Empowering bold discussions on anxiety

We preview 'On Edge: Living in an Age of Anxiety' at Science Gallery London, a new exhibition advised by psychologist Thalia Eley and others.

A new exhibition and events season at Science Gallery London combines art, design, psychology and neuroscience to highlight positive and creative responses when dealing with anxiety. ON EDGE: Living in an Age of Anxiety reflects on individual experiences, the environmental and societal factors that can cause worry or stress and explores our evolutionary impulse to be on alert.

Drawing on research from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, the season reflects the perspectives of a range of artists, scientists, young people and those with lived experience of anxiety. New commissions are included, developed by artists working in collaboration with researchers from King’s.

‘King’s College London is home to outstanding mental health research, including on the causes and effects of anxiety,’ said Professor Thalia Eley, Professor of Developmental Behavioural Genetics at King’s, and ON EDGE Season Advisor. ‘This season brings new perspectives to a phenomenon that affects so many of us. ON EDGE invites visitors to reflect on their own wellbeing in a wider context.’

‘The exhibition takes as its starting point that we all experience anxiety at some point in our lives,’ said curator-producer Mette Kjærgaard Præst. ‘We aim to open up a critical conversation about the causes of and responses to anxiety in contemporary society. ON EDGE makes visible the possible connections between individual experiences and the wider societal conditions that frame them.’

Many of the featured artists – Leah Clements, Benedict Drew, Sarah Howe, Ann Lislegaard, Cian McConn, Harold Offeh, Resolve Collective, Suzanne Treister, Alice May Williams – draw on their own experiences to consider how individuals experience anxiety and develop creative coping mechanisms. Some of the artistic/academic collaborations will explore the relationship between sleep and anxiety; how we can destigmatise sensitive conversations around mental health; and what the emotional state of anxiety might look like if portrayed using sound and light.

In 'Consider Falling' by Sarah Howe (pictured), disjointed compositions, mirrors, fragments of interviews, gifs, and repeating gestures of anxiety observed by the artist create an immersive installation, rooted in research into depersonalisation and derealisation disorders (DPD) and conversations with service users from The Maudsley Hospital.

The season also considers how our noisy, interconnected and uncertain world affects our wellbeing on a collective level. ON EDGE features work that explores broader social questions around experiencing and addressing anxiety. Examples include collaborations considering the complex ways that our urban environment affects our individual psychological state; the emotional role of anxiety in society; and how we study, measure and support mental health conditions. 

Deborah Bull, Vice President & Vice-Principal (London) and Senior Advisory Fellow for Culture at King’s College London, said: ‘At Science Gallery London, we bring scientists together with artists to provoke new perspectives on some of the world’s greatest challenges and connect in innovative ways between the university and communities across London and beyond.’

Throughout the season, Science Gallery London will host a discursive space for visitors to think about the ways we react to and experience anxiety. This will be designed by Resolve Collective and the Gallery’s Young Leaders, a group of 15-25-year olds who live, work or study at King’s or in the neighbouring boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth. 

A programme of free events, including talks, workshops and Friday Lates will continue the conversation around anxiety in contemporary society. Another psychologist, Dr Colette Hirsch, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology, King’s College London, was involved as an advisor (alongside Eley and Dr Errol Francis, Chief Executive, Culture&). Dr Elaine Hunter, consultant clinical psychologist and clinical lead of the Depersonalization Disorder Service (DDS) at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, was one of a number of other academics involved.  

John O’Shea, Head of Programming at Science Gallery London, said: ‘We hope that visitors to the exhibition will be engaged by the questions posed, and, through the creative strategies of the artists, feel empowered to have bold discussions about the experience of anxiety within contemporary society.’

The exhibition runs from 19 September 2019 – 19 January 2020 at Science Gallery London (King’s College London) and entry is free. 

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