I recall my time at last years Fís exhibition, the pride, the joy, the relief. It almost seemed impossible to make something as wonderful as that again. However, as we walked out of the Carrolls building, with the Realign booth set up behind us, I realised that the impossible is not always so.
Taking the theme Hyper, we turned our attention towards words. The words we use in society may seem weightless and meaningless, but in fact, they do have an unseen impact on people. Hyper Labelling or the excessive labelling that occurs in our society can be damaging to someone’s reputation, their image, their lives. So we looked at what we once called ‘vulnerable groups’. These groups were those living with mental illness or conditions that may have been stigmatised. Narrowing it down, we focused on those living with schizophrenia.
I’ll admit, I assumed schizophrenia was split personality. In fact, some of the creative artefacts that first came to mind were related to split personality. When learning this is one of the most common misconceptions, my interest was peaked. If I myself had a preconceived notion of what schizophrenia was and I was wrong, I wondered who else may be the same as me. And so our research began.
Our research found that schizophrenia is one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented and most stigmatised condition. The source of this? The media in which we consume. Learning that media was largely responsible for the labels and stigma attached to schizophrenia lit another fire under the group. As media students, we felt obligated to combat this issue with positive, informative media. We began brainstorming ideas of what we could create. A photography series to show the real lives of these people. Illustrations to show their interests. Infographics to detail the information in a creative way. A short video with the real stories of those living with schizophrenia. All compiled into an easy to use website.
We reached out to Shine, a mental health organisation that was previously named Schizophrenia Ireland. However, they changed their name due to this stigma. Speaking with Derek Pepper, the Louth regional officer gave the project the authenticity it needed. He helped us to speak with two support groups, one in Dundalk and one in Drogheda, which were held for those living with schizophrenia.
The experience of going to the support groups and meeting those affected was perhaps the greatest aspect of this research. To hear their stories, their experiences gave live to our work. We knew that these people felt judged and yet ignored. They addressed the fact that the media has a lot of responsibility as it portrays people with schizophrenia as monsters. When in fact, with treatment and care, these people are just like anyone else. Using the information they gave us, we created what I feel are beautiful artefacts worthy of their approval.
As the project manager, I had a number of daily tasks. Organising meetings, preparing for presentations, preparing documents, liaising with organisation and people outside of the college, managing any issues within the group. In essence kept an eye on every aspect of the project to ensure it was to the standard we set ourselves at the beginning of the year.
Thomas as an illustrator created some of the most unexpected and most intriguing designs. His passion for work and perfection is what brought the project to a high standard.
Nadia’s problem-solving ability when it came to web development dumbfounded me at every turn. She and I collaborated on documents to ensure they were academic standard. Her attention to detail and unwavering work ethic was imperative to the project.
Julia worked non-stop throughout the year. Her ability to use new software that she may have been unfamiliar with and make it look effortless is unmatched. From animation to photography, to video editing. She brought the project to life.
If you were to take away one person from this group, the project would be altered significantly. Realign is a truly collaborative project where research and creativity merged to make a change.