So speaks Nina or is it Lucy, or Emma? The protagonist (eventually revealed as Emma) in the powerful, harrowing addiction drama People, Places and Things is an actress, who breaks down during her role in Chekhov’s The Seagull. Her thwarted ambition, trauma and family dysfunction numbed by ‘living vividly’ through drink and drugs. This clever turn is played out as we try to decipher what is the truth and what is a lie, when is she real and when is it an act? These are salient issues for those working in the field of substance misuse.

Rehabilitation concept.

It’s hard to take your eyes off Denise Gough’s lead. She is astonishing and mesmerising, in turns loveable and hateful. Anyone familiar with addiction will recognise the complexities and contradictions involved, the love (requited, according to Emma) and pleasure that drugs offer, the destruction they wreak on themselves and those nearby, and the deep ambivalence of the user. Emma enters rehab drowning in psychical pain, the set neon-aglow in clean and pristine white tiles, with just enough time to snort a line of coke before admission. In turn the staff and fellow patients try hard to find a point of connection as Emma rebels, manipulates and seduces. We feel their pain and frustration. The demise of one (Foster) after the death of his dog and 7 years clean underlines the vulnerability of professional helpers, many of whom have their own demons to manage.

The pleasure-pain paradigm is graphically presented in the earth-shattering clubbing and cold-turkey scenes. It’s hard to tell one scenario from the other as Emma explodes, hallucinating and dissociating, multiple figures of her writhing, pacing, dancing, collapsing, retching over the toilet bowl, and arising from the mattress like a scene from The Exorcist. She utters a primal scream and we all want to join in-what the hell causes her pain and must she reveal it to be free?

The 12-steps loom large, foregrounding the ‘one day at a time’ mindfully, socially and spiritually engaged approach to abstinence. Zealous submission to this higher power isn’t for everyone and Emma initially rages against it. In one scene staff and patients ‘the group’ join hands and recite the ‘Serenity Prayer’, see below. Sometimes the jokes wear as thin as the ‘f****ing boring, orange squash’ culture of rehab that Emma resents as she screams for a ‘real drink’. Emma eventually submits for she has no choice, no other recovery model is presented, nor is family therapy offered. This is a critical omission, as it is routinely part of rehab and is particularly relevant here, given the toxic influence of Emma’s parents.

12 step

The family issues are laid bare in the play’s most harrowing scene after Emma’s graduation from rehab, returning to the family home, vulnerable and back in her childhood bedroom. ‘Our family is broken’ states her mother, played by Barbara Marten, cold and victorious. The same actress plays her psychiatrist and her therapist, disorienting us and providing further scope for projection. Her mother, resigned, is her nemesis and her mirror. For Emma, her mother is the greatest risk to relapse, and this is no paranoid delusion as she has stashed drugs and drug paraphernalia under her daughter’s bed, daring her to come clean or to leave, forever. Emma picks up the phone to call her sponsor, checking when the next (12-step) meeting is, praying to be rescued from herself, her family, and the box under the bed. This scene explains better than any words, how abstinence is precarious and relapse is ever-near to people, places and things, especially at times of stress.


People, Places, and Things is at the Wyndhams Theatre until 18 June 2016. light and pattern imagesChildren are naturally creative. They explore, experiment and fantasise, unconstrained by formalised artistic training and convention. Children do not typically censor the content of their artwork hence it reveals insights into their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Elements including symbolism, size and colour offer important clues and cues to those around them. As children develop verbal language, artwork can be considered a form of graphic articulation. This concept is useful when communication is challenging and as a route to unconscious exploration.

Many artists seek to recapture the raw emotionality of unconstrained childlike creativity. Professional primitivists incorporate the aesthetic of naiveté and there is much interest in the work of untrained or outsider artists, some who are considered naïve, folkloric or tribal in style.

The Fair

An installation The Child’s Hand at the Outsider Art Fair, Paris will explore relationships between art produced by children and work made by artists who reference a childlike worldview, stylistically or in content matter.

A panel (including an artist, psychologist, and curator) will gather during the fair to consider the role and significance of children’s art and what it may reveal to us about the work and practice of contemporary artists.

