Caring Conversations Launches in Paisley

Posted by See Me, 17 May 2018

We've been working with artist Josie Vallely on her Caring Conversations project which launched as part of SMHAF in Paisley last Tuesday. Talking Heads volunteer Emily Benita tells us about the day.

After a rare and appreciated sunny Bank Holiday weekend, Paisley was overcast once more but the colourful launch of Caring Conversations, the latest project from artist Josie Vallely and her many contributors, more than lightened up the grey. Hosted in the newly established Wevolution hub, a stone’s throw from Paisley Gilmour Street station, the launch was lively and very well-attended.

“I want it to be a colourful, living space,” Josie said to See Me Scotland ahead of the launch. “The opposite of a white cube gallery.”

Caring Conversations is as far as you could get from a sterile, hushed environment. The seed of the exhibition was a commission from the festival and See Me to create a dialogue through exploring stigma within mental health and social care. Josie’s background is in design, having switched from a degree in medicine to approaching the lived experience of illness mental health from a more creative and overarching perspective. When finding out more about the stigma people face today, Josie realised that a particular perspective wasn’t being heard.

“What I felt was missing in the today’s conversations round mental health was the perspectives of people delivering services and the challenges they were up against. I wanted to open up a conversation between staff and services users about experiences of mental health and wellbeing.”

Josie held workshops with participants at the Sunshine Recovery Cafe, working with a range of occupational therapists, professional artists and people from across Renfrewshire. She conducted the workshops and installation with help from ceramicist Kevin Andrew Morris and artist Simon Worthington. Through her work, Josie defies the stereotypical idea of an artist working in solitude.

“My role as artist is a kind of medley between designer of the exhibition space, facilitator of other people's making and developer of the concept that brings the 'message' of the body of work together,” she explained.

“This project was particularly interesting because we had the scope to shape the space in order to fit the work, thanks to the amazing wevolution team and the SRGS that own the space.”

Wevolution feels tailor-made for the exhibition, a cosy and welcoming space, bright white walls contrasting with juicy orange and deep blue. The cooks chop coriander for the lunch as the guests gather around the tapestries and ceramics on display. The fresh, spicy scent carries, making for a truly sensual experience.

Guests were treated to performances from Buddy Beats, poets Shaun Moore and Fundamental Conduit and the Well Happy Band, who all feature in the packed Renfrewshire events catalogue. Drop-in sessions will be held at Caring Conversations throughout the festival, allowing for space, materials and guidance in creating further work along the exhibition’s themes. But when the festival is over, what does Josie intend for the legacy of Caring Conversations?

“What I want people to take away from the work is that there is potential in Scotland to move toward health and social care provision free form mental health stigma and discrimination. It’s a long road but there are people all over Scotland who are passionate about making this a reality.”

A long road, perhaps, but Caring Conversations is a wonderful respite and resource along the way.

Emily Benita