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Petting the Hydra

Learning Record Practice One The Divine Disease: Exploration of Depression

2012 Lisa Lorenz Manchester Metropolitan University


© Lisa Lorenz Manchester 2012 All sources used can be found in the appendix. All images used are either property of the author if other specified in the appendix. For further information on topic or content please contact the author: or


Letter of Motivation for a Master´s degree in Design and Art Direction July 22nd, 2012 Dear Sir or Madam, Life is full of possibilities. Life is constant learning. And life is of course an adventure. It is my aim in life to never succumb to boundaries and to always learn from experiences gained in order to keep improving my personal and professional qualities. To be properly prepared for my future as a graphic designer and researcher I would like to apply for the Master´s degree at Manchester Metropolitan University and take part in the “Design and Art Direction” program offered with the School of Art in autumn this year. In July 2012 I completed my Bachelor degree in Communications Design at the University of Applied Sciences in Mainz, Germany. During my four years of study in Germany I was first and foremost fascinated by the boundless possibilities we as designers have to communicate ideas, facts and feelings to the recipient. Utilizing countless forms of expression, every creative task to me is a positive challenge and there is nothing more rewarding than successfully completing a project as a team. Throughout my degree at Mainz I strived to achieve as much variety as possible with my class selection ranging from conceptual, editorial and computer generated design to illustration. During a six month exchange with our partner university in Sweden, Malmö Högskolan, I learned the incredible value of working with people from different cultural backgrounds. This experience also helped aid my decision to


attend a university abroad for my Master´s degree. Incorporating my passion for travel and people interaction, one of my key interests is in how design, culture and the social background of people connect and work together. I know this in itself is a vast area but most interesting I find the transformation of society we can scent in undeniable strength. Is it possible to capture the old values and failures somehow through photographs or words? Can we as designers work for a change of society, can we make things better? Are we truly enabled to intervene? Through my fieldwork for my former projects I had the honor of talking with people from different social backgrounds and of different ages. Somehow it appeared to me that the younger the generation the greater the confusion and lack of passion for anything. Where did the spark get lost on the way? How is it possible that even though nowadays people have so many opportunities in designing their lives, we are losing quality of life? I want to investigate how we can re-implant positive thinking into the heads of people. Already artists and designers are talking to us. I feel very much inspired by the work of Miranda July and Stefan Sagmeister. Their communication with the recipient is natural and honest, easy and at eye level. Being confronted with their work means being confronted with yourself. Your forgotten dreams. Your hopes and fears. This is a good thing, this makes a small change. I see my task as a designer also in documenting our present like it has been done by others so many times before. I adore photographers like August Sander or Diane Arbus. Sander tried to capture the different kinds of people in the 1930s and did not only succeed but also created a contemporary document of German society. Arbus‘ eye on the other hand is more seeing the individual. She is not searching in the first instance. She is observing her surroundings. Arbus is seeing behind the curtain and by that is giving the viewer a chance of experiencing something he or she may have overseen or ignored. Both aspects I find intriguing and fascinating. Finding immense inspiration in the unknown and unexpected, the experi-


ences I gained whilst conducting fieldwork for my Bachelor thesis in rural Germany, my exchange in Sweden and an internship in Beijing in 2010, encouraged me to learn how different people view and adapt the world around them. I see myself as a mediator and researcher using design as a tool, rather than designing for the sake of it. In as early as September 2011 I decided to apply for a scholarship for a Master of Arts and in doing so I informed myself of the possibilities and benefits of studying in the United Kingdom. It was always my intention to avoid the large, hustling and bustling city of London unlike most people, as I would rather be involved in a vivid and familial city. I find so much intrigue in cities like that of Manchester with their interesting history, varied population and great share of students. Manchester Metropolitan University, in my eyes, offers a great range of technical and professional possibilities to its students. During my visit in May, for the Open Day, I really enjoyed the informal and inspiring atmosphere on campus. I found the well equipped and spacious facilities impressive as they offer room for experimentation and this also highly motivated me to apply there. I was especially inspired by the textile workshops as I have a keen interest in illustration and intend to expand my skill set by including embroidery in my work. Prior to attending the Open Day I was not sure about my choice of Manchester as a study destination. However, as soon as I arrived in the city I was instantly struck with a very good feeling. It just felt right to be there. After getting to know the university better and having met current students I am positive that Manchester Metropolitan University is the right place for me to finish my academic training. I look forward to a positive response and would highly appreciate the opportunity to complete my Master´s degree with MMU. Sincerely yours, Lisa Lorenz




