art, design and craft.

As many creatives are too aware, obsessive nit-picking, self-comparison and feelings of inadequacy can come with the territory of being an artist. Yet, art can be both a saviour, a rehabilitator and even a source of catharsis. These notions can seemingly run parallel, and provide the foundation for The Portico’s, ‘Talking Sense’. Modern advancements in technology, politics and medicine, have evolved with positive mental health conversation, yet implementing decades old practice can be argued to be detrimental.

In practice for nearly seventy years, the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,’ is standard for most mental health professionals. From its initial publishing in 1952, the ways the public approaches mental health discussion has evolved by and large, with a growing number of us finding solace in art and design. The freedoms of creativity can be welcoming; its subjectivity, liberating. Its ability to heal, even greater. Nor is this more apparent than the work on display, such as Lauren Steeper’s installation of broken, and re-fixed egg shells, or Norman Anderson’s painting during rehabilitation from a stroke eighteen months ago. There is an endearing contrast between the library and its new exhibition: the grade two listed stone pillars are striking against a colourful hotchpotch of works, from multi-coloured embroidery, to collage and textured paintings. Each artwork is married with deconstructed phrases from this manual, aiming to question the relevance of this language in regards to modern mental health practice. The exhibition, running from 17th January to April 13th, pushes to question the ethics of this, featuring multidisciplinary works from fifty artists, all created around their own experiences with mental health. ‘Talking Sense’ portrays the personal, the painful and the poignant; film, language and video alike are conveyed as tools for opening conversation on mental health, within the historic walls of The Portico.

The strain on mental health services in the UK is arguably felt by many in 2020, with approximately one in four people experiencing some kind of mental health issue each year (Mind.) The strains of modern life and technology can feel overwhelming at the best of times, and seemingly run parallel with the seismic growth of social media in recent years. Recent national campaigns such as Britain’s Got Talent’s ‘Britain Get Talking,’ are championing unashamed conversation surrounding these topics – change is happening, slowly – but is this enough? It was an installation of a money box, labelled ‘Help the Normal’ by Dolly Sen, that resonated with me the most; highlighting once ‘invisible illnesses,’ that are now finally being noticed. It can’t help but seem slightly fitting to have an exhibition on mental wellbeing in a library; the peaceful silence is only an added charm transcending beyond the shown works at ‘Talking Sense.’ The exhibition holds an invitation to reflect on the importance of tactile making: its ability to sooth, and its standing relevance in a society that holds digital communication in such high esteem.

Amongst the array of mixed media, film and fine art, the audience is invited to interact with the exhibition: what language do you associate with emotions? How can imagery reflect this? As well as this, there is also an opportunity to buy works from talented, local makers and designers, such as bags, books and small craft.

Whether large projects, or merely making time to do more of my own artwork outside of university/work/day-to-life, ‘Talking Sense: The Changing Vocabulary of Mind and Brain,’ has, in many ways, made me reconsider the prevalence art has in my own life, especially in the case of my mental health. It can seem a cycle where pursuing your hobby can make creating a drain, but, undeniably, making is the most important source of fulfillment to me. Also, as the exhibition shows, that could be the case for many other people, who probably don’t realise it yet.

‘Talking Sense: The Changing Vocabulary of Mind and Brain’, is on show at The Portico Library from 17th January – April 13th 2020.


Meg Parrott @mgprrtt ‘a second year Art Direction student at the Manchester School of Art, whose practice spans the realms of graphic design, visual arts and journalism…’

Our guest photographer is Lewis White, a fine art street photographer who looks at loneliness in the city. You can purchase his prints on his website lewiswhitephotography.com.

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