Friday, March 10, 2017

Ren Hang

A question was emailed to me.  I can't tell how old the student is.  I assume that he is young.

Me and my classmate do a work about madness so we use some of your painting and we need some information about you. So we have questions for you. We read you used medicines to paint so why did you use that to do it ? In which circumstances do you paint? Thanks for your help and your time.  Have a good day, Stael Manoé PS: I love your work 

My answer is terse and wooden;

Medication is important.  It evens out my emotions.  It gives me energy.  Willpower is hard for some schizophrenics.  We are not lazy, but we may not have the energy or focus to do tasks.  Negative symptoms of schizophrenia are things that are lacks, or minuses.  Lack of motivation, lack of concentration, lack of desire.  Sometimes I think that what makes life hard for me is being too sensitive.  Medication shields my emotions a little, like a wall around my mind.   I hope this helps you.  Thank you for liking my art.  Sincerely, Karen May Sorensen

Then this came a day laterI am a little confused who is writing.  I guess that Manoe's teacher is emailing.  Communication on the internet can be difficult.  But I am really happy for the chance to give a better answer.

I am working with Manoé Stael (who send you an e-mail about your work because we are preparing a presentation about madness). I am sorry to disturb you but I am really interested by your art so I have other questions.
So here are my questions :
Is it difficult to paint when you have the effects of your medications ? Or is it easier ?
Does painting get a little something off your chest ? Do you feel you better after that ?
I’m sorry if I disturbed you, you are not required to reply at this e-mail.
Sincerely yours,
Célia Rouffiange. 

Now that the questions are clear my writing flows;

The medications help me to be a person living in society.  Making art is easy.  But having a relationship with a husband and family is hard.   Mentally ill artists who cannot live in society often do not survive.  They take their own life.  I believe this happened recently to the excellent photographer Ren Hang in China.  Or Vincent Van Gogh.  All artists have to have a level of emotional stability before they create.  My medication gives me the mental stability so that I don't take my own life.  The pain of mental illness is very strong.  Medication dulls that pain.  Medication also dulls creative thought and slows your mind down. So I take as little medication as I can get away with.  I don't know Manoe's age, but the threat to creative mentally ill people, of suicide, is high.  I hope he is old enough for the topic of suicide.  Making art is my natural gift, medication does not help that, it can only hinder it.  Medication helps me in that it soothes some pain.  An artist cannot live to make art alone.  Life for art?  No.  There has to be more to it.  Friends, loves, happiness, all these things outside of art are necessary to survive.

I love to make art because I am making the visions in my head real.  My art is painful.  It is colorful, and that is fun, and it is creative, and that is fun too.  But there is also so much sadness and darkness.  Probably my art tells the stories of my life.  It is a beautiful life with both joy and pain.  Am I better off because I tell my life stories in my art?  Yes.  Certainly. 

All people will have challenges in their lives.  The challenge in my life has to do with living with a mental illness.  This is a source of pain for me to overcome.  However, all people have sources of pain that they must overcome. The stories of peoples lives are all different.  But I don't believe anyone has things easy.  It is just the challenges comes in different forms.
The one physical thing medication does for me is give me a little extra energy.  I have to have energy to stand at my easel and paint. I have to be able to focus on my artistic task for many hours.  The medication helps in very small bits.  Just a little boost of energy and focus.  But it helps.  At high levels of medication it is both hard to focus and sedating.  I would not be able to work at a high level of medication.  So you see the question of medication is complicated.  Different outcomes at different dosages.

Please tell Manoe that he was brave to email me.  I like his courage.  What age is he and what country does he live in? I hope that I am able to help with the project on madness.

This is the response I got to my question;

Both of us are 17 and we live in Brussels. I think that your story is really interesting ! I really like your courage and I admire you. 
We are honored to speak about you and your art during our presentation. 
Thank you for your time! You help us a lot, thanks again, 
Célia Rouffiange.

Last week I read about the suicide of Ren Hang.  He was a Chinese photographer.  He was 29 years old.  Looking at his photographs I am struck by how effortless they seem.  I think that is part of his brilliance, making a photograph look effortless.  For example; a naked man hanging by a tree branch over a pond.  The crouch of the naked man in mid-air is perfect.  His leg covers his private bit.  But the crouch of the naked man is also perfect in that there is a feeling of joy and freedom.  I can feel exhilaration.  I can feel the physical prowess and beauty of youth.  Most photography leaves me a little cold.  It is not my medium.  But Ren Hang was my favorite photographer in the world.  None of his work is tepid.  He hits a note of beauty again and again and again.  Conceptually everything is new.  He summons poses for his models like a magus, straight from the Eye of God to the photographic paper.   His beauty almost always has an erotic element, so in this, his view and my view coincided.

I ached for several hours after I found out he died.  A cold feeling in my gut.  This had to do with the news that his death was not natural.  A Chinese newspaper had written that he jumped off the top of a 28 story building.   So he could have lived.  But he chose death.  In one article I read that he had trouble with depression and voices.  Another article said his trouble was cyclical depression. It feels like the world has lost another Vincent Van Gogh.  I wondered why, with this modern age boasting of treatments and medicine, how a Van Gogh can die.  Is the medication available failing for the living, or is it too poisonous for living.

Was Ren Hang's depression treatment resistant?   Or did Ren Hang reject depression treatment because of side effects of the medication?  And I'm not talking about physical side effects.  I am talking about the negative impact of psychiatric medication slowing down thought, diminishing interior vision, fogging up perceptions, and dismantling overall connectedness to the universe.  Artists are sensitive.  For me I am keenly aware that my artwork's quality is dependent upon emotional sensitivity to an inner world and the outer world.  And I also an aware that the medication I take builds a wall around my mind to prevent me from experiencing sensitivity.  My mental torment comes from an excess of perception and overwhelming sensitivity.  So that is why I take medication.  To numb me a bit.  Is being numb uncomfortable in and of itself?  Yes.  They are just different kinds of pain.  The pain of being medicated vs the pain of being medication free.  I am just lucky that my character is such that I can find joy and value in the narrowest of circumstance.

When I was 29 I faced an existential crisis.  It is no accident the age that Ren Hang died at 29.  He probably faced, in some form, the same existential crisis I faced.  The age of 29 is a rather visionary age.  You look at the landscape of your life.  You assess.  And you think, "This is what I can have.  And this is what I can't have.  Do I want to continue?"  When I was 29 I was a very immature artist.  Unlike Ren Hang I was not famous, I did not have a large body of work, and I certainly had not discovered yet a signature artistic vision.  So when I faced my crisis I had very little to lose by living.  There was so much of me and my work that was not defined.  My crisis had to do with accepting an alternative path in society.  I could not be the person I wished to be.  In my mind, at the age of 29, I wanted stereotype living.  I wanted to be a young woman like the young women I saw in movies.  A 8 hour work day, financial independence, friends and going to parties.  There is a temper tantrum element to suicide.  You think "If I can't have what I want, I don't want to live."

For me, the answer to life at the age of 29 was "Be humble Karen.  Walk very slowly and be humble." 

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