People keep giving me this look when I tell them I am doing my master’s degree in design on depression. Picture a mixture of astonishment, confusion, pity and worry. A lot of raised eyebrows, followed by wrinkled parts of the face. Chose one, nose, forehead, eyes, mouth - at least one of these will be involved. ‘Oh, well that’s - nice. But - why? Isn’t this quite - depressing?’ As I summarised it in my Letter of Motivation it is very important for me to work for something. I want to solve problems I see around me or at least improve situations I find displeasing. My father got diagnosed depressed in early 2011 but long before that I got interested in the topic, reading books by Virginia Woolf, listening to music by the Smiths and Joy Division. I know this may sound not right but I really liked working with the topic depression so far. In the beginning I was overwhelmed by the range of fields lying in the world of depression. You could read so much about history, write even more books on all the pills you can take or the different kinds of depression artists went through. So first of all I had to find my little island I wanted to focus on. I started with reflecting on the past, the time of my grandmother. People appeared to be much more content back then. I was wondering: When did people become so depressed and hopeless? According to the Mental Health Foundation of Great Britain the number of people suffering from depression is constantly increasing. This is the case in many Western countries, also in Germany. So being depressed is probably not a new thing as it existed for centuries in especially Western culture but now we have the possibility to ap-


proach the topic more open. We made people talk about AIDS and cancer, why should we not be able to remove or at least weaken the stigma floating over people suffering from depression. Depression as the topic but also the illness to me is very much like the mystic monster from the Greek legends: the Hydra. A creature, eerie, massive, wearing so many heads you do not even know which one to cut off first. And as soon as you cut one off, two more will grow out of its body. There is no way to kill it, you have to accept it but also the terrible Hydra is only an animal. And animals can be tamed. I am an optimistic person. I believe we can pet this monster, the Hydra - depression! So finally I decided that this shall be my task, my quest! Taming the Hydra so people will not be scared anymore and dare to pet it. At least not be scared of it anymore.



Starting my research I very much felt like the resourceful Ulysses, not only because of the Hydra metaphor I found, but also due to moving to my new home, Manchester. I did not take a boat to cross unknown waters but a train and I was not on Cythera or Ithaca but in Britain. I must admit, at first, I was scared but my need for adventure and challenge was outweighing all worries. Also I felt a good vibe from the city. Manchester is not a pretty one it is a city with flaws, with dark corners, dirty back alleys and of course a lot of rain. But what I appreciate very much is its honesty and openness. I was hoping that the city is reflecting the mentality of its inhabitants. As it probably would have been easier to find organisations or groups I could consult about depression in the city where I have lived in for four years or talk to people in my mother tongue this was an additional challenge for me. Of course I had my worries. Will people understand what my point is? Do I myself know this for sure already? Will I even be able and find someone willing to talk to me? If they work as counsellors, will they be allowed to talk to me about their experience? Will I upset people talking with them about their depression? Do I know enough about the topic? So many questions. Still insecurity. I started my research building up walls around me with dusty books.



All these dusty books were a good start maybe but I really was missing getting some work done I could touch. I mean, please do not get me wrong and run straight to the books and tell them. I adore books, they contain so much knowledge, but then again they are so academic and dry. And as much as I would love to read them all - there are so many on the topic of depression, mind and therapy - it was just not exactly what I was looking for. After getting the basic knowledge to make myself more confident with talking about my master’s topic I turned to the material which I could find online on depression. Also, endless blogs and forums and associations presented on the internet. What I noticed was: as much as the books I read before were just books and dry to look at and read, the websites I was browsing through were not exactly what I consider eye candy. I really think a good, simple and clear navigation is mandatory, of course everywhere for every user, but especially in the health sector it should be easy for someone who wants to inform him- or herself on a topic. Also the print media I could find on the topic, like magazines and flyers were all rather dry and not focused enough on an adequate visual presentation. The content may be good but I will probably rather not attend an event if the poster or flyer is unattractive or the magazine with the informative articles looks just boring and outdated. There should be done something about this!



