All posts by leichner

Will we ever learn?: An Artist residency at the Hungarian Multicultural Center

I Just finished a 3 weeks art residency in Budapest. We lived and worked in Buda, the older section of Budapest, also the hilliest, which was welcome as it, was cooler and quieter then Pest the touristic and commercial center of the city. Our hostess and artist Beata Szechy was very welcoming and took us and the other artist Pamela Paulsrud to several openings and even to visit Lake Balaton on a weekend. As expected we ate well and drank pálinka daily. And it is true fresh Hungarian paprika is superior. Our flat was spacious and we shared several enjoyable meals in the evenings. Also great was the newly constructed pool and fitness gym near by where we took classes and swam most days in the morning. Making art was more of a challenge for mixed media artists as there was little equipment except for paints and space. So Pamela and I had to spend our first few days finding books and getting basic equipment to work with. Early on I had decided to focus on the territorial protectionism that was gripping Europe in response to the migrants from North Africa and also the promise of building border walls by the Republicans in the United States. Hungary was one of the first to take a hard line and build up their border with barbed wire. On the way here on the plane I read an article that much of this wire was made by prisoners in Hungarian jails and that some of it was also sold to other countries. I can understand Hungarian protectionism as they are a country that has suffered repeated occupations and atrocities in the last hundred years but the nature of migration has changed. The old conventions that were established for refugees following wars no longer work easily in a world where people migrate to escape poverty as well as political oppression. My parents having been refugees with me as an infant and later immigrants I have little sympathy for those who forget that North and South American nations were born from occupation that we would call today illegal invasion and the suppression and genocide of the indigenous populations. Also much of European and North American economies have survived by organized immigration and willful blindness to cheap illegal labor migrants. Having said this I also recognize that the process should be controlled, out of fairness to the migrants as well as the hosts. Will we learn …in time…that the earth does not belong to us- anywhere! -but that we belong to the earth?
So I bought a roll of barbed wire a bag of plaster, a used world atlas and several used travel guidebooks of European countries, and meters of ribbons in the color of those countries flags. With these materials I made 3 works.
Europe 2016 is composed of 9 European countries travel guidebooks transpierced and bound in barbed wire. Colorful ribbons matching their flag colors hang from the wire.


For Ket ocean kozott (between two oceans in Hungarian) I built an wall like enclosure for the travel guide book of the United States in which I carved out the Grand Canyon – the iconic great divide shaped by time and nature.13475076_10153533568526581_1789292641988278097_o13406927_10153533568511581_2217654935542136780_n

Lastly out of the pages of the world atlas I recreated a globe as it might look in 2216. I shrunk our land mass and covered it mostly with ocean. The globe is wrapped in barbed wire and ribbons hang from it arranged in a haphazard manner.

How many forts will have to be built and found in ruins until we accept their futility?
Our host is arranging for the pieces to be in an upcoming exhibition in August.

Le grand silence des professionels/ The great silence of the professionals

I just acted in a play called maladjusted which toured in 26 cities in British Columbia and Alberta. We played in small and large venues, community halls, school gyms and theaters. The audiences numbered from 50 to over 300, and everywhere the message was the same. Our mental health care system has big problems and most professionals are silent about it.

maladjusted is a participatory play produced by Theatre for Living in Vancouver, Canada and directed by David Diamond. The play explores the mechanization of mental health services and the possibility of “human-centered care.” Patients and
caregivers developed and acted in the play. Using the interactive strategies of Forum Theatre, audience members had opportunities to role-play and suggest policy, resulting in policy report that has been sent to government agencies.

Some of the main recommendations were:

Prioritize relationship building over efficient diagnosis and treatment.

Prioritize counselling and psychotherapy.

Prioritize relationship building over efficient diagnosis and treatment.

Empower patients to make choices about treatment.

Offer greater support for patients coming off of medications.

Increase access to mental health care.

Increase access to care without requiring psychiatric diagnosis.

Increase advocacy, peer and cultural support for patients.

Prioritize workplace team building and self care for mental health professionals.

Increase public housing support.

Recent economic constraints, administrative restructuring into corporate-like health care systems and the singular reliance on the categorical system of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental to organize services has resulted in criticism that the mental health care system in Canada has become mechanized

In 2013 Michel Gervais, writing to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, described how the metaphor of mechanization has become dominant in health care organizations. He draws our attention to the proliferation of bureaucratic
forms of organization that emphasize precision, speed, reliability and efficiency through increasingly fixed divisions of tasks, hierarchical supervision and detailed regulations. From the consumers’ viewpoint, this can be experienced as being treated more like a number, a diagnosis, someone that needs to fit a treatment model rather than an individual. This approach can also lead to more rigidly applied criteria for access to scarce and time limited resources with few or no
alternatives available. According to Gervais, this bureaucratic machine is doomed to fail, as it is not a viable fit for the shifting and complex nature of mental health issues.

