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White Noise: RCA Artists and Designers Tackle Mental Health

White Noise is an exhibition of Royal College of Art student and graduate work, organised by Co-president of the RCA Student Union Ailsa Sinclair, to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week 2017. The exhibition explores the social and personal impacts mental health problems can have on an individual and the role that designers and artists can play in promoting better mental health awareness. 

White Noise challenges preconceptions and destigmatises mental illness. It showcases creative work happening across the College that is inspired by or underpinned with personal experiences of mental health.

Sinclair, who made work about mental health while she was a student at the RCA, explained that it can be a difficult subject to broach, even within the relatively open context of an art and design school. In curating the exhibition for Mental Health Awareness Week, she hopes to address this, creating a space to speak about mental health and highlight the support and resources available to students.

Four Global Innovation Design students – Ralf Josef, Florencia Sepúlveda, Hermione Townsend and Dan Coppen – have developed a toolkit to enable discussion and promote a better understanding of mental health in different international contexts. The team developed a toolkit to use with older people in Brooklyn, New York, as well as a workshop for university students in Tokyo. In London the team are collaborating with Sane, a mental health charity, to produce a series of prompts and activities to generate empathy and awareness about mental health in young people. In each situation the team discovered the importance of using tangible physical resources to act as cues to prompt discussion, and fictional scenarios to divert conversation away from the personal in order to address taboo topics.

Vehicle Design student Sam Philpott has designed a fully autonomous electric vehicle that aims to impact positively on the mental health of young people working in cities. Considering NHS guidance, Sam highlighted interaction and mindfulness as two key elements for good mental health; the interior of his vehicle provides conditions for both. Through the arrangement of seating, lighting and the tactile experience of the space Sam’s design provides small moments of delight.

Several works in the exhibition capture and communicate part of the experience of mental health problems. Visual Communication MA student Sarah Sajid has created an immersive work that describes a journey of panic using only sound. I’m Fine, by MA Painting student Lindo Khandela, depicts a sufferer of depression and anxiety who puts on a mask of stability to the world. But as Lindo explained: ‘Behind this mask lies a volatile emotional struggle that only the sufferer bears witness to.’

MA Sculpture student Laura Dee Milnes’ performance InVálid is shown on a monitor, wonkily propped on pillows. It features the artist dragging her body around a room, maintaining as much contact between the floor and her flesh as possible. This self-inflicted durational feat, causes aberrations on her skin and is painful watching.

The designers of the exhibition identity – Arjun Harrison-Mann, Jordan Gamble and Ben Cain – have contributed an installation that asks visitors to sign their support for ‘a future in which all people are treated equally regardless of condition, where no person suffering from mental health is labelled a “pill popper” or “benefit scrounger” for their #invisibledisability’.

White Noise is on display at the Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU from 8 to 12 May 2017.

For more information about Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 visit the Mental Health Foundation website.
Find out more about the support offered by the RCA Student Support team.