Call for artwork

We invite submissions of art made by children. We seek work on paper made spontaneously (i.e. without adult instruction) by your child/ren that you find especially interesting. 2-3 (maximum) high quality images of work may be submitted, along with the age and gender of the artist and the name and contact details of the parent or guardian of the child artist. Explanatory or accompanying text should not be included.

A panel of artists and curators will consider the work submitted. The permission of parents/guardians will be sought should their child’s work be selected for exhibition. Please note that submission of work is no guarantee of inclusion in the installation.

Please send submissions or queries via email only to by 1700 29th June 2016.

So IS hit us in the grey zone, those areas where we live, work and play. The places we go about our everyday business, where we usually feel safe. Spaces that aren’t usually patrolled or subject to checks and security measures. The shock and horror is magnified as the attack was not in a warzone but a Western capital city, in our neighbourhood. President Hollande referred to the atrocities in Paris attack as an act of war such is the injustice and invasive nature of the implosion. His words signpost retribution.




Social psychology offers some clues to help us comprehend the almost inexplicable terrorist attacks that have occurred. Our sense of safety, fundamental to our physical and psychological wellbeing, has been shattered. Feeling unsafe means that it is barely possible to do anything else. Everyday tasks become almost impossible. Our sense of normality, the schema representing business as usual is fractured. Feelings of numbness, a sense of paralysis, and extreme anger are all normal responses to devastating trauma. Whoever committed the recent attacks or why, IS represents a modern day bogeyman. A terrifying, barely plausible, and nightmarish vision from a storybook. Such characters are all the more frightening as we cannot get a handle on them, they exist in the shadows, making it harder to defeat them. Even if not directly impacted by recent terrorist atrocities, we are subject to social contagion, the term for the influence of expressions of anger and fear that circulate amongst us, given easy passage via the universal spread of social media.



Over the weekend I experienced terror vicariously and tended to the fear and distress of others, afraid that they would be next; that the terrorists were coming for them. These thoughts that may have seemed irrational a week ago, overnight became a rational response to traumatic events. We know in grim detail what those subject to the attacks experienced, as we were exposed to it round the clock via 24/7 media reports. Bystanders can experience vicarious traumatisation simply by witnessing or hearing about a terrifying event. Graphic images of the traumatic event are now available to all at any time. The resulting fear and subjugation are modes of control, used to great effect in dictatorial regimes.

How can human beings harm others so violently? We all identify as part of a group (or multiple groups) and by definition if you’re not in my in-group, you’re in the out-group. Such simple identification is reinforced through socialisation, custom and ritual. People commit themselves to a cause, one that may be good or evil. This leads us to see people outside our groups as others. In extreme cases the others are dehumanised to the extent that they are considered sub-human. This enables and justifies horrendous behaviour by one group towards another, whether the defining factor is religion, politics, geography, gender, sexuality or socio-economics, to name but a few examples.


The process of radicalisation reinforces these divisions and emphasises them. If you come to believe that there is but one truth then everyone else must be wrong. Charismatic leaders successfully convince those within their group of their supreme position. Effective leaders encourage a sense of belonging and keep members on task and working towards a goal, whatever that may be. Vulnerable and disaffected individuals are especially susceptible to such persuasive individuals. Group members are also known to experience groupthink, a phenomenon that occurs when faulty and immoral decisions are made due to the desire to conform with others in their in-group.

Most of us empathise with others, we develop this skill through normal human development. As we mature we go through a process of social conditioning where we learn right from wrong, the so-called norms of behaviour that enable us to live in society in relative harmony. We learn that bad (and good) behaviour has consequences. We understand that what we do impacts on others, and that other people experience pain and distress. Most of us support the notion that it is right and correct to be kind to others and not to harm them, even if they identify with a different group, or if their beliefs are different to ours.

Although life-changing and earth-shattering, traumatic events can have positive consequences. Post Traumatic Growth theories indicate that survivors of terrorist attacks can experience affirmative outcomes. These include re-evaluating one’s life, reconsidering priorities, and empathising with others.