At each performance it was noted that many professionals were aware of this failing system and were experiencing burn out. The professionals’ burn out and dissatisfaction has been documented for years. Yet health care associations remain largely silent. So why are they not reacting?

I believe there may be several reasons. In Canada the professionals (in particular doctors) are well paid. Many are silenced by the administrative structures they work in and fear loosing their jobs if they speak out.

Other professionals are like missionaries. They do not question the system and believe in it. Many do not even believe there are other options for the system.

Finally, many are not even aware that they are being influenced and bought by the powers within the system. This is particularly evident when it comes to the marketing strategies of the pharmaceutical industry.

We all have our own stories and some of us work in better conditions than others but I believe that most professionals know about the limitations of the system. We owe it to ourselves, to our profession and above all our clients to resist. Resistance is not futile. Either as individuals or as associations we need to be heard and be seen doing the right thing. If we do not, we will loose what credibility remains and our society will suffer the consequences.

The making of the play and its content is described in a published article:

Maladjusted: Participatory theater about human centered care, Arts and Health:

An International Journal of Research, Policy and Practice 2015, 7:1,75-85,

The full reports on the play are available on the web site of Theater for Living website.

The video of play is also available on YouTube:

On why the VAG needs to get dirty

pureandclean_webThe Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) needs to get dirty. I don’t mean letting go of cleaning staff in a cost-cutting measure. I mean dirty in the good sense of the word: the stuff that gives us life, the stuff we stand on and build with, the messy and sexy stuff, the stuff of touch and smell, the stuff of humanity.

For me, Art is about sharing and exploring new knowledge, pursuing meaning. It is also necessary for personal and community health. It is not a coincidence that sterile environments are associated with ill health and oppressed communities.

From this stance the VAG stands out as an institution that perpetuates social inequities and an exaggerated commoditized value for art.

I recognize that it is a delicate balancing act for a contemporary public institution facing decreasing public funding and an increasing dependence on private and corporate funding—but the balance can change.

Firstly, admission to the VAG should be free and by donation at all times.

Having it free on Tuesday evenings and for children on Sunday is paradoxically stating an awareness of the inequity and yet, by these meagre offerings perpetuating it. On most days the VAG should be crawling with youth.

Second, the balance in programming needs to shift further to the local and the community.

Issues such as gender, emigration, displacement are at times addressed, but they are sanitized all too often by bringing works from other countries and artists co-opted by the art market.

The best engagement starts from the ground up. Involving the community in more of the programming might be unpredictable as far as outcomes, but it would start to bring the wall down.

Third, the focus on acquisitions and archiving should be decreased while the dissemination the already-accumulated wealth is augmented. This activity is a vestige of colonial days when museums reflected the wealth and power of the state. Acquiring more art to lay dormant in its vaults, no matter how well protected, is of no value to people in BC. Rather, lending out works and creating satellites within existing community galleries throughout the province should be a priority. On the dawn of 3D printing, the value of preserving most originals is becoming questionable.

Last, attempting neutrality is futile and misleading as all art is political at some level. The VAG should be a safe place for dialogue to occur. This may be more important today then ever before as the views opposite to the prevailing powers get insidiously submerged by capital and promises of growth and progress.

Shows that challenge and create controversy need their place. To date, resistance could be found on the outside steps of the Gallery. Will this too be lost in the new site?

The VAG has the potential to be a major player in reinstating art as a source of knowing and health in BC. It could stimulate and nurture the creative potential of all people.

But in order to do so, the VAG may have to abandon the traditional international vision of the monumental art gallery and start the process of becoming an example in getting beautifully dirty.


Pierre Leichner is a Canadian artist who works in multiple media. Three-quarters of the way into his career as an academic and cinical psychiatrist, he began a career change into the arts. He is now a full time artist and teacher and travels internationally with his installations and to lecture.
©2014  Pierre Leichner

Bulletin ArtPsy #6 Décembre 2011

Je reviens du vernissage de mon show de la galerie Fresh A.I.R. (Artist in Recovery) à Columbus, Ohio.
Cette galerie a le mandat de montrer les oeuvres se rapportant aux maladies mentales et aux addictions. La situation dans l’Ohio demeure difficile alors qu’une majorité de ses résidents sont sans assurance maladie.
Par ailleurs, lors de mes présentations, on m’a demandé souvent pourquoi mon changement de profession.

Dans ce dernier bulletin, je veux partager avec vous 3 suggestions.

