UnKnowing Madness

Creative Sound Workshops Exploring Mental Health and Trauma

Calling on people with lived experience of mental illness or complex trauma who do not work in creative fields.

Dark abstract image
Image description: Black rectangle with very dark, barely visible grey texture in parts created with several layers of overlaid text that makes the words illegible


EXPRESSIONS OF INTEREST DUE 30 June 2022 – extended to 3 July 2022

Hi, I’m Thembi!

I’m a sound artist with lived experience of complex trauma. I have spent many years navigating the mental health system as a patient. I have often found its treatments fall short – especially for those who’ve been mariginalised or historically oppressed. 

I use my sound art practice to understand my lived experiences on my own terms – free of medicalised language, imposed diagnoses or even the need for words at all. Instead I focus on the felt senses that live within my body/mind that I can’t always explain – and don’t always want to. This has given me a greater sense of autonomy over my experiences and led me to more appropriate support.

I have developed this workshop series, UnKnowing Madness, to invite people who don’t have their own creative practice into my process of composing. My method of working is fun and low-stakes. You don’t have to make sounds that are “good” or “musical”. You don’t have to worry about the end product – that’s my job! Instead this is a space where we can reflect on our experiences in a way that people outside of the experimental arts may not have the privilege, confidence or would even have thought to do.

These workshops will result in a concert at The Big Anxiety Festival in Naarm (Melbourne) October 2022 and a website documenting our work.

WHO YOU’LL BE WORKING WITH

Thembi Soddell (they/them)
This is me (looking awkward)!

Image description: Selfie of a white person in their 40s with a shaved head, black top, smiling awkwardly at the camera, leaning back on an zebra print chair.

I’ll be facilitating workshops and composing a piece from the sounds we make. Here’s an example of my work. I’ve also written a little about myself and my experiences of the mental health system at the end of this callout page.

Vanessa Godden (they/them) Media and Performance Artist

Photo of Vanessa Godden
Image description: A light skinned brown person in their mid 30s with long teal, purple, and dark brown, layered wavy hair. They’re looking at the camera with a friendly smile and wearing gold wire glasses, a blue and white striped shirt, and a plaid blazer.

Vanessa will be helping us with making sounds from materials around our homes. Here’s Vanessa doing this in their own artwork. Don’t worry, you won’t have to chew on eggshells too – unless you want to!

Alice Hui-Sheng Chang (she/her) Vocal Artist and Arts Therapist

Photo of Alice Hui-Sheng Chang
Image description: An Asian heritage female in her late 30s, gentle wavy hair above shoulder length, wearing glasses. Slight head tilt, looking relaxed and smiling. 

Alice will be leading a workshop where we will experiment with sounding through our voice. You can hear some of what Alice does with group vocal sounding here.

Mehak Sheikh (she/her) Intercultural and Impact Programs Facilitator

Photo of Mehak Sheikh
Image Description: Seated Brown young woman with long dark hair. Wearing a magenta knitted top, holding a black acer laptop on her lap with a wide smile. 

Mehak will be co-facilitating workshops with me. She’ll also be collaborating with us on building the website documenting our work. More info on Mehak here.

Lydia Gitau (she/her)
Trauma Counsellor and Researcher

Photo of Lydia Gitau
Image description: A black African woman with short curly hair, facing the camera with a friendly smile, looking relaxed. She is wearing a sleeveless blue top with white embroidery, posed against a white background.

You’ll be having one-on-one sessions with Lydia (or Bec) to reflect on your experiences of the workshops. These sessions are part of a research study – more about that below. You can also contact her for one-on-one support if you’re in distress. Here’s Lydia’s bio.

Rebecca Moran (she/her)
Lived Experience Engagement Fellow

Photo of Rebecca Moran
Image description: A white woman in her late 30s, with curly shoulder-length blonde hair, green eyes and a green shirt, and a big happy smile, with a wooden slatted fence in the background.

Bec is also running one-on-one sessions to reflect on your experiences as part of the research. She can also offer support if you’re in distress. You’ll get to meet Bec and Lydia before you decide who you’d prefer to work with (either or both – your choice!). This is Bec.

Mufeez Al Haq (he/him)
Music Producer, Graphic Designer and Video Editor

Photo of Mufeez Al Haq
Image description: Young adult South Asian (Brown) man, wearing black t-shirt and burnt-orange beanie, casually sitting in front of a window sill overlooking a front yard

Mufeez will provide you with technical support. You’ll also receive emails from him about participation and scheduling. Meet Mufeez and his music here.

