After attending the opening of Head Space: An Exhibition on Mental Health, which was in the Case Gallery this previous week, I was immediately struck by the exhibition’s ability to use space sparsely and still retain a heavy emotional impact. I followed up my visit with an interview with Hannah Kolb ’16, who put together the entire exhibition as part of her senior project.
Unfortunately, the exhibition has since been taken down. But, the questions it raised about how students and our campus deal with mental health issues still remain pertinent.
1. What inspired you to come up with this exhibition?
When deciding what to undertake as my senior project, I knew I wanted it to be creative, collaborative, and to address a social issue I felt was being ignored or neglected by this campus. The main goal of the exhibit was to create a space (i.e. a “Head Space”) for students to explore their relationships to and experiences with mental illness. I wanted these students to be seen, heard, and felt by others, and for a community to form between them and those who viewed their art. Finally, I hoped that this space would multiply across Skidmore, creating further spaces for conversation, so that talking about mental health would feel less taboo.
2. How did you use space in the exhibition to further your thoughts on depression and anxiety?
It was really important for me from a curatorial standpoint to not overwhelm the viewer when they came into the exhibit. The pieces (many of which stood as a collection of several pieces) were each powerful and thought-provoking in their own way. I wanted to give each artwork ample amount of room in the gallery, so that the viewer could approach them with plenty of physical and metaphorical “space” to process them.
I toyed with the idea of having the pieces arranged in a more chaotic way, to reflect the often disorienting and unsettling experience of having either anxiety or depression, but at the same time I didn’t want to overwhelm or distract the viewer.
3. Do you believe Skidmore addresses mental health issues well, and if not, how could they improve?
Part of the motivation behind this project was the fact that I feel Skidmore, at this point in time, isn’t addressing mental health issues on campus at all, or at least in a way that students can see and respond to. While I feel that the Counseling Center does make themselves available to students during periods of crisis—a few too many of which have occurred this year alone—I feel there hasn’t been enough dialogue surrounding the needs of students dealing with mental illness on a daily basis. What we do know is that the Counseling Center is very understaffed, and can’t possibly respond to these needs to the best of their ability. In my creation of a space where students could artistically express these needs, I can only hope that it gets the attention of the student body, in a way that persuades the administration to make mental health care even more of a priority.
4. What do you want students to take away from your exhibition?
As I’ve mentioned before, in my efforts to foster a sense of community, I hope that students who have suffered with anxiety or depression in their lives leave the exhibit feeling understood, feeling human, and not feeling so alone. For those who haven’t, I hope that their eyes are opened to the different things their peers must carry as they navigate the world. The exhibit isn’t meant to instruct others on how they should deal with their mental health issues, but is simply in place to provoke thought, to inspire, and to approach the topic with compassion and reverence rather than shying away from it altogether.