A new exhibit opening in Ketchikan on Friday explores the lives of two people living with bipolar disorder. Organizers hope the show will spark an open dialogue and help increase understanding of mental illness.
The show, “La Folie Circulaire” – the circular madness – takes a personal look at living with mental illness. Photographer Heidi Poet came up with the idea collaboratively with her friend Cat Hindeman who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her 20’s. Hindeman says putting her personal life in front of others and the camera was not easy, but something important to do.
“My journey with this has been taking my personal experiences and trying to display them visually, so that people can see that it’s a bad thing that happens. I take medication every day, but so does a diabetic. I’m able to be stable with the help of my friends, with the help of my doctors and support system, and with the help of medication. And I want that positive message to be the point of the exhibition because my journey has been negative at times. But right now, despite the fact and because of the fact that I have bipolar disorder, I am where I am and I’m very happy with where I am.”
Hindeman says letting others know that bipolar disorder is a part of who she is has helped her personally.
“I’ve found that far more people than not are very supportive. They have a lot of questions, because some people’s only exposure to mental illness is on TV shows where, ‘Well, this horrible thing happened and this person has mental illness.’”
Jeff Fitzwater is the curator of the show.
The biggest thing about it is that we are journaling the lives of Cat and Austin Hays. Austin found out about the project and said, ‘You know, I’m bipolar as well.’ So Heidi and Cat figured that having two people’s lives journeyed and showing those aspects would make it a more full, a more complete, exhibition.”
Fitzwater says the show was very much a collaborative process. He and Poet say every image has a specific purpose and conveys a message.
“The pictures are not there for you to make your own impressions. We’ll have legends or liner notes or the reasons behind (the image) so people can understand what was going through our minds and what we wanted to accomplish.” “This is ’take away what you will from it’, but it has a focus. This is what Cat was feeling with this picture and this is what Austin was feeling with this picture.”
Poet says she was very inspired by Hindeman and Hays. She says she wanted to honor their experiences and break down the wall of ignorance through her photography. Poet says the process was at times difficult.
“A few times I almost wanted to throw in the towel because, to get the photo, I didn’t want to put them in that position. To have to pose this physically, something that they felt emotionally before was really difficult. But then it was well, what are we doing it for if it’s not hard.”
Though some of the photo shoots were difficult, Poet says there were also moments of humor and laughter.
Photographs are the primary media featured, but the show offers more. Fitzwater says Hindeman’s journey is primarily displayed visually, while Hays has explored his life through music. Hays has composed four original pieces called “The Bipolar Series” which will be featured in the show. Hays is currently studying music at Cornish College in Seattle, but will be in Ketchikan for the show opening.
Hindeman says it’s common for those with bipolar disorder to express themselves through art and music. She says some famous and successful people with bipolar disorder include actresses Catherine Zeta Jones and Carrie Fisher, and former Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Fitzwater says some of the images in the show may be difficult to see, but are necessary. He says they hope the exhibit will spark conversation and increase awareness about mental illness. They are also hoping to show the exhibit in other communities in Alaska and possibly the lower 48.
“Many of the images that people are going to see when they come to the show can be disturbing. But we feel that it’s an honest, realistic look at how people work through some of the aspects of living with bipolar. If you don’t show those, if you try to white wash it or Pollyanna it away, you ignore the problem. So having those pictures of those images helps provides a springboard to talk and dialogue. You have this. We have this. How can we work through it together.”
Cat Hindeman says there is also a message of hope.
“I’ve had to come to the terms with the fact that I am bipolar, but I’ve learned, because I have such great support, that’s okay. I can work my job and I can do my extracurricular activities and be on stage and do stuff. It’s all okay. It can be okay.”
La Folie Circulaire: A Journey Into Bipolar Disorder opens Friday, April 5th, at the Main Street Gallery and runs through April 26th. Because of the challenging subject matter and imagery it’s suggested parents view the exhibit first and decide whether or not it is appropriate for their children.
NOTE: Additional photographs and material not included in the show will be posted to Facebook following the show’s opening Friday. You can find it through this link. http://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Folie-Circulaire/138458886331454