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Graduate raises awareness of mental health issues through powerful art installation

Art can be a powerful way of initiating discussions on important topics, as one of our graduates demonstrated with her striking installation designed to raise awareness of mental health issues.

Kayleigh Baker, who studied BA (Hons) Fine Art at UCA Canterbury, created her end of year graduation show project – Comfort You Tonight II – which consisted of heavy-duty scaffolding used to display thousands of bags of milk and vinegar that had been heated together, in order to draw people's attention to the subject of mental health.

Kayleigh says: “In 2013, 4,722 people in England alone committed suicide. This is a staggering statistic, and I wanted my work, in its domineering physical form, to raise awareness of the sheer scale of this on-going issue.”

The display contained a total of 4,722 bags of the mixture – one for every suicide victim in England in 2013 – and was located in its own room in order to retain the smell and segregate the work from everything else at the show.

“For those that visited the degree show and had the opportunity to see and experience it for themselves, the smell was no doubt the thing that they noticed most,” Kayleigh explains.

“Not only did the smell gain widespread attention and get people talking, for good and bad reasons, it also repulsed many of the visitors and some even struggled to withstand it all together. In this regard, it became an analogue to mental ill health suffering. It provided a constant reminder that these issues are inescapable, in the same way that the audience was unable to escape the art without physically leaving the room.

“I chose to use milk and vinegar because of the aroma they create when heated together as well as the way the mixture looks. The visual side of the project offered a balance between beauty and repulsion, reflecting illness and recovery.

“The separation between both substances could turn your stomach, so to speak, and the deterioration process of the mixture that occurred was fundamental to the message of the piece. Despite the fact that each individual bag had essentially undergone a quality-control like process, the deterioration rates differed from bag to bag. In some bags, the substance formed was vulgar, reflecting illness, while others developed into a crystal clear liquid, particularly when light shone through, reflecting clarity and recovery.”

Kayleigh is set to start an MA in Fine Art at UCA Canterbury in September. She says: “I’m sure I will continue to work with and explore these themes, which I don’t think will ever subside. Art has a powerful voice. I try to make sure that my work is a means of communication that makes people take note and recognise important issues and taboo subjects within our society.”