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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Zine-ing About Wellbeing - UAL Workshop

Yesterday I participated in a fun workshop 'Zine-ing About Wellbeing' delivered by Adam Ramejkis for UAL students.

I was interested in this workshop because of my work with art collective, Dare to Care who make work around mental health of artists and because of my experience with self-publishing - as you can see from the above image the workshop got pretty messy and it took me a while to clean up afterwards! The start of the workshop was a fascinating discussion around wellbeing and the origin of 'zines'. As someone who has self-published 9 political books, I could see a lot of parallels between these publications and zines. Especially since my books were all crowdfunded to cover printing and distribution costs with the aim of spreading political messages (essentially propagnda). It was never my intention to sell them for profit, although I have sold a few since the crowdfunding capaign - My children's book about refugees was sold with the explicit aim of fundraising for the City of Sanctuary and raised £2000 (unfortuantely Ebay took 10% commission). During the discussion about the punk history of zines, I decided to get ahead by going through the various publications and artwork prints I had managed to gather (I was very upset that the paper recycling had come the day before and I had forgotten to salvage the usual abundant collection in our communcal recycling bin) and cut out images or large fonts which I thought I could use.

When we started the making part of the workshop and we were shown how to fold an A4 sheet into an 8-page booklet - I realised that I wanted to make a bigger zine. So, I swapped my A4 paper for an A2 sheet and folded it so that each page of the booklet would be A5 in size. One of the publications I hadn't dumped in the recycling bin was a German music publication which had an amazing double-page spread of a room full of instruments. I wanted the first image to be impactful and give the rader an immediate sense of the experience of cognitive overwhelm (a theme I have explored through my abstract paintings) which can be part of suffering from mental health illness or neurodiversity. I found a distressed background texture from a book of patterned papers and cut out the individual instruments and stuck them down, along with drawings of speakers and a cowering figure in silver ink on black paper. I then cut out the letters from the printed text and spelled out the words 'its getting too loud' in the style of a ransom note, which I think added to the tension of the image.

The second and third page function as a double-page spread, made up of a collage of some of my urban sketches (from Paris and Dublin), to give the sense of a chaotic, built up environment where it feels like the buildings are "closing in". In this image the silver figure is running across the page and the ransom-note text reads 'No matter how far I run...'

The fourth page uses another urban sketch (from Stockholm), which includes an alley way with a seemingly endless road. In this image, the figure sits on the ground clutching her head and the text reads 'There's nowhere to go...'. This image is alluding to the common, human response to "run" from problems or in this story, mental health illness rather than confronting and dealing with them - the message the image is trying to communciate is that it is impossible to run away because the problems will follow you wherever you go. In the fifth page, a new, character emerges riding a unicorn (this image is from a poster created by my colleague Lucy Wright, titled 'Folk is a Feminist Issue'), the collage also includes some Chinese carnival horses which I took from a newspaper and the background is a more peaceful environment with images of trees and mountains. The text on this image reads 'Hold your horses...' a colloquial idiom which means 'temporarily pause what you are doing'. The image is intended to have an imaginary, fantastical feel as though it is a vision which has appeared in the mind of the protagonist.

The sixth page comes from my direct experience of feeling dismissed by a GP, who told me to 'try mindfulness' in response to a serious trauma and resulting mental health illness which required a more serious intervention. The background texture in this image is a "calming", flowery blue pattern which is typical of the wellness industry. Overlayed are two cut-outs from a print of an abstract painting I made, titled 'Supernova' - which give the impression of a burning fire-ball hurtling across the page. In the foreground, are more of Lucy illustrations, which depict an forelorn figure being pushed foreward by two workers in uniform who are brandishing tools and appear to have their eyes covered. One of them is saying "Have you tried... mindfulness?" which gives the comic impression of an inappropriate resonse to the gravity of the situation. The seventh page is a comical, satirisation of the wellness industry and the way that adult colouring-books were marketed as a wellbeing activity to help improve mental health. I drew this page using a thick, black marker pen, to immitate the style of a colouring-book. The smiling, cartoonish figure in the centre asks "or adult colouring books?"

The final page in the 8-page sequence is a collage mad eup of flowery, patterned paper, a cut out image of a (slightly smug) smiling woman from a knitwear catalogue and more ransom-note style text reading 'How about a wellness retreat?'. Again this is satirising the marketing campaigns of the Wellness industry, who, in my opinion, exploit vulnerable people by selling them products and services, making often spurious claims that they will improve their mental health.

Finally, the zine unfolds to reveal an A2 artwork with a final message for the reader. The background is an abstract, splatter painting - the vibrantly coloured splatters in the centre, representing intense, intersecting emotions returning to the sense of cognitive overwhelm with which we began the sequence. The splatters are surrounded by dark, black feathery brush-strokes, which give a forboding impression. More ransom-note style text reads 'If you need help be careful who you ask...'. On the botto left corner is another one of lucy's illustrations showing two characters holding hands and on the right hand side, a silver on black sketch shows a figure pulling another up a steep slope. The overall message of the zine is to encourage people to get help for their mental health if they need it, but also to do so with caution, since some people and companies may take advantage of their vulnerability to sell them products which do not solve their problems nor provide the help they actually need.

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