Art has been a scapegoat recently in a country still denying its newly-entrenched conservatism. Anorexia nervosa – a mental illness that typically manifests as an unhealthy thinning obsession in young women – is a potent, still-mysterious disorder that is provoking emotional and even aggressive responses.
So what happens when art and anorexia come together? On October 14, Mirrors will launch at the Mori Gallery, Darling Harbour, with a variety of artists working across performance, photography, painting and mixed media, to present an insider’s look at anorexia and consider various perspectives on body image and the promotion of healthy thoughts around beauty.
Launched last year as Art Exposing Eating Disorders, the program has been established as an inaugural fundraiser by curator and recovering anorexic Rhiannon Bulley.
“I think we let mirrors play such an important role but it’s not really a mirror that reflects who we are,” said Bulley. “I think a lot of the time there are far more honest reflections of us in the people that surround us and that love us. The thing about anorexia is that you don’t see those mirrors in other people; you only see a real mirror, and what the real mirror shows you is tainted by disease.”
The new name for the show was penned by Bulley’s assistant in the production, Sarah O’Rourke. Together the two have collected the artists for the show over the last year.
Bulley is particularly looking forward to the contribution of professional artist Cindy Wider who will be sending copies of her book, Paint in Your PJs, encouraging women to work with blank canvases and paints as part of the show’s interactive space.
The event also has the support of medical groups, including the Centre for Eating and Dieting Disorders, the Eating Disorders Association (Qld) and The Butterfly Foundation, to whom all funds from sales will be donated.
Bulley chose Butterfly because it acts as an umbrella for efforts to treat anorexia across Australia, funding national research and supporting a variety of treatment approaches. The fact they ground their work in positivity, school programs and fashion industry-based education really appeals to Bulley.
She hopes visitors to Mirrors will find the show positive and diverse. The use of anorexic models has been an increasingly sore point in fashion and advertising photography. In the last year, “pro ana” sites – websites glorifying anorexia’s skeletal figures and obsessive non-eating habits – have been taken down or banned by a number of blogging and search services.
In convening the show Bulley decided to include art grounded in issues of beauty not associated with eating disorders, as wells as recovery and an exploration of themes more substantial and complicated than the overused mode of simple ‘shock’. She says the difficulty in talking to people with anorexia is that you aren’t talking to them, you are talking to the disease.
Bulley also worked closely with installation artist Elodie Silberstein whose input for Mirrors opens like a lotus. She posed Bulley made up as a Japanese Ningyo doll, frozen in adolescence, never to grow or develop. She has interviewed a number of recovering anorexics and people working with anorexia, compiling detailed insight to various stages of the disease and the lack of support for sufferers within the public health system.
And she has imagined a diary, kept by a sufferer, informed by her case studies. Elements of these mixed media will be tied together when she orchestrates a performance piece at the show’s opening.
Bulley and Silberstein clearly have a deep connection to this disease which continues to tear apart lives, families and friendships. Mirrors may raise thousands of dollars for anorexia, but more importantly it may increase understanding of a far-reaching illness too complex to simply medicate.
Mirrors opens Wednesday, October 14 at 6pm at Mori Gallery. Visit http://mirrorsartexhibition.wordpress.com/.