Yes all the information I could find online and in the library was helpful but after these first weeks of just reading I felt the unconditional need to actually talk to someone. I decided to find organisations in Manchester working with people suffering from depression. I found few, but the most promising was Zion Centre in Hulme. Basically it is a community for people suffering from mental illness. They offer workshops, counselling, group therapies, dancing classes, gardening - pretty much everything. So I prepared some questions as I wanted to meet a counsellor working there. I went to Hulme one day in October as they suggested on their website during drop-in times. Unfortunately I was not able to talk to someone really. The man I was talking to informed me very polite but also discouraging for me of his obligation to secrecy. I left the centre disappointed and - quite depressed. My second attempt was to talk to Helen Bowman; she is working at MMU, not really as a counsellor but helping out students with dead-line problems or other academic issues. Talking about my project with her over a cup of coffee was helpful. As she is not a counsellor who would be approached by students being aware of their possible mental problem but an intermediator she could not really tell me much about cases but confirm that depression is definitely an issue for students. Also she was convinced that a good publication at eye level would be helpful.



Also I turned back to the tools I could use online for communication with people to build up my own library of resources. I created an online survey with 12 questions and in the end almost 80 people participated doing the questionnaire in the stretch of one month. Like this I found out more about the personal backgrounds and experiences people had had in the past with depression. I also was interested in perception of color and music in connection with depression as I kept the lack of the sensual I found in the existing media in the back of my head. This survey was really helpful as I could see that there is definitely an interest in the topic but not the right tool that could eventually help to intermediate between the others and people suffering from depression. I would have never thought so at the start at the time I put it up, but a simple yellow poster - asking: ‘What is your depression?’ - on a door in our studio space at university gave me some very good inspiration and input for a series of visualisations around depression. My first attempt on simplifying the term and the whole theoretical work around it.



For my first exercise and mini project I wanted to create a fast overview about the topic depression in a series of zines. Four little booklets with each ten pages. I set myself the task to work intuitive and not spend longer than one minute on the illustrations in simple black and white pencil lines. I wanted to use a tool I am familiar with in order to not be distracted by my struggle with it. The first booklet should be about the definition of the word ‘depression’ in the dictionary. The second task was to find synonyms for the word depression. The third was to imagine abstract spaces I personally connect with depression while listening to music others consider as depressing (I generated this through my online survey). The fourth booklet finally was generated by the answers I collected from the yellow poster. This exercise felt really good and the booklets are a good communication tool as they transport information you would not expect in this form very simple but informative. I will try and keep this way of working and layouting for the planned information brochure I was talking about with Helen Bowman early in my research state.



In order to map out the fields I am interested in and I considered useful and interesting for a broad audience, I illustrated a - of course - map. As many progress reports of people suffering from depression or former patients speak of isolation and encapsulation I chose the image of an island. Also inspired by Marc AugÊ’s essay on non-places I created cities and areas on my map which would be universal - meaning familiar to everyone but still abstract. I wanted to use the tool of the map for interview I intended to lead in order to collect more stories, history to share with the readers of a possible publication or exhibition on depression. As first tests revealed the map will be a good tool of communication, a catalyst for memories and also orientation to not swift away from the topic or dwell too long at one place. Also it would be interesting what could be created by a collective. A large map of a collective memory on the good or on the bad. Maybe also a map of thoughts or worries or hopes.



