Video Mime: My Imaginary Friend and I
By Reshma Valliappan
Video Mime: My Friend and I
About the mime:
I have chosen the musical piece that plays at the end of the mime “I missed my Bauhaus Chair”, because it conveys to me the loss of opportunities experienced by someone with a psychiatric disorder. My view of the mental health system is not that of foundations based on care but foundations built on politics that started in Germany. Influential psychiatrists such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung, and Paul Eugen Bleuler were instrumental in coining and defining terms such as neurosis, dementia praecox, and schizophrenia. Psychiatry,which evolved in Germany, was greatly developed during the Nazi era. Adolf Hitler was highly influenced by the psychological warfare used by the British and put it to good use during his dictatorship.
Staatliches Bauhaus, commonly known simply as Bauhaus meaning “house of constructions”, was an art school in Germany. Estabished during a period of radical experimentation in all the arts, Bauhaus was founded with the idea of creating a “total” work of art in which all arts would eventually be brought together. Many left-wing Germans were influenced by the cultural experimentation that followed the Russian Revolution, such as constructivism. The Bauhaus was founded at the time when the German zeitgeist (the defining spirit or mood of a particular period in history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time) had turned from emotional Expressionism to the matter-of-fact New Objectivity. The school was, however, closed in 1933 under pressure from the Nazi government which claimed that it was a centre of communist intellectualism.
The Bauhaus Chair is known as the Wassily Chair in modern times. It is a particular design for a chair. However I refer to this chair as the “audition chair” which an actor or artist would need; the first chair that gives any artist that one opportunity to showcase their talent before the world.
The Imaginary is a term coined by Jacques Lacan. He regarded the ‘imago’ as the proper study of psychology and identification as the fundamental psychical process. The imaginary was then the dimension of images, conscious or unconscious, perceived or imagined.
How does this fit in my performance?
As a person with schizophrenia, we end up being kept away from society and the outside world. We are often tucked away in our own homes, hospitals, or incarcerated in asylums. The invisibility of the condition in itself keeps us locked away in our own minds. The lack of speech and voice for the condition is depicted by the silence of the mime. In the mime, my alter ego named ‘Ski’ has no gender. Ski is not a he or a she but a figment of everybody’s imagination because I believe that schizophrenia does not exist within me but outside of me in the real world. And my condition is but a reflection of the outside world. Therefore Ski is born from ‘Schizophrenia’.
The peak of my youth, until the age of 25, when I was pursuing higher studies, was a period of great struggle. I have lost out on a lot of opportunities as I was under treatment and care since the age of 21. This lack of opportunities exist because of how much the social world rejects a schizophrenic. The Nazi like governence is seen in our laws where someone like me has no legal capacity. I do not have the right to vote, to marry, to sign contracts, or to fly; all of which also eliminates my opportunities for education, employment, or entertainment. The dictatorship like activism that first started with psychiatrists champoining themselves under our name still continues to this present day. There are very few voices of those like myself asking to be heard. The silent act depicts how we ‘the nutcrackers’ continue to exist despite the lack of everything.
This piece was performed on a day I was feeling extremely depresssed, hopeless, and suicidal. I was trying to look up grants, funding, artistic opportunities and I noticed that they all had an age limit. This age limit is conveyed by the sentence in the song ‘I missed my Bauhaus Chair’. Being schizophrenic, by the time we recover, we have crossed the age of 30. Though we are very childlike still and shuffle between the infant, the child, and the teenager – the adult in us has lost out on many years due to treatment. Thus, now at 35, I am not an established artist, unlike many of my younger friends.I cannot apply for any funds or grants which fall under the category, ‘youth’, even though I’ve not had the opportunity to live as one. This is the Nazi like foundation of the mental health system.
Given I do hear voices and see things, my imaginary friends, as I call them, tend to lead me into the world of the imaginary, of imaginations, creations and other realities, which I find to be a gift I can live with in order to continue living in a world where people like me get rejected because everyone else lacks an imagination.
The irony of the piece is, Ski is a figment of the real world. Ski is also having a silent act with an imaginary friend whom the real world cannot see. This means only one thing: that both Ski and the imaginary friend are otherwise real in their own world; a world which is perceptually impossible for others to understand.
Reshma Valliappan (Val Resh) is an artist / activist fighting for the right to be granted what for most others is a given—full legal capacity.(She gives up on apparent career choices very often and goes into a sabbatical until life gives her some ‘sign’ to continue). Val Resh works with the concept of ‘The Red Door’, first conceptualized by Mixed Media Productions, to create more awareness about issues of mental health in India. She is also the Founder-Director of MindArcs, which aims at creating spaces for more users/survivors of psychiatry to come ‘out of the closet’ and speak about their experiences. However, the space is also open to others who might not have a label/diagnosis but just simply have had different experiences. Val’s creative work is not limited to a paintbrush or sketchpad. Instead, it ranges from poetry to humor, short narratives, painting her clothes, and randomly carving things in thin air until they find their way into a real form. Her creations do not give her room to rest. She says, “I don’t have a problem with an artist’s block. I think I have too many ideas flooding around me that I sometimes wish I did have multiple arms like our Hindu Goddesses”. Reshma Valliappan’s book Fallen, Standing: My Life as a Schizophrenist (2015) is published by Women Unlimited.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.