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  • Pop-Up Institute’s Lily Martin on Madness, art and empowerment


Pop-Up Institute’s Lily Martin on Madness, art and empowerment

Co-founder of the Pop-Up Institute Lily Martin spoke to Exberliner about working to destigmatise mental illnesses through creative arts therapies. This weekend she’ll be taking part in the Disruption Network Lab’s conference ‘Madness: Fighting for Justice in Mental Health’ at the Kunstquartier Bethanien.

Lily Martin. Photo: Simon Reichel

What is the Pop-Up Institute and what do you do?

The Pop-Up Institute is a location independent, process oriented institute. The projects always circle around the fight against the stigma of mental illnesses. One of our main goals is to work truly collaboratively. We bring together people with the experience of mental illness and artists or creative arts therapists and enter into a collaborative process with an uncertain outcome. For our first project, ‘Mental’, for example, we worked with artists and people who’ve experienced schizophrenia. They came together and worked for over a year in different constellations. Sometimes all together, sometimes in little groups. In the end an interactive exhibition was created.

What would you say is the biggest way that mental illness is misunderstood and stigmatised today?

In my opinion, people with mental illnesses aren’t seen as whole people who, among other defining features, have a diagnosis. Mental illness becomes the only defining characteristic in other peoples’ eyes. For example, people living with schizophrenia are perceived as dangerous or unpredictable and people withdraw from them. They could struggle to get employment, lose their job, or have problems getting an apartment if people find out that they have mental illnesses. So they become very isolated.

What role can the media play in this stigmatisation?

Media has a very big impact. For a long time people living with mental illnesses have been depicted very badly in the media. They’re represented as predators who are crazy and who do bad things to other people. That’s the image many people have of those living with mental illness. It totally disrespects the 99% of people who have a diagnosis and would never do anything harmful to anybody.

Martin will be moderating the panel discussion, ‘Art and Survivor Empowerment’ at the Disruption Network Lab’s conference ‘Madness: Fighting for Justice in Mental Health’ on Saturday 26 November, 20:00 – 21:30.

Have you observed any ways in which people can incorporate art therapy-type practices or techniques into their own mental health care in an everyday way?

A big lesson from our work in the past year was that, whether or not you have a diagnosis, everybody has things that they have to process and that have a big impact on them emotionally. It doesn’t matter if you are diagnosed with schizophrenia or not, we process things very similarly. For example, some people  use creative nonverbal methods like painting or movement to process their emotions and their feelings. This is not a designed therapy, but it can have a therapeutic impact on you.

The Pop-Up Institute’s approach to collaborative work is unique because everyone (professionals and people with mental illness) have equal responsibility for the project. How do you make this work?

In our process, we understand that everybody has a certain expertise. Artists or creative arts therapists contribute their experience with the arts and nonverbal methods to the collaborative process. That’s their expertise. People with the experience of a mental illness contribute their experiences, emotions and thoughts as their expertise. 

We also paid everybody the same amount of money for the hours they put into the work. That’s something that we’ve been told was healing and empowering. It’s empowering to have gone through a process and learnt something from it. Then to be able to use that experience as expertise, work with it and give it to others. It has a meaning and a value. It’s not just a bad thing and although it was hard, it’s not something you have to hide or not talk about.

Installation view from ‘NO MUD NO LOTUS’, part of Pop-Up Institute’s first project ‘Mental’. Photo: Pop-Up Institute

In many ways it feels like mental illness is actually becoming increasingly de-stigmatised, but those kinds of conversations are only really happening in privileged and often white spaces. Do you have any thoughts on this kind of class and race discrepancy in discussions around mental health?

The Disruption Network Lab’s Madness Conference is international and there are contributors who have experienced some very disturbing things involving racial prejudice. I think that here in Germany we have quite a good healthcare system, it’s not perfect, but at least people don’t have to pay for some psychotherapy, arts therapies or for going to the clinic. But it is very Eurocentric and I think there is a lot of injustice for people who define themselves as a person of colour. At the Pop-Up Institute, we’ve worked with people who feel that once you’re labelled as the patient, your voice is not really heard anymore, and I think that’s even worse when you are a person of colour. There is definitely a problem with racism and structural discrimination.

What kinds of people would you like to see at the conference?

It doesn’t matter what kind of experience you have. ‘Madness’ is not only for psychiatrists or psychotherapists, you can just be someone who has struggled with their mental health or experienced treatment that you might not have been happy with. Maybe you are an artist or creative arts therapist, or just someone who wants to know more about this kind of work. You could be an activist or maybe an advocate, it doesn’t matter. Every voice is welcome at the conference and should be heard. It’s about asking how we can change our mental health system and make it just and fair for everyone.

  • The conference runs from Friday 25 November – Sunday 27th at Kunstquartier Bethanien (Mariannenplatz 2, Kreuzberg) and events will be streamed online for free.Visit Disruption Network Lab’s website to buy tickets and read the full programme.
Lily Martin founded the Pop-Up Institute together with Kerstin Schoch. Lily is a researcher at Alanus University of Arts and Social Sciences.

She will be moderating the panel discussion ‘Art and Survivor Empowerment’ at the Disruption Network Lab’s conference ‘Madness: Fighting for Justice in Mental Health’ (Saturday 26 November, 20:00 - 21:30)