Do the right thing! Now!
Cela m’a pris une trentaine d’année pour y arriver donc cela est plus facile à dire mais difficile à faire. Les systèmes dans lesquels nous travaillons nous habituent à penser d’une certaine façon. On arrive à accepter qu’il n’y a pas d’alternative ou encore de budgets suffisants, etc. En pratique cela peut se traduire par des pressions accrues pour voir plus de patients en moins de temps (« être plus performants »). Cela peut aussi provoquer des situations, où dans un système complexe et compartimenté, on en arrive qu’à ne produire des évaluations dans l’espoir d’aiguiller les « bons patients aux bons endroits », sans vraiment qu’il reste du temps pour les traiter ! De plus, la stigmatisation de nos patients et de nous comme soignants en santé mentale est encore répandue, et a besoin de nos efforts accrus et de nos voix confiantes.
Ma formation dans les beaux-arts m’as appris à voir plusieurs points de vue et à questionner tout système ou organisation qui ce veut dogmatique. Pour moi, lorsque j’étais en administration, cette appréciation m’aurait peut-être permis de refuser à faire partie de la fermeture de certains programmes en externes ou a l’inverse de l’ouverture de lits hospitaliers. Plus de courage et de croyances dans mes convictions m’auraient peut-être aidé.

On est de plus en plus soumis à des diktats sur la manière d’organiser son travail et sa vie personnelle pour mieux performer. Les médecins eux-mêmes agissent souvent comme s’ils étaient devenus de petites entreprises. Un essai qui peut être utile pour se confronter à cette réflexion est celui de Michel Perreault (

Je ne suis pas une compagnie! L’intrusion des valeurs corporatives dans notre intimité
Aux éditions Stanke (2011)

Partager ses connaissances.
« Knowledge is power. » Il m’arrive parfois encore d’hésiter à partager mes idées sur des projets avec mes collègues artistes. C’est peut-être relié à la crainte que cette idée leur apporterait le succès avant moi ! Heureusement, je me corrige. Au début de ma carrière, on m’avait enseigné à garder une double identité, particulièrement avec mes patients. Tout un discours intérieur se passe pendant les entrevues qui ne devaient pas être partagé. Heureusement, ma formation en pédagogie, les thérapies cognitives et mon implication avec des groupes de soutien ont agi de façon à me faire rapidement abandonner cette position. Comme artiste, je réagis encore une fois aux oeuvres obtuses présentées uniquement à un public informé. Pour moi les oeuvres les plus réussies peuvent engager les enfants autant que les adultes, ceux qui fréquentent les musées autant que ce qui ne suivent pas l’art contemporain. Bien qu’il y existe toujours une inégalité de pouvoir entre étudiant et professeur ou patient et docteur, le respect doit être mutuel et l’échange ouvert de l’information peut aider à diminuer ces inégalités.

Regarder, penser plus « entre » et « autour » que « par- dessus”
Ce qu’il y a de plus intéressant n’est pas nécessairement un événement en soi mais plutôt tout ce qui l’entoure. Ce n’est pas le hockey qui est le plus intéressant mais ce que le hockey fait aux gens. Beaucoup d’information se transmet par le langage du corps et par le ton de la voix. Que cela concerne la recherche ou le travail clinique, les questions et les observations les plus riches se posent autour des faits et des actions. La Revue Canadienne de Psychiatrie du mois de Septembre explore la médecine fondée sur des données probantes. Whithley et autres suggèrent le besoin de plus d’ouverture aux diverses sources de connaissances. À ce sujet je recommanderai aussi The User Illusion par Tor Norretranders Editions Viking.

Ma dernière installation TomatoesToo Go est une célébration de la force de la nature et de la beauté, même dans le grotesque, en mélangent le tout avec de l’humour comme antidote à la certitude.

Comme le philosophe Umberto Eco l’a écrit: “le diable est la foi sans sourire… pendant que la mission de ceux qui aiment l’humanité est de faire la vérité rire.”

Meilleurs voeux pour la nouvelle année!

ArtPsy #5

These newsletters were sent to psychiatry residents at the University of Montreal as part of my artist residency in that department.
Bulletin ArtPsy #5 Septembre 2011