WHO THIS IS FOR

  • People who do not work professionally in creative fields, i.e it’s not designed for people with an established or emerging art career or studying a degree in studio arts/music (and more specifically experimental arts)

  • People who have lived experience of trauma, voice hearing, madness, mental illness, psychological distress or engagement with mental health services as a patient – be it through therapy, GPs, psychiatrists, hospitalisation or other, either long term or short term, diagnosed or not
  • People who live in (so-called) Australia 

  • People over 18 years of age

  • People who offer perspectives on mental health that reflect various cultural backgrounds, age groups, disabilities, socioeconomic statuses, genders and sexualities

  • People who are not in acute crisis (e.g. during an emergency in-patient stay)

WORKSHOP FOCUS

We will be reflecting on emotions, perceptual experiences and felt senses that exist within the body/mind in distress. We won’t be telling our personal narratives or sharing explicit details of our trauma. Instead we will focus on using abstract sound to express those experiences that are hard to share through words or visual forms. 

THE PROCESS

We will be making sounds together using objects and voice. I will then use these sounds to compose a new work with your input. I won’t be teaching you to compose or make your own artwork. Instead, this is a chance for us to creatively think about our experiences through sound making together, and perhaps gain new insights while doing so. You do not need any prior skill or experience in sound or music production – we will guide you through the process. There will be four participants in the workshops plus facilitators.

WHAT PARTICIPATION INVOLVES

  • Attending seven online group workshops from mid-August through to mid-October, hosted on the video conferencing platform Zoom

  • Being credited as a co-author on the composition that grows from the workshops (unless you wish to remain anonymous)

  • An artist fee of $1200 paid to you (various payment methods will be available, e.g we can pay you in multiple small payments or gift vouchers of choice if necessary)

  • The opportunity to join a public forum at the The Big Anxiety festival alongside the concert presenting our work (optional)

  • One-on-one sessions with either Lydia or Bec (your choice) to reflect on your workshop experiences 

WORKSHOP SCHEDULE

Here is a rough schedule for the workshops (note that we may need to make some changes):

AUGUST
Tuesday 9th – time TBC (1-2hr) – Intro to the Team & Technical Setup
Tuesday 16th – 1pm start (3hrs) – Community Building
Tuesday 23rd – 10am start (3hrs) – Sounding with Objects
Tuesday 30th – 1pm start (3-4hrs) – Sounding with Voice

(Between these sessions I’ll start composing from the sounds we’ve recorded so far. I’ll then be getting your input and adapting based on your feedback)

SEPTEMBER
Tuesday 13th – 1pm start (1-2hrs) – Listening to the Composition & Concept Building
Tuesday 27th – 1pm start (1-2hrs) – Finalising the Composition & Website Content

OCTOBER
Thursday 6th – time TBC – Concert and forum (attendance optional)
Tuesday 11th – 1pm start (1hr) – Celebration, Reflection and Goodbyes

You will need to attend all workshop sessions – approximately 13-16 hours in total. Let us know in your EOI if you have any schedule clashes and I’ll attempt to adapt if possible. Your one-on-one sessions with Lydia or Bec will be about 3-4 hours all up at times that work for you.

EXPRESSIONS OF INTEREST (EOI)

Expressions of interest are due on or before July 3. This can be done via this form here. It involves telling us a little about yourself and why you want to participate. 

NOTIFICATION OF RESULT OF EOI

You will be notified on or before July 15. You may need to chat with me one-on-one before decisions are made.

THERAPEUTIC SUPPORT

Please note that these workshops are not a form of therapy. However, if you experience distress you can contact Lydia or Bec for support.

ACCESSIBILITY

  • Participants will need a stable internet connection, computer with a webcam and a private, distraction-free space to make noise and move around during sessions

  • Child or other care costs (e.g. for elderly or disabled people you take care of) may be covered upon request if these responsibilities are a barrier to access

  • The public concert will be held at a wheelchair accessible venue at RMIT in Naarm (Melbourne), although you don’t need to live nearby or attend

  • There will be a chill out area at the public concert if you get overwhelmed

Unfortunately this series cannot cater to d/Deaf, intellectually disabled or non-verbal participants. If you have any access needs not mentioned here please let me know. I would like to accommodate where I can.

