Image shown: Panchaea: In Search of an Equal Utopia and a Willing Suspension of Disbelief

Panchaeais a socially engaged art project involving services users of the Carlow Mental Health Services. Created by Denis Roche through the Carlow County Council Arts Office with the support of the HSE’s Carlow-Kilkenny/South Tipperary Mental Health Services, the project also involved families of service users. The process saw artists Denis Roche, Brian Maguire and Emma Finucane working alongside service users and their families. The project was documented in partnership, and resulted in a publication to be launched at 2pm on the 22 April 2015 by Minister Kathleen Lynch TD in the Dolmen studios of St. Dympna’s Hospital, Athy Road, Carlow.

Using the metaphor of a search for the utopian island of Panchaea, this project undertook a process of learning and discovery around the complexities and opportunities people living with mental health issues face working towards a recovery focused approach. Through a number of initiatives, the artists and participants embarked on a journey to illuminate the ways in which people with a mental illness experience life in their community.

This was a two year engagement with mental health service users and staff in County Carlow. It illustrates the work that has been done and the relationships that continue to be developed as part of this artwork. Emma Finucane attended a day centre in Leighlinbridge for 6 months, where she worked with service users making prints of locations that held personal significance to each individual. Brian Maguire set up a painting studio in one of the disused spaces in St.Dympna’s Hospital in Carlow. Here people attended weekly painting workshops and painted together with the artist.

During a residency in the VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art Carlow, Denis Roche positioned the gallery as a site of production for a boat, exploring through this process the potential to reach alternate or imagined territories. Together with master shipwrights from the Dunbrody Famine Ship in New Ross and service users from the Dolmen Studios built a small river boat.

What followed then was a major exhibition held in VISUAL, the Centre for Contemporary Art Carlow.


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