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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

A Review of Mental by The Vacuum Cleaner

The latest performance from the Vacuum Cleaner (in conjunction with Arts Admin) bravely explores his mental health issues, all from his very own bedroom.

Written by Amelia Gregory

Vacuum Cleaner - Mental by Jenny Robins

Vacuum Cleaner – Mental by Jenny Robins.

I have known James the ‘Vacuum Cleaner‘ for many years through activism, and have always admired his openness about his ‘mental’ condition – but I’ve never been a close enough friend to delve any deeper. For his solo performance piece, Mental, James candidly invites viewers into his home, into his bedroom and finally into his bed, where we are invited to snuggle up under his oversized pristine white duvet as James sets about unravelling the 14 years of data that has accumulated since he was first described as having a Borderline Personality Disorder by the NHS. Against the spotless white walls he projects highlighted sections of hospital notes and photos of a squalid bedsit and impersonal hospital room. Indeterminate comments from confused doctors are mixed in with police Forward Intelligence Team notes, until finally the extreme aggression of riot police at one direct action in 2009 (I was there, I remember it well) takes James into a particularly dark period.

Vacuum Cleaner - Mental by Jenny Robins

James tells his story with a cheeky sense of humour that lightens the mood when it threatens to overwhelm, gently reminding us that mental health issues are desperately hard to label, contain and solve. Ever the artist, James has found his own way to work through serious periods of blue – firstly with his Ship of Fools residency in 2011 (when he sectioned himself in his home for 28 days and invited other artists to work with him during this period) and now with this performance. Mental is a visceral eye opener into what happens when someone experiences the extreme end of mental health problems, and a chilling reminder that we really haven’t cracked the best ways to deal with the mental health issues that will affect so many of us during a lifetime.


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