Strength to Strength
Starting as small
as a seed,
“Life; The Universe,
and the 420 Centre,
and grew to
A living creation.
strength to strength
As they let it
and found fulfilment
a sense of worth
and a sense of
From a melting
of all the artists
and destroying labels.
At the heart of
and the 420 Centre’
Is people being
creative and positve
and people just
A Place in the Universe
Life, the universe and the 420 centre is a collective art project that is a visual record of months of collective endeavour by a group of artists. The project is a structured encounter between members of the 420 community and an equal number of artists from Dunedin and other places. 420 is an activities centre run by PACT Otago, for people recovering from mental illness. PACT aims to work with people’s strengths and to enhance the elements of life that encourage change and new understandings. Aspects of life that are aspirational and focus on meaningfulness are valued. For these reasons art has a particular place in their programme, as it does in the wider mental health continuum.
The work takes the form of a mural. An elaborate grid of wooden painted squares wraps the Blue Oyster Gallery walls and in one area the ceiling, enveloping the viewer. The participants’ names are listed by the door. The gallery is built in a cellar, its irregular, cave-like spaces suggesting the centre of the earth as much as the universe around it. The mural’s form is that of a series of silhouettes painted in black, which move toward and away from the viewer. The black is a warm fullness, not a cold emptiness. Around them are bright images of all sorts of things, framed by the grid of the square but not obedient to it. I painted three of the squares, selected from a wall of blanks with partially outlined forms ready for painting and placed in situ, at least provisionally. I found the three, but not all of them where I had left them. They had found better homes with new relationships.
The work is clearly celebratory, and that is its chief colour resonance- reds, golds, blues and pinks, set against the darkness of the figures and the graffiti-like commentaries that acknowledge difficulty and struggle. Sometimes the wider life of the community is brought into play, for instance Marilynn Webb’s position on the depredations of Otago’s ecological treasures is vivid in her usual blue and Lyn Plummer’s threaded gold script celebrates the work of the late Heather Martin, whose founding work with art and mental health was so important. Most artists, however recognisable their style, have worked within the overall grid and colour and subordinated their work to the generic tone of the piece. The silhouettes’ play on emptiness and fullness, presence and absence, remind one that a mind is a galaxy in itself, in continual change, and part of the wider spaces of the community and the world.
The Blue Oyster Gallery is an artist-run project-space. Such spaces respond to applications for projects, and are supported by Creative New Zealand funding and other funding more specific to individual projects. The success of an application reflects well on the project’s standing in the world of art. It also draws upon the notion that art is a cultural good, almost a value in itself and particularly when people have a mental illness. Where does this idea come from? Is it true? Is such art “art therapy’?
There are two quite different ways of answering this question, with tow equally different implications for the way that art is used in the creative therapies.
The first is the idea that art is a civilising activity. This is an old one, forming a central support for the notion of Western Civilisation, which characterised itself by its cultural products from the time that the city of Athens established itself as a cultural centre and the beginning of art theory in the thought of Plato and Aristotle. But its use in the context of mental illness did not come until the eighteenth century. By this time psychiatric conditions were seen as not necessarily permanent and treatment began to be more humane; a radical change from the harsh treatment of the previous centuries. At that point, patients in the new psychiatric hospitals were encouraged to make art as a way of bringing their thinking and feeling into line with the notion of civilised behaviour. They were encouraged to paint, draw, play music and read. The art that was expected was moderate and even elegant. It was not expressive as we now understand the word, but, as Wordsworth suggested, only in the context of “emotion recollected in tranquillity. Painting and sculpture at that point were seen as expressive of the notions of the culture first and individuality second.
This notion has produced the set of practices now known as ‘arts access”. When people with a mental illness make art in this context, they are making art in just the same way as any non-artist might make art: as recreation, exploration, creativity for its own sake. In this context, art is as good for its maker or as bad as its content and focus. It can be beautiful, expressive, funny, sexual, angry, destructive, challenging, good, bad, indifferent; skilled or unskilled.
The 420 project is not therefore classic art therapy; the works that are made are no more or less expressive of someone’s mental state than those of any artist.
However, the works are made in a particular context. They are part of a group project, and therefore the works demonstrate a desire to fit with, to combine, to make relationships.
