Monday, 16 November 2015

Yellow Blue Pink

You're probably wondering why so many London visitors have been uploading photos of themselves wandering through the mist recently. To quote my friend and twitter celebrity Dan, 'everyone is pissing about in that foggy room'.
'States Of Mind' by Ann Veronica Janssens is the new, very popular exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, probably one of my favourite places in London (they also recently had exhibitions on forensics and sexology, both of which were brilliant). It's not all just about pretty colours, Janssens' work tackles the nature of consciousness and perception. 'Entering the gallery is to submit to colour as a physical entity, to be subsumed by the experience of seeing' (from the exhibit leaflet). Janssens deals with our subjective perception and how it affects or sheds light on our consciousness, in States Of Mind she focuses on our experience of sight by creating a disorientating space. Don't let the photos fool you, it is very difficult to see anything in there. Luke and I walked into a wall and nearly bumped into some of the other people walking around.
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I'm no art critic, but my main observations from the installation were as follows:
1) Janssens seeks to fragment our senses here and bring sight forward. We are used to having our senses work together to aid our perception, but here we are denied total understanding. To me it seemed quite a lot like a dream. I don't know whether you guys get this but sometimes when I close my eyes I'll get a sort of residue from the things I have previously seen, for instance sometimes I will imagine a wall of white and at other times I'll imagine black lines that will fuzz around my brain. I have certainly never imagined pink mist but the experience struck a chord with me, as Janssens brings out colour and gives it no real context other than just perceiving what is right in front of you. I doubt there is any other experience that allows you to just exist within colour. From the leaflet: 'Colour is caught in a state of suspension, veiling any detail or service within the space.'

2)It kind of reminded me of a theory that I learnt about at university, solipsism, that the only thing that exists is existence itself. States of Mind critiques the idea of consciousness and brings it to the fore. By taking away any other context or detail, we are confronted by the nature of our own existence within the mist.

3) Luke and I took a lot of photos. We are so painfully millennial that we still managed to take selfies in the impenetrable mist.

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Luke wore his Mariah Carey inspired 'Elusive Chanteuse' t-shirt especially for this rather elusive experience.
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The photo above was taken a few moments after we walked in - first impressions!
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States Of Mind is on until 3rd January 2016. It is free, but you generally have to queue up for about an hour to get in, so take a book! Find out more here.

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Sunday, 8 November 2015

Figuring it out #1: On Embracing Your Vulnerability

oxford profile pic potensh

So, I'm a 22 year old woman. I'm sort of teetering on the edge of true adulthood whilst still retaining many of those features that make me a teenager, those elements of me that are childlike and naïve. Sometimes I feel very lost, and when I do I tend to turn to online articles and books for enlightenment, with the hope that I may be able to relate to something I read, and that it will reassure me that despite the various difficulties of growing up, everything will be okay in the end.

I wanted to add to this body of literature, not with self-help exactly, but the things I have learnt/am currently learning as I grow into a fully-fledged human being. Hopefully this can be a regular feature if I'm learning enough new stuff every seven days - but we'll see (and yes, every post will have a photo of me staring thoughtfully into the distance, because I'm thinking about deep stuff y'know). Read on after the unicorn!



Today I want to talk about vulnerability, the act of being open to whatever life throws at you, and taking it all in. When I was growing up, I associated vulnerability with weakness. This isn't uncommon, we grow up and we are scolded for crying and the emphasis is put on being strong and brave in the face of everything, particularly for men. Sure, when you're a child (and this is coming from the perspective of having a loving childhood, I realise it's not this way for everyone) you're not totally aware of the difficulties of life. You fall to the floor when you're running and you scrape your knee, you patch it up and you've forgotten about it by the end of the day.

But then you get older and it gets more complicated than that. You experience pretty much everything life happens to throw at you, whether it is money troubles, relationship problems, mental health issues. You can't just dry your eyes, bandage yourself up and get on with things, or you can, but it might leave you feeling numb and just as lost as before. There have been many times in the past 2 years of my life where I've looked at my adult life, on its clumsy bambi legs, and thought 'Jesus, this is hard.' As an adult you have responsibility - to find a job, be good at your job, to live a fulfilling life. You're tensed up all the time, moving from one stepping stone to the other, waiting for the next success or next disappointment, learning as you go along and building up an armour. People tell us with best interests to look on the bright side, pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, even if that smile doesn't quite reach your eyes.

I don't think our society values vulnerability, because it makes people uncomfortable. You might even feel uncomfortable reading this if you know me and you can be sure I feel a bit bloody weird writing it. Life is ticking boxes, it's avoiding the bad things too, suppressing our negative voices, getting on with it. I'd always thought of life as a process of good and bad, positive and negative thoughts, a constant parallel state of being in one or the other. It's only recently that I've ever thought otherwise, realising that vulnerability might not be something to be scared of. It's so important to feel, and not classify your feelings as good or bad, but just to let them wash over you. I used to roll my eyes at the idea of just being, consigning it to hippy dippy ideology, but I think it's true. We all have parts of ourselves we want to work on, things we're working towards, things we're scared of, and that is completely okay. Sometimes we want to cry because life gets hard and that's completely okay. Don't beat yourself up for your openness or your perceived flaws. See your vulnerability within the world as the real consequence of being completely, totally alive and experiencing everything life has to throw at you.

I've understood over time that vulnerability is not cowardice, it is an act of bravery. It's the bravery to be able to feel everything, to be honest, to let your emotions, your feelings and opinions out there, to be unmistakably you. I'm not saying you should just start weeping whilst you're in the hairdresser or tell your teacher they're a jerk when the compulsion to do so rises up in your throat, it's about just accepting that you feel what you feel, and that's fine. You don't have to strive for perfect all of the time, you don't always have to buck up and be tough and push down your feelings. Life seems to favour those who have tough exteriors, but that doesn't mean that you can't be soft sometimes, that you can't take it all in instead of pushing it away.

Take the recent news story about Essena O'Neill, a very popular instagram user who has spoken out about the effects of creating yourself within a social media sphere. Essena edited all of her aspirational photos with comments about how miserable she was feeling that day, how she was sucking her stomach in, how a 'candid' shot was not candid at all. Now she's transformed her online presence, appearing on video crying, being completely honest about how this construction of perfection has made her feel. Though I think there are elements of this type of social media turnaround that need to be critiqued, it is still undoubtedly an act of vulnerability on Essena's part, sitting down in front of a camera in front of hundreds of thousands of people and saying 'actually, I'm not perfect, and pretending to be something unobtainable has had a really bad effect on me.' Her story highlights how easy it is to lose yourself, to deny yourself by only showing the good parts, particularly in the age of the branded self on social media.

I relate to this sense of a loss and denial of self. I never used to be an open person at all - I would be embarrassed by my tastes, my interests, my thoughts and my emotions. I hated the fact that music, literature or films made me feel emotions and the thought of crying in front of anyone apart from possibly my mum was the most embarrassing thing ever. Despite struggling at university, I never really informed any of my closest friends about it until much later, because of course you're scared of what they're going to think, because emotion is apparently weakness, and you have to be perfect, and you have to succeed. I was sort of like a vampire, drained of any energy, standing in front of the house of life waiting for someone to let me in.

But after a while you have to politely nudge down the door and be like 'fuck this, I'm actually the owner of this weird analogous life house and I'm going to bloody let myself in and I'm gonna absolutely experience it all for better or worse'. Like most large-scale improvements it's a gradual process, but I'm learning to accept that I'm passionate, that I'm sensitive (yes, I know I sound like this Marilyn Monroe quote, but maybe old Mazza had a point??) that I'm actually a bit goofy and painfully awkward, that I can be brutally mean to myself and compare myself to others, that sometimes I tell jokes that really aren't very funny. I'm learning to accept myself and the parts of me that I'd previously seen as unforgivable flaws. The aspiration is not to be perfect and happy all of the time because it's not feasible - the goal is to be honest and open and with that comes vulnerability. When you can accept all of you, I think it becomes a little easier to be.

Right now I'm trying to live more truthfully and that includes letting myself be vulnerable, and not holding back in any part of my life. For me it's about accepting that life with all its intricacies, ups, downs and turnarounds, and the ability to actually live and feel it completely, is pretty damn cool actually. The fact is, people appreciate vulnerability more than you think. The act of writing this post, and considering writing further posts about my various emotional and physical fuck ups is vulnerability on my part I guess.

What do you think about the prospect of vulnerability? Do you consider it a good/bad thing? If you are vulnerable how does this manifest itself in your life?

Thanks for reading!

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