Dwell Time:
a moving picture of mental health

Natalia Tcherniak, 'Scattered Mental Blocks' (2020).

Issue 2 of Dwell Time lands on my doormat in a brown envelope. Perhaps without the fanfare of the launch that was originally planned to coincide with its publication at Huddersfield train station in March, but the tactile nature of the printed publication, A4, glossy and dense with content, is a welcome arrival. Especially at a time when the screen has become ever more present in all aspects of my life during lockdown. The publication coincided with a digital launch organised on 15 July, which took place across multiple online platforms – Dwell Time’s Facebook page, website, and YouTube channel – which platformed seventeen artists’ videos.

Following an international open call, Issue 2 includes work from a diverse group of 105 artists, writers and poets, from those who are sharing their very first piece, to more established practitioners. Nearly all work received is published, inclusivity being part of the ethos of Dwell Time, with artworks only being rejected if they are deemed to be ‘harmful’ or ‘inappropriate’ in nature, or if the image is not high enough quality  for reproduction. If the number of submissions cannot be accommodated within the pages of the staple-bound print issues, then work is published on the website. This curatorial decision breaks down all hierarchy and mitigates any need to select work based on perceived quality, accomplishment or experience. Furthermore, it makes for an incredibly accessible, if unpaid, opportunity to have work printed and read in stations and on trains across Yorkshire, with a print run of 3000 copies.

In Issue 2 of Dwell Time, the work is gathered together with care and a subtle reference to recurring motifs, themes and references. Prose runs into still images, photography into poetry, painting into collage, positioned alongside cut-up poems from community workshops. Stations and train tracks punctuate the pages, a recurring reference among others, such as touch-stones or station stops. But there is no predetermined reading order. It can be handled lightly like a magazine, dipped in and out of. Again, this approach creates space; there is no editorial captioning or context. The work speaks for itself, as it should.

Cover of Dwell Time Issue 2 featuring artwork by Lizzie Thurman.

Dwell Time is a not for profit arts publication with a focus on work that reflects on mental health and wellbeing. Therefore it is perhaps not surprising that looking through the submitted artworks, I discover shifting viewpoints across the full spectrum of lived mental health, from depression to schizophrenia, to psychosis, bi-polar disorder, anxiety and addiction, to reflections on abuse and trauma, and their impact and recovery. Also included are the perspectives of caregivers, friends and family, and it becomes clear that no matter how many times it is said, it still bears repeating: we all have mental health.

Strong photography is a real highlight in this issue and ‘We Live by Tha’ Water’ by Joanna Coates (2018) pairs a photograph of a rock formation, a self-standing island off the coast, surrounded by sea and white foam at its feet, alongside handwritten text on crumpled paper, riffing on migration and visiting the ‘furthest regions of life as we know it’. The sparse and unforgiving landscape amplifies a very human experience of both strength and fragility in a way that only art can. ‘Scattered Mental Blocks’ by Natalia Tcherniak (2019) draws me in, dark blue paint marks are etched into with paragraphs of typed text, drawing our gaze towards a central focal point of a face projected inside a room. There is some very considered mark making and layering of imagery here that I would have loved to see at full scale.

Joanna Coates, ‘We Live by Tha’ Water’ (2018).

Founded by artists Alice Bradshaw, Vanessa Haley and Lenny Szrama in 2018, the idea for the project arose from tragic circumstances after a close friend of the founders died due to suicide in 2017, Dwell Time acts as a lasting legacy to the friend, who was a passionate advocate of how the arts could act as a tool for opening up conversations around mental health. As the website states: ‘The contributions are as varied as the individuals and circumstances that made them. We see common themes of loneliness, darkness, journeys, transformations, hope and coping strategies that resonate between such diverse works and reflect the journeys we often find ourselves on’. Destinations and journeys are well-worn metaphors for almost any lived experience and are particularly useful for describing one’s mental health. Yet it is less the journey and more the time and space idling which is the focus of the publication.

Dwell Time Issue 2 is funded by the Penistone Line Partnership, the Community Rail Network, Northern Rail and CrossCountry Rail. The publication is distributed for free across these railway networks and their staff. Making it accessible, easy to pick up on a train or at a station, browse and leave or take away is an important aim for Dwell Time. As Bradshaw says, ‘it is really important for us to be in the public realm, to remove the barriers already facing so many people, including those who do suffer with poor mental health in any way we can, so making the publication free and putting it out there is incredibly important to us’.

Raising awareness about mental health and supporting charities and projects that encourage conversation and flag-up services is a top priority for the trainlines, considering the rate of suicide incidents on the tracks (302 people died in suicide incidents on Britain’s railways in 2018/19, according to Office of Rail and Road). Bradshaw told me how the feedback from both contributors and readers of the first issue had been overwhelmingly positive and the rail networks themselves had commented on how it worked as a catalyst for discussions around mental health amongst their own staff, which gave insight in to the impact it could have on a wider readership of rail users.

Dwell Time make clear in their editorial that the purpose of the publication is not to arrive at a pre-determined destination, or to ‘fix’ anyone, but to create the space and the time for these works and the conversations they inspire. The editorial team are not mental health professionals and they are respectful in how they navigate this. Just as there is no predetermined way to read the publication, there is no way of knowing how the readers will respond or react to it. The publication has a listings page, directing people to services and charities and throughout there are reminders that help is available should any of the content act as a trigger. The editorial team liaise with charities and service providers both locally and nationally, and having those networks underpin both the publication and the wider project is reassuring.

The playlist of videos on YouTube which accompanies the launch of Issue 2 is an equally diverse mixture of perspectives and approaches to tackling subject matter that is often deeply personal. There are precise and professionally shot and edited contributions but also very basic straight-to-camera poetry readings. ‘Garbage Man’ (2017) by Finn Harvor stands out as an extraordinary fit for the publication. Looping footage from trains and subways with walks across snow-laden bridges, is accompanied by a voiceover of one man’s stream of consciousness. The everyday monotony and relentlessness captured by the passing of each train creates an evocative, bleak and yet realistic setting. Here the artist contemplates taking his own life, yet somehow navigates from complete self-loathing to self-acceptance.

Each video in the launch playlist acts as another station or viewpoint from which some ‘dwell time’ might be needed. The need to hit pause and revisit again another day is okay if it means time is given to really reflect, learn or unlearn before we move on. For all of its honesty and diversity of voices, I did note an absence of joyful, serene or happy moments of mental health as artistic starting points, although there is definitely playful humour to be found in both the publication and the videos. Jake Francis’ ‘Prospects’ (2018) is one such work. A photograph of a street poster with pull-off telephone numbers, stating ‘Missing: Career Prospects, Last seen at a university along with my sense of purpose…’ makes a dry and political comment on rising university fees and the lack of graduate jobs.

Jake Francis, ‘Prospects’ (2018). Artwork features in Dwell Time Issue 2.

Having navigated a delayed and now digital launch of Issue 2, Dwell Time continue to be proactive in creating opportunities for artists to share work during this trying time. Recently, they launched a special Covid-19 online issue with a new call out for works that explore responses to the pandemic and social isolation. The virtual exhibition of submitted work functions as a generative and living archive of artworks, refreshed every few days, turning the WordPress site in to an ever-growing catalogue of reflections.

Dwell Time offers an alternative from the usual narratives surrounding mental health and resists an emphasise any one experience (or indeed artform) over another. Through continuously platforming work inspired by all areas of mental wellbeing and struggle, there is a real openness from the editorial team towards the multitude of perspectives received through the open call. Those submitting are spared the risk of rejection or judgement. With its straightforward and unfussy format, Dwell Time is not about cutting-edge graphic design or typography, nor is it a zine or an art book with a handmade aesthetic; this is an arts publication that wears its commitment to access on its sleeve.

To download a PDF copy of Dwell Time Issue 2 or to order a printed copy, please click here

Joanna Jowett is a writer, artist and producer based in Leeds and is also co-director of copypages.org, an artist’s publishing platform.

This review is supported by Dwell Time

Published 26.08.2020 by Holly Grange in Reviews

1,689 words