Et voilà l’automne arrive comme d’habitude.
Ce mois-ci j’ai participé a un symposium sur l’art environnemental.
Et j’ai décidé de ne plus utiliser les mots Nature et Sauvage ou Feral
dans le contexte de notre planète.
Je crois que ces mots se sont vidés de leurs significations pendant le dernier siècle. Il n’y a plus d’espace, de lieux sur notre planète qui n’est pas touchée ou influencée par notre invasion même si cela n’est qu’à travers des polluants et des déchets.
Je pense aussi que ces mots établissent une fausse dichotomie qui date d’une époque romantique et qui continue dans la façon de voir tout ce qui est naturel même sauvage comme beau et tout fait part la main de l’homme comme moins bien.
En fait, je suis nature ou naturel, je suis sauvage, feral (j’aime manger la chair morte d’autres animaux) et je suis un envahisseur. Accepter ces mots descriptifs me force à prendre responsabilité dans ma relation avec mon environnement et à m’arrêter de dichotomiser les problèmes.
Bien sûr, je peux être plus ou moins sauvage, bon ou méchant, passif ou activiste, égoïste ou humble, etc. Mais tous mes gestes ont un impact sur mon environnement quotidien.
Et le mystère et la beauté de la planète se trouvent autant devant ma porte en ville, dans une conversation avec un patient que sur le pic d’une montagne ou le creux de la forêt.
Si ces idées vous intéressent, je vous invite à lire les articles de Gilles Clément dans son site.
Ce mois-ci fut aussi l’ouverture du show Art I (s)Land sur Granville Island à Vancouver.
J’ai aussi participé avec 7 autres artistes de notre collectif Art is Land Network
Mon installation s’est appelé Connected . J’ai rejoint des arbres sur 2 pentes par des canaux de sables colorés. L’île de Granville étais un banc de sable avant qu’elle soit transformée en zones industrielles. Ces connections pourrait ressembler aussi des axons de neurones que seraient les arbres.

We all live in an enclosed garden.
All life is interconnected.
Each one of our actions has an effect, small or large, sooner or later within this garden.
As Gilles Clément wrote:
“Une feuille tombée au sol n’est pas une souillure, c’est une nourriture.”
“A leaf fallen to the ground is not garbage, it is food.”

En conclusion :
Je vous encourage tous à aller passer une agréable journée à St Hilaire du 12 au 16 octobre
pour voir les nouvelles créations des artistes de cette année
et de dire bonjour à Nicole Dextras de Vancouver et membre de notre collectif AILN.

ARTPsy #4

These newsletters were sent to psychiatry residents at the University of Montreal as part of my artist residency in that department.
Bulletin ArtPsy #4 Juillet, 2011


Le temps court rapidement depuis notre rencontre et notre DSM collage.
J espère que vous avez un bel été. Ici il ne semble pas encore être arriver.
Il fait plutôt frais ce qui n’est pas très bon pour mon installation Jardin biologique #9
Potager de résistance au Means of Production Gardens (

Mon alter ego Dr Légumes, un chirurgien plastic pour légumes et fruits vient d’afficher
son épisode Humane Ratatouille sur You Tube ( La recette est bonne et sensitive

Cette semaine, j’ai participé aux activités de la Gallery Gachet dans le contexte de la semaine Mad Pride 2011. International Mad Pride Day a été créer en 1070 par des activistes psychiatriques. Le thème cette année a été Modes of Recovery.

Cela m’a fait réfléchir que ce mot ou même cette idée ne faisait pas de mon vocabulaire
professionnel quand j’ai été forme pendant les années 70. Est ce que cela était moins possible alors? Peut-être, car le système des services et de recherche de santé mentale des années 50 et 60 dépendait de l’idée que les personnes atteintes de maladies mentales graves ne pourraient jamais sent sortir avec ou sans médicaments. Cela n’ait que depuis une vingtaine d’années que l’on en entend parler plus en plus. Peut-être les mouvements d’entre aide et activistes et la recherché qualitative on eut leur part à jouer. Je crois qu’il n’y a pas encore assez de recherche dans ce domaine ainsi que sur l’effet placebo. On as de mal à donner de l’attention à des phénomènes qui nous rendrait superflus professionnellement.
Lors du mois de juillet, à deux reprises les comédiens du Stand up for Mental Health.
ont performer. Ils parlent et blaguent de leurs expériences avec courage, sagesse et humour.
Encore un phenomene inconnu pendant les années 50 a 90. Un sens d’humour au lieu d’une certaine honte ou discrétion aurait été considéré comme défense psychologique ou état d’hypomanie. Je vous encourage à regarder des segments sur vidéo.


Pierre Leichner

Artpsy Bulletin#3

These newsletters were sent to psychiatry residents at the University of Montreal as part of my artist residency in that department.
Bulletin ArtPsy #3 Mai 2011

The most beautiful experience we can have
is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion
that stands at the cradle of true art and science.
Albert Einstein, “What I Believe,” 1930.

Je pense qu’il y a la 2 mots très importants et négligé par la médecine contemporaine : Mysterious and Belief.
En tant que psychiatres nous travaillons avec le psyché qui est, et restera encore longtemps, un mystère. Le jour, s’il arrive, ou nous briserons ce mystère, nous serons transformé. En attendant nos connaissances sont largement des croyances qui évoluent avec le temps et notre technologie. Ceci n’est pas nihiliste, au contraire, cela est comme cela doit être, mais si on accepte le mystère et que nos connaissances sont surtout des croyances cela nous rends plus humbles.
Nous avons tous eu des expériences transcendantes de differents degrés. Pour certains cela peut être en écoutant de la musique, pour d’autres cela peut être pendant une randonnée dