I don’t know why this happened, but it did. is an autobiographical project exploring the experience of mental illness. It deals with a period of my life that began when, at age fifteen, I suffered a major mental breakdown and was subsequently diagnosed with severe clinical depression. The goal of this work is to translate a devastating experience into a cathartic one through the process of art making; to make sense of what happened to me, and ultimately come to peace with it. In a larger sense, the goal of this piece is to contribute to the discourse surrounding mental illness and to transform my own life experience into an aesthetic experience for the viewer.
I don’t know why this happened, but it did. is a handmade quilt, pieced together out of silk-screened documents from my psychiatric file. Quilts are distinctly feminine art forms that are a part of a long history of women’s artistic expression. A quilt is also something comforting that you wrap around yourself to keep warm, and for me the evidence contained in my medical records is validating and comforting. They are a record in black and white, the primary documents of what I went through that say, “this happened”. Around the quilted midsection is a border of white flannel with pink circles—a fabric I was drawn to, as it was the type of textile I had in my room as a little girl. Embroidered along the top of the quilt are the words: “I don’t know why this happened, but it did.” a sentence that echoes the validating message of the psychiatric documents, while pointing to the indiscriminate, and often unexplained nature of mental illness. Sewn across the front of the quilt are plastic quilted letters filled with pill capsules that spell out a statement from the diary that I kept as a psychiatric inpatient “ART IS MY THERAPY”. The pills that fill the letters conjure up a number of connotations related to my depression: my overmedication, overdose, and the struggle to find the right “cocktail” of medication. This is in opposition to what the letters actually spell-out, suggesting that we as a culture need to rethink the treatment of psychiatric illnesses.
The tactility of the quilt encourages the viewer to get up close to it and engage with it on an intimate level. Intricacies, such as the clear plastic letters and the embroidery along the top, are subtle and require close inspection. The viewer must also stand close to the piece in order to read the small text on the medical records. It is only when viewers are up close, engaging with this seemingly childlike and recognizable form, that they are confronted with the dark reality of what the quilt is actually about. I don’t know why this happened, but it did. also challenges our notions of privacy by laying out what most consider to be extremely private and confidential information for all to see. This is perhaps my most blatant challenge to the societal stigma surrounding mental illness. By putting the records of what happened to me on display in a gallery I am saying that I am not ashamed of it, nor should I be.