Throughout my research I always was confronted with the image of the bed, sleep, insomnia and lethargy as a key visual in the state of depression. It is the hardest part for a person suffering from depression to even leave the bed in the morning. The bed is a kind of fortress, a harbour and a cave. Also we connect a ‘bed’ with intimacy, love and comfort, a person depressed person obviously even though unable to connect these positive feelings to it cannot leave it. Sleep, very often due to medication, is dreamless. The falling asleep often must be forced by drugs as thoughts will not stop spinning. I was wondering if it was possible to connect a message, some information about depression, facts, with an everyday furniture like the bed. I was experimenting with quotes and portraits by famous depressed people on the subject, screen-printing them on pillowcases. The nice thing about this idea for me was that one would not expect such a message on a pillow. Actually nobody wants to really deal with this topic while going to bed. Also reflecting on it the connection with the portrait and quote or even the father or mother of the quote is not necessary. Reducing the print on just the type, a ‘simple’ statement would maybe more effective. The last version I tried was printed with paint that only glows in the dark so the message would only be visible in the dark, by night. It would appear like the bad thoughts, the worries as soon as you rest your head on the pillow. The glow in the dark type would reflect the hushing up of the downs that worry a depressed person during the day. They will never be gone completely but return by night. Still I like the fact that a pillow invites you to embrace it. It is nothing scary, it won’t hurt you, it is a part of your life even though you never really thought about it. Your bed. Your pillow. What if your duvet would feel like concrete and your pillow was filled not with softness but spiky material. Would the sensual experience help the others to understand depression better?




Even though I had a slow start and was not successful at first with getting in touch with people influenced by depression in the end one thing led to another and finally I got enough contacts to set up some interview appointments for Practice Two. Still I think it is a good idea to create an alternative leaflet or small magazine providing informatin on a more creative and personal base as the available media does at the moment. In the next stage I intent to experiment more with interaction and connection between depression and the recipient by sensual and audible stimulation. Also the question arises what shape this design tool could assume. Would an interactive, portable installation in unexpected places be the right tool.? Maybe a temporary exhibition with video interviews is the right method to transport more understanding. This Practice One stage was an important time to deepen my knowledge. But also I could already start to visualise ideas and at the same time develop ideas on working with depression experimental way with methods I am not overly familiar with, sound, video and physical space during the next stage.



SOURCES BIBLIOGRAPHY 1 Gradin/Scariano (1986), Emergence: Labeled Autistic; Warner Books 2 Thwaites (2007), Reading Freud, Psychoanalysis as Cultural Theory; Sage Publications 3 Clark (2008), Depression and Narrative; SUNY Press 4 Adler (2009), Hanne Darboven: Cultural History 1880-1983, Afterall Books 5 Woolf (1925), Mrs Dalloway, Hogarth Press FILMOGRAPHY 1 Control (2007), 122 min, R: Corbijn, W: Curtis, Greenhalgh; The Weinstein Company 2 Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic-Depressive (2006), 120 min, R: Wilson; TV documentary 3 The Hours (2002), 114 min, R: Daldry, W: Cunningham, Hare; Paramount 4 Story Rooms: interactive networks (2005), 35 min, exhibition documentary 5 BBC Hello Culture - Madness 6 BBC 2, ArtWorks Scotland, The Madness of Peter Howson (2011), 60 min MUSIC 1 Finn Peters/Matthew Yee-King, Music of the Mind, 2 The Smiths (1986), Hatful of Hollow, Heaven Knows I Am Miserable Now 3 Joy Division (1980), Closer, Isolation




INTRODUCTION................................................................................................5 DEPRESSION AS THE HYDRA.................................................................9 UNKNOWN SOIL AND DARK CAVES.......................................................11 LEAVE HOMER ON THE SHELF AND GET ON A BOAT.........12 TALKING TO OTHER TRAVELLERS.................................................13 SHOUT OUT LOUD ON THE VIRTUAL MARKET PLACE................14 DEFINITION OF DEPRESSION SERIES............................................15 EXPLORATION OF THE ISLAND OF DEPRESSION..................16 SLEEP WELL LITTLE HYDRA....................................................................17 CONCLUSION...........................................................................19 SOURCES.......................................................................................21


Petting the Hydra  

Practice One

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