At this time of sorrow and pain it worth remembering the power of empathy. If we imagine the lives of those in war zones, individuals who have experienced trauma, and people suffering adversity, we acknowledge their humanity, we appreciate that terror can be felt by us all. The colour grey represents the blending of black and white, it is superficially dull yet nebulous and complex. In the aftermath of terror grey illustrates a scenario where all is not as it seems, where there is not one answer to a question. We peer through the grey mist to search for reasons, and a way forward through understanding, hope and resilience.

It has been a while since my exhibition art in the asylum closed. after a period of reactive melancholia and an assortment of invited speaker events like art of psychiatry I am regrouping and writing a text about it. The text features an exciting band of authors including the outsider art inventor himself Roger Cardinal, Surrealism expert Silvano Levy and David O’Flynn chair of the Adamson Collection. Artwork from Adamson’s vast collection featured heavily in ‘art in the asylum’ ‘ and is currently on show as part of the Adamson festival Here is a picture of me and the wonderful John Timlin, Adamson’s collaborator and lifelong partner. adamson

Meanwhile here are some memories from the preview:

and the exhibition

plus Roger Cardinal and Nick Tromans‘ most excellent talk

Finally, my ‘9 tonne baby’ celebrated its 1st birthday recently. How I fondly remember the frosty morning the giant arrived by lorry
all the way from Petacci.


Happy Birthday E57A0619 (2)to House for a Gordian Knot and thank you to the wonderful and talented sculptor Ekkehard Altenburger for giving us pleasure now and for centuries to come.

Being based in a linguistics department I have become very aware of the language I use. After years in medical environments I have become somewhat inured to the routine use of objectifying and pathological terminology. Although still hierarchical the academic environment I find myself in here seems softer and more aware. The overt feminist ethos for me is strangely enlightening and the ever-present theorising is stimulating albeit challenging. Of course it is right to look beyond reductionist and positivist paradigms, to be truly interdisciplinary. I have realised how little my formal education prepared me for this and how lacking it is in my usual work environment.

Almost two decades in academia have made me my lose my voice. I have become like a machine. These days I work for the British HE industry. The language has changed. There is talk of income generation, outcome measurement, performance review and student satisfaction ratings. Sometimes I feel I don’t have an original thought in my head. Until I think about art and mental health, which I will return to.

I am speaking two languages now, my mother tongue of English and my father’s native tongue, German. My father rarely spoke German to us as children. The evidence about bilingualism now points to all sorts of cognitive, cultural and social benefits, including, note to my colleagues, protection against dementia. In Basel they speak a variant, Swiss German or Schweizerdeutsch or more precisely Low Alemannic. Language switching leads to a sense of disorientation at first but becomes more like mental gymnastics, a clue as to why it is so good for you.

At an exhibition of Steve McQueen’s films at the Schaulager art bunker I confronted two big fears; eyeball touching and ageing. His film ‘Charlotte’ features a close study of the eye of Charlotte Rampling shrouded in an red inky film. McQueen’s probing finger ventures closer and closer to Rampling’s unguarded eyeball. As someone who endured 10 years of opthalmology appointments to correct astigmatism, this filled me with quaking fear. The eye is such a powerful part of our sensory equipment and yet so vulnerable. I recalled the regular visits to the doctor as a child, my head tipped back whilst the cold, dilating drops were squirted into my eyes, my eyelids blinking wildly. Then the sense of disorientation as the drops took effect. The doctor’s finger coming closer to my eye, my vision blurred, his breath on my face. And the lunch with my mother afterwards that was my reward for cooperating. I cant bear my eyes or anyone else’s being touched, how I conquered the use of contact lenses is a little miracle. McQueen does indeed touch Rampling’s eyeball and also gently massages the loose skin hanging over her eye socket, the medical term for this is dermatochalasis, big business for plastic surgeons. McQueen’s gesture is oddly tender and has a sculptural quality as he smoothes the skin gently up and away from the eye but of course it falls back accordingly to gravity after a few seconds. Yet her beautiful eye remains sparkling, unflinching. I felt touched and repulsed equally to witness this. Image

