Autumn 2001

Mental as anything

Mental

Helen Storey, in partnership with Dr. John MacLachlan and AMX
ICA, London, 7-20 July 2001

‘Please tell us what you think and hang this card on the corridor wall.’ This is how ‘Mental’ begins, with, of all things, a pseudo customer satisfaction survey. Visitors to the show are asked to respond to the exhibit by circling words that ‘other people have used to describe Mental’ and then hang their replies on their way out. Momentarily distracted by playful choices on the card such as ‘horny’, ‘mad’ and ‘sticky’, I suddenly found myself confronted by a white coat clad lab technician busy at work in a faux science lab.

‘Mental’, conceived by Helen Storey, with help from scientist Dr. John MacLachlan and Malcolm Garrett of AMX, is made up of four (somewhat disjointed) exhibits that explore the complexity of human emotions through science, art and fashion. Storey, now Research Fellow at the London Institute, came up with the idea for ‘Mental’ in 1998 when someone asked her if she could describe what happened in her mind when she was ‘doing something creative’. In a bid to come up with the answer, she identified six spontaneous states of mind, and describes ‘Mental’ as a ‘physical manifestation of these states of being’.

The result, consists of BZ Reaction (aka the faux science lab, complete with petri dishes and ‘non-hazardous’ chemicals), Whisper (an interactive digital game, designed by AMX, that prompts players to complete a woman’s consciousness), Death Dresses (seven breathtaking, otherworldly textile figures, exploring notions of death) and First Last Everything (a sculpture covered in synthetic fur which, when touched, releases pheromones).

With each installation (bar the wondrous Death Dresses) Storey plans to use the information for research purposes. Results from the BZ Reaction experiments are ‘real’ and will further Dr. MacLachlan’s genetic research. Answers to Whisper’s prompts will be analysed to deepen our understanding of human emotional and behavioural patterns. And in the case of First Last Everything, Storey’s research will reveal whether the pheromones released into the room will have any affect on the visitors? (sexual) reactions. Regrettably unaffected by the release of the pheromones, I had no choice but to pass on the ‘horny’ option, and instead, obediently, left my card hanging on the corridor wall, having circled the words: ‘provocative’, ‘wanted more’, and ‘brave.’

First published in Eye no. 41 vol. 11, 2001

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