Adam Douglas’s central notion was to use the figure in a range of movements, in profile, as a coordinating element. That figure is in black: which might be a vacancy, a space in the image: or it might be a dominating element playful or bleak. It allows all sorts of things to be happening around and outside of it. The figures suggest many people: quite a crowd, in fact, doing all sorts of things.
Classic psychoanalytic art therapy relies on the idea of single, stable, though sometimes de-stabilised self. In this it follows humanist notions of the self as something that is constant and nameable, certain and recognisable. There is another set of ideas around psychoanalytic therapy that considers the ways that people are influenced by their surroundings and in particular by the people they share time and space with. Such therapies value the importance of the group and the group dynamic. Groups can have moods, feelings, where individuals might on their own not choose to be involved. They can create situations, make changes. Group dynamics are part of any political, educational or institutional situation. Art has often been seen as the choice of a single person, whether artist or consumer; their choices of what they like and respond to representing their taste, their deep desires, their inner self. But in making such a project as this, the group dynamic is likely to take over. So the ways in which the group operates need to be considered as this will have an impact upon the outcome. The 420 project has been set up with considerable care. There is a template, a shared form, a shared set of colours, a shared set of behaviours: a timetable, tables, coffee, and an awareness of others’ space. The artwork’s consistency, indeed its ability to be read as a single work made up of many parts, reflects a mixture of single and collective decisions. The collective decisions have been made by each member of the group as they consider where their work fits into the grid.
In the 420 studio sections of the grid were placed on a wall where people could choose their panel in the context of those around it. Drawing and line moved across several panels, and people chose from among these. Such choices created a record of interactions carried out through a third party, an artwork.
Contemporary art theory is concerned with a movement away from the view of the artwork as a commodity toward the sense that it is a collective, shared project in which encounters between people, objects, values and beliefs occur. This theory is most focused in discussions around the recent writings of Nicholas Bourriaud, whose Relational Aesthetics has provided the idea with a name. Some of the projects he discusses do not involve making recognisable artworks at all, but others involve the kind of engagement that Adams is facilitating in this project. Bourriaud draws on theories of the self and its ways of being that see it as a shared, collective entity, constructed and expressed in social and cultural interactions.
In this way the project also worked to extend the group’s experience and way of being involved in art-making. Professional artists, teachers, people from secondary schools, people involved in the wider life of the artworld participated. Film-makers formed part of the community that created it. The wider artworld was not simply acknowledged but overlapped and intersected with it. The participants’ histories have all been altered in some degree by this participation, and the community of artists in Otago has been extended.
Head of School
School of Art
There is an extensive literature on art therapy and art access; Tessa Dalley and Judith Rubin offer two different approaches. Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design teach a postgraduate course in Aotearao/New Zealand.
www.literature-study-online.com/essays/romanticism.html, accessed July 30 2007
The 420 Project
(A view from Sally Williams) Camera Woman/Participating artist.
My experience of The 420 Project is derived from two slightly different perspectives rolled into one 7 month journey that somehow became Life, the Universe and the 420 Centre.
The first perspective is that of a camera woman, and it was this roll that prompted my initial involvement thanks to an invitation by film-maker Katrina Jones and project co-ordinator Adam Douglass. The deal was that I would take a camera into the Tuesday art sessions held up at the Stafford St Centre and…roll…for six months. Having a lens between you and life can be both a blessing and a curse; it would give me good reason to be around a whole bunch of inspirational people…but I feared it could also give said people good reason not to want me around! Thankfully I was to discover that the 420 Centre was an inclusive space and both patrons and staff were incredibly open and trusting.
As a slightly detached observer I could view the art project at almost a mechanical level. Every Tuesday between 1pm and 4pm tables would be covered with paper, the paint came out and whoever felt like creating art on a panel would do so…no boundaries. There were afternoons full of participants and afternoons with few, afternoons where the patrons were the majority and times when they were the minority in their own space; raucous days, quiet days, Zen-like days and days of wall to wall shenanigans…negativity and animosity didn’t feature…unless Adam played a song no-one liked.
The second perspective is that of someone completely immersed in the evolution of the project and an avid supporter and friend to those involved.