My daughter recently asked who Jodie Marsh was and why was she famous. The truth is I don’t really know who she is although I know of her. She appears on reality TV and I understand that she has had some work done i.e. plastic surgery. Sadly there is a whole industry in the UK that runs on the exploits of Jodie et al. It is nice to be away from that and playing ping pong in the park tonight surrounded by many different generations it felt like a more innocent age. We have been having some wonderfully thoughtful conversations since we’ve been here. We stood atop the remains of the amphitheatre at the Roman ruins of Augusta Raurica last weekend, as if caught between the old and new Switzerland, rolling green mountains and wooden houses in one direction and the belching smokestacks of the chemical and pharma industries in the other. We discussed the environment, relationships, and the holocaust.Augusta Raurica

Aside the opportunity to work in the wonderful Englisches Senminar in Basel I am excited to be in the vicinity of some very fine outsider art collections. My exhibition ‘art in the asylum: creativity and the evolution of psychiatry’ opens in September at the Djanogly gallery in the UK. This project has been a labour of love for me over the past four years and I am thrilled that it is finally coming to fruition. One of my favourite galleries, in Lausanne (Collection de l’art Brut) holds the collection of Jean Dubuffet who coined the term Art Brut, referring to art created at the margins of society, untainted by formal training. The term often refers to art made by people incarcerated in asylums. Perhaps my favourite artist of this genre is Adolf Wölfli a native of Bern who spent most of his adult life in the Waldau Clinic, a psychiatric hospital, after a series of serious offences he committed. His work has a complex, magical quality, full of symbols and strange mask-like faces that appear to follow you as you look. He spent many year working in this distinctive repetitive style, a characteristic shared by many other outsider artists. And yes, we have some of Wölfli’s work in the show.

Englisches SeminarIzzi in AltstadtEveryone smokes here. Well not everyone but lots of people you wouldn’t expect. Remember that stale stink from years gone by, well that is pretty common here in lots of shops, bars and cafes. Yuk. There are many specialist cigar and pipe shops too, it makes me do a double-take. A colleague told me ‘its a Basel-thing’. Apparently many locals complained loudly when a smoking ban came into force so there is a loop-hole for registered ‘clubs’ to allow people to light up. And oh boy they do. I detest smoking for very personal reasons I won’t go into. Suffice to say that the sight of a Rizla packet provokes an abreaction.

Aside from that Basel is breathtakingly beautiful, views of the Rhine, quaint and beautifully preserved 15th Century buildings, chocolate and best of all, art, art, art.

I am very lucky to have been awarded a visiting scholarship at the University of Basel, in the Englisches Seminar. The department houses English linguistics and literature scholars. The setting on Nadelberg in the Altstadt is stunning. My office is in a 17th Century building where I walk up a spiral staircase each morning. I feel inspired. Nietzsche and Jaspers are graduates of the UniBas, as its called round here.

My daughter Izzi, who doesn’t speak German, has started at a Swiss-German speaking school and after only a few days she is singing songs in the local language. She Is very happy. She is impressively fearless, unlike me at her age. Schooling here seems very different to the UK. They all walk, unaccompanied, start at 0800, and have 2 full and 3 half days school per week. Oh and kids have a 2 hour lunch break each day. Nice but not ideal for a mother who works full time and has no family to help out. Swiss parents protested and now some schools offer Tagestrukturen (day structure) which provides lunch and after school care for parents who work full time.

We’ve been having fun too. I bought an annual Museums Pass which allows unrestricted entry to all the galleries and museums in this part of Switzerland and also parts of nearby France and Germany. Im told that Basel has more private art collectors than anywhere else in Europe. On Wednesday we visited Fondation Beyeler, an amazing private collection turned over to the public in a beautiful setting in Riehen. The Ferdinand Hodler retrospective was a study in narcissism, death, and obsession. Perfect fodder for a psychologist! I was fascinated by his personal life. He took a lover called Valentine Gode-Darel who bore his child Paulette when he was aged 61. Valentine was diagnosed with cancer and Hodler documented her dying and death in an extraordinary and moving series of paintings. Hodler’s wife Berthe later adopted little Paulette. How I wished to know more about Berthe and her state of mind.

We found an amazing Latterie in Riehen too ‘the good life’. The gelato was incredible. We sat in the sun and savoured the chocolate and vanilla. Joy.

More on my Art Brut obsession soon, the secret reason for my time in Switzerland…