Visual Arts

"Bipolar" at Mesa Contemporary Arts: An Artistic Marriage in Psychiatric Hell

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See also: "Turn Off the Sun" at ASU Art Museum: A Hot Mess, Despite Some Cool Art

A bane to both creatives of every type and those grim homeless people wandering the streets everywhere -- not to mention their family and friends -- untreated bipolar disorder dooms those afflicted to excruciating mental gymnastics ranging from unrestrained, sleep-depriving euphoria, bizarre delusions and outrageous, nonsensical behavior to the darkest heart of paralyzing depression. Tragically, even when treated, bipolar disorder can rear its ugly head and, if severe enough, lead to institutionalization.

Briggs and Kogel's collaboration on "Bipolar" was undertaken to honor José Antonio Galván, the founder of a mental asylum in Juarez, Mexico, who daily provides refuge and care for more than 100 destitute mentally ill people abandoned by society. Also known as El Pastor, Galván just underwent and is currently recovering from open heart surgery.

Briggs and Kogel have not just "[simulated] the feeling of an observation room in an insane asylum and the alternate realities that shape everyday human experiences," as billed by the museum. They've actually constructed a nightmarish visual metaphor that unceremoniously dumps the viewer into the mind of a bipolar during both manic and depressive states. And it's a convincing re-creation for those of us who have had personal experience with the bipolar personality.

As one enters a darkened passageway that leads to the work, the viewer first experiences a series of strange, garbled structures of birch wood panels by Kogel, painted on every surface with frenzied, expressionistic brush strokes that conflate, then distort and electrify, common objects, designs, and human faces. Kogel's bristly painted pieces, manic and overwrought, seem to scream and shake, sucking the air out of the space they're in and constructing an overwhelmingly claustrophobic ambiance that communicates effectively with the space created by Alice Leora Briggs to the left.

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Kathleen Vanesian