It was a privilege to come to know both patrons and staff of the 420 centre; the art project was the link that drew me and many others in and was a comfortable catalyst to start building relationships within the 420 community; but it was the patrons and staff of the 420 Centre that stepped up to the plate and welcomed the wider community with respect, honesty, generosity and understanding. Whilst painting, talking, laughing, joking or humming along to The Beatles, the 420 crew helped create a picture of what it means to live with mental illness. For some poverty would be the biggest hurdle for the day; for others it would be the challenge of a dark time, or appreciation of a good day…some days working through an art session would be enough to lift a mood and on others it wouldn’t; but the art sessions invariably created a forum to share whatever was going on, express it, become distracted from it, work it through with paint…I certainly benefited from the general feeling around any given table that a bad day made you no better or worse than you were on a good day… you were how you were and that’s how everyone would take you for that afternoon. The Centre seemed as united in dealing with mental illness as it was in creating a supportive and understanding space for people.
As a filmmaker I’m conscious that documentary film in particular is often about creating a sort of awareness; and it became clear that for the patrons and staff ofthe 420 Centre this was a very important facet of the art project; and clearly this drive for widespread dialogue was present in Adam’s design for such an engaging and far reaching community based project. It seems appropriate to mention that creating awareness does not necessarily assume that those who are not “aware” are judgemental or unaccepting…all it assumes is that not enough is known. It seemed to me that the 420 Project not only allowed a window into the lives of people who live with mental illness, it offered a window out of this life and into the many and varied lives, views and ideals of the wider community. There was an education that flowed both ways, that addressed Life, the Universe and the 420 Centre.
I hope everyone who was part of the project has had a journey as fulfilling as mine. To the patrons and staff of the 420 Centre thank you so much. Your patience, honesty, tolerance of the chick with the camera, and laughter made everyday with you a good day.
Art Helped raise mental health awareness
(Letters to the Editor, Otago Daily Times 30/07/07)
Through your pages we would like to thank everyone who made ‘Life, the Universe and the 420 Centre’ art project possible. (ODT 11.7.07). The 420 Centre supports people recovering from mental illness. During the past 8 months we have taken part in an art project involving more than 200 people, including well-known artists from Dunedin. During these 8 months we have discovered artistic abilities we didn’t know we had- even those of us who weren’t too keen on picking up a paint brush to start. It is fantastic that we are now having our artwork exhibited.
The project gave us something to look forward to and we really enjoyed taking part in something that was not only fun in an artistic way, but which also helped raise awareness of mental health and reduce stigma around mental illness.
We would like to thank the artists who took the time to come up to the centre and work on panels for the artwork, and also the PACT Group (which runs 420) for providing the materials.
Finally, and most importantly, we would like to thank Adam Douglass for initiating the project.
Patrons of the 420 Centre
Text taken from Douglass Adams - Life, the Universe and Everything, published in 1982. pg1-2
‘...Time is the worst place, so to speak, to get lost in, as Arthur Dent could testify, having been lost in both time and space a good deal. At least being lost in space kept you busy.
He was stranded in prehistoric Earth as the result of a complex sequence of events which had involved him being alternately blown up and insulted in more bizarre regions of the Galaxy than he had ever dreamt existed, and though life had now turned very, very, very quiet, he was feeling jumpy. He hadn’t been blown up now for five years.
Since he had hardly seen anyone since he and Ford Prefect had parted company four years previously, he hadn’t been insulted in all that time either...
He was returning to his cave just a little after dusk when he became aware of lights flashing eerily through the clouds. He turned and stared, with hope sudenly clambering through his heart. Rescue. Escape. The castaway’s impossible dream - a ship.
And as he watched, as he stared in wonder and excitement, a long silver ship descended through the warm evening air, quietly, without fuss, its’ long legs unlocking in a smooth ballet of technology.
It alighted gently on the ground, and what little hum it had generated died away, as if lulled by the evening calm.
A ramp extended itself.
Light streamed out.
A tall figure appeared silhouetted in the hatchway. It walked down the ramp and stood in front of Arthur
‘You’re a jerk, Dent,’ it said simply...’
Our main goal at the PACT Group is to support our clients to lead fulfilling lives in the community. So it was with great pleasure that I attended the opening of ‘Life, the Universe and the 420 Centre’ exhibition and saw that this project had resulted in the 420 Centre patrons truly being part of their local community. They were there as artists themselves, mixing with other artists, as they had done throughout the project, as well as interested people from the arts and general community. In achieving this community participation the project helped reduce the stigmatisation that still accompanies mental illness in some quarters. The project showed what people recovering from mental illness can achieve. It allowed the 420 patrons themselves to explore their creativity and show pride in their abilities rather than be judged by their mental health issues.