CONSULTANTS

Along with co-facilitators, I designed this project with input from the following people:

Jill Bennet (she/her)
Scientia Professor and Artistic Director of The Big Anxiety festival

Photo of Jill Bennett
Image description: A white women in her 50s with striking long red hair looking straight at the camera with a friendly smile. The background is white with black, horizontal, geometric lines.

More info on Jill here.

Erfan Daliri (he/him)
Racial Justice and Social Change Educator

Photo of Erfan Daliri
Image Description: Photo of a brown-skinned man with a moustache, wearing a beanie and a black t-shirt. He is standing holding a microphone in his left hand and his right hand is raised at shoulder height with his palm and fingers pointing upwards.

Here’s Erfan’s website.

Kelvin Lau (he/him)
Ex-mental health GP and researcher turned photographer.

Photo of Kelvin Lau
Image description: Headshot of a man of Han Asian appearance in their 40s, with short black hair, smiling, wearing a checked white/blue/red shirt and thick black-framed glasses on a plain white background.

More info on Kelvin here.

RESEARCH

The felt Experience and Empathy Lab (fEEL) at UNSW will be conducting research on this project. This research is being run by Lydia and Bec. It will involve answering questions about your experience of the workshops to find out whether or not they have been beneficial to your mental health. This will help me know if running more of these workshops might be beneficial to others in the future, or if there are things I could do differently next time. Participation in this research is required (I’ll be participating in it too). You will have the opportunity to collaborate on the research design with Lydia and Bec if you like, and will retain autonomy over how your contributions are used.

A LITTLE MORE ABOUT ME

My lived experience with the mental health system spans back 25 years, beginning with a diagnosis of clinical depression at age 17. Over the years this has expanded into multiple diagnoses, hospitalisations and treatments, both mainstream and alternative – some helpful, some not. I have a strong somatic expression of my mental state and a host of physical symptoms. The mind-body divide doesn’t make much sense to me or of my experiences.

I have a history of what might be called complex trauma, although I didn’t always see my experiences in this way (my thinking was, this isn’t that bad and just stuff that happens to people right?). My form of trauma ranges through things such as insidious forms of abuse in intimate relationships, living in a world that seeks to oppress certain aspects of my being, to the silent impact of intergenerational trauma from my Polish grandparents’ experiences in WWII.

I have a penchant for challenging my doctors and the mental health system at large, with a strong belief that people are experts of their own experience. I see the Western medical model of ‘mental illness’ as inherently biased, based on a narrow framework for understanding distress that excludes valid perspectives outside of it. It also ignores the significant impact systems of oppression have on people’s mental health.

That said, I also acknowledge that its treatments can be beneficial and even life saving at times – and it has been for me. This is an ongoing quandary in my mind and my advocacy work. It’s the core reason behind why I aim to create spaces where multiple perspectives can co-exist, where people can understand their experiences in whatever way makes most sense for them.

My artistic practice is influenced by Mad activism, and spans across sound installation, electroacoustic composition and sound design, with a focus on abstract sound and field recording. I am non-binary and of Polish (second generation, with Dad born in France post WWII) and Anglo-Celtic descent, born and living on Djaara Country in regional Victoria. This all shapes the way I understand my ‘mental health’. I am 42 years old.

If you’re interested in joining the project, please register your interest here. I look forward to meeting you!

FURTHER INFORMATION

If you have further questions or trouble with the application process please contact Mufeez for help at mofiz [dot] uh [at] gmail [dot] com or on 0451 745 700. You can also reach him via the contact form below.

    ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

    I acknowledge and extend my appreciation for the Dja Dja Wurrung People, the Traditional Custodians of the land upon which I live and work. I recognise that the arrival of Europeans caused a violent rupture in the spiritual, environmental, political and economic order of Dja Dja Wurrung People. I pay my respects to leaders and Elders past and present for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and the hopes of all Dja Dja Wurrung People. I commit to paying ongoing reparations, and challenging the settler-colonial systems that continue to cause harm to First Nations Peoples today.

    This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. The concert is part of “New Kinds of Archives: Trauma, Knowledge & Feeling”, an RMIT Design Hub Gallery project. It is a part of the RMIT Culture program and The Big Anxiety Festival 2022. Thank you to Liquid Architecture and Yamaha for workshop equipment supply.