I would like to acknowledge the artists who gave their time to be involved with this project and who were open to what it could achieve. Artist and Art Co-ordinator Adam Douglass must also receive the highest praise; without him none of it would have been possible. Finally, I have to thank the 420 patrons for sharing their creative side with the community – anyone who has seen the finished product cannot help but be impressed with their results.
CEO The PACT Group (Participating Artist)
When the 420 Art Project started over 8 months ago, I was apprehensive as to how the patrons of 420 would cope with their privacy invaded by a group of strangers from all walks of society. As this was Adam’s project it gave me the unique opportunity to view the situation as an observer.
I was very impressed at the quick relationships formed between patrons, artists and film crew. The inclusion of the film crew seemed to turn the art sessions into an event, which increased the importance of being there for some. Sally and Katrina, the film crew involved decided to make a documentary recording the process of the art project and including an overall view of how the public perceive people with mental illnesses. After the first day of filming, everyone began to relax and enjoy the experience. Some more than others became very photogenic! The exceptional friendliness of the camera crew turned the Tuesday afternoons into a huge occasion... The process of making, became a huge experience in itself.
It was interesting to meet local artists from all cultures of the world. Mexico, Germany, Scotland, Middle Eastern and I also had the pleasure of meeting Tibetan Monks that attended class. We found that all patrons and artists became relaxed with each other and some have formed ongoing friendships since the project has finished. I can only hope that Adam can arrange future events to keep the invite open for artists to attend future projects. The project was a huge success and won’t be forgotton by those involved for a long time.
Team Leader, The 420 Centre
So Long, and Thanks for all the Squares...
The artwork is the actual language that was chosen to communicate certain ideas. In this project many people used their artwork/artworks to communicate ideas. The work was designed to be experienced physically and as a process. All the text associated with the project is an interpretation of an experience of the artwork/process by an individual. The text that is used within this catalogue touches and elaborates on a range of important ideas from a variety of perspectives, to act as windows to experience the artwork, or the memory of the artwork.
Extract from the Blue Oyster Proposal for ‘The 420 Project’:
“...I’m interested in the artists role in society, status, art as a theraputic activity, art as a language and a vehicle to develop dialogue, art as an aesthetic experience, perception and the creative process. Within this project I hope to bring a range of artists together from different disciplines, who have different objectives, different status, different mental states, gender, sexualities, a range of people basically. I want to document an aspect of social consciousness, and in the process eliminate some stigma, develop a dialogue in the community and to create a platform for recovery...” Adam Douglass
One of the biggest jobs of the project has been to inform members of the Dunedin artistic community and to invite them to participate in the project. I hope everyone in the visual arts community felt informed and comfortable about approaching myself and/or the 420 Centre regarding, getting involved.
I have felt privileged to be included in the 420 community, and that I have been trusted by staff, patrons and the PACT Group to develop and organize this project with all of their help. I have been constantly blown away with the standard of work completed for the project, by everyone involved. Some people who don’t see themselves as artists have shown natural flair and intuitive understanding, while other artists put a lot of love and energy into beautiful works without any financial return or obvious recognition. I have been continuously inspired by this sharing, generosity and creative activity.
All the work that gets completed is viewed in the same light, and the interaction between these works is what takes the viewers experience to another level.
I can identify with the ideas of Jurgen Habermas in relation to ‘Life, the Universe and the 420 Centre’.
“every subject with the competence to speak “or express their voice “is allowed to take part in discourse, everyone is allowed to question any assertion whatsoever, everyone is allowed to introduce any assertion whatsoever, and everyone is allowed to express his or hers attitudes, desires or needs.”1 “ This egalitarian interaction cultivates a sense of ’solidarity’ among discursive participants who are as a result,”2 “intimately linked in an intersubjectively shared form of life”3
Grant Kester has taken some snippets of text from Jurgen Habermas, which discuss some of Habermas’s concepts related to dialogical aesthetics.
The Artwork will move on to different areas of the community. Site specific installations will be set up in different areas of the community.
Curator, Project Designer/Director, Participating Artist
I’d like to acknowledge all the artists who have participated in the project, without the collective participation and collaboration the project wouldn’t have been possible. I would like to mention the patrons and the staff of the Centre, who have taught me a lot over the last few years, and have welcomed people into their centre. Staff, volunteers, helpers, Fiona, Michael, Paul, Mervyn, Matt, Joe, Val, Lui, Dita and Lee for doing an outstanding job. I’m sure that a lot of people priveleged enough to be welcomed into the centre have taken much form the inclusive, non judgemental, compassionate, spontaneous atmosphere of the centre and it’s patrons. Not to forget the humour, there has been some classic moments, and some contagious laughter over the past 8 months.
I would like to acknowledge all the people who played a vital role in the success of this project, to the PACT Group, who have funded and supported the entire project from the beginning. Louise, Wendy, Korazaan, Jenny, Kirsten, Pru, Nikki and everyone else who have helped in many ways.. Filmmakers, Katrina Jones and Sally Williams, who have been producing a documentary on the project, they’ve provided a lot of support, time, encouragement, motivation, proof reading, writing, etc. J B Riley for donating the plywood. Everyone who has contributed text. Bridie, Leoni and Lyn from Otago Polytechnic School of Art, for writing, helping, informing etc. *Dedication from Lyn Plummer to Dr Heather Martin- 17.4.1950- 21.6.2007 A person who brought great intelligence and sensitivity to all of the projects she undertook. It was a privilege to have known her. Frank and the Artsenta staff for helping out and encouraging participation from artsenta artists. Dillon Ryan who has done a great job with photography through the installation, opening, exhibition period. Naomi Mulqueen who donated a lot of time after hours, connecting panels with me. As well as Robin, Blake, Mum and Dad. Installing and dismantling- Fiona, Joe, James, Sally, Ray, Lewis, Dillon, Mike, Rose, Glenda, Katrina, Phil, Jimbo, Greer, Lyn, John, Charlotte, Hildon, Neeka, Ben, Aleta, Roxy, Annette, Katrina, Jasmine and friend, Toddy for the gear. Ben, Charlotte and the rest of the Blue Oyster Trust, Annete, Roxy and Aleta for helping out. Cathy and Keith for work supplying the link as to where now. John at Southern Film, and to any one else I’ve forgotten! Sal for one last proof reading session!
1.Jurgen Habermas, “Discourse Ethics: Notes on a Program of Philosophical Justification,” in Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, trans. Christian Lenhardt and Shierry Webber Nicholson (Cambridge: MA: MIT Press, 1991), p.89. In his essay “The Gift in Littoral Art Practice,” Bruce Barber uses Habermas’s concept of “communicative action” to elucidate recent projects by Wochenklauser, been published in Fuse 19, 2 (Winter 1996) and in Intervention: Post Object and Performance Art in New Zealand in 1970 and Beyond, ed. Jennifer Hay (Christchurch: Robert MacDougall Art Gallery and ANNEX Press, 2000), pp. 49-58.
2.Grant Kester, Conversation Pieces, The Role of Dialogue in Socially-Engaged Art. From the section- Dialogical Aesthetics. Kester elaborates on from a Jurgen Habermas quote, referenced #1. Pg 80-81
3. Jurgen Habermas, “Justice and Solidarity,” Philosophical Forum 21 (1989-90):47.
Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything, is the third book of his four part trilogy. So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish is the fourth book, The most famous being The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Gollancz, London, 2002.
To view ongoing text related to this project www.adamdouglass.co.nz. A documentary film, mentioned through out this catalogue will be released by November 07. For information on the Pact Group visit
www.pactgroup.co.nz. Blue Oyster Art Space- www.blueoyster.org.nz
Scratch the surface then start digging
There’s no destination in these visual portals; tales told
Destruction, erosion, the blue buzz of sadness, pointing
fingers, a kicked heart, all yield to one, two, seven colours
and the dust in between becomes a hug to the face.
Escape. Escape and bring something back. Escape and have
something to give.
Communicate, unite, combine, sing.
A chorus on stilts
Mike Cooke (Participating Artist)
Exhibition, Opening, Installing, Photography by Dillon Ryan
Catalogue design Adam Douglass
(The Late) Brendon Alexander
Aleta Del Toro-Madrigal
Jampa Lhuntok Namgyal-
Janet De Waght
Lara Fischel Chisholm
Kathleen Jordan (Samuels)
(The Late) Christine Kendal
Kristi Mae Carpenter
Josephine Regan,Mary Reet, Paul Reet
Joanna Kate Smith
Pam Te Tau
Ron Te Tau
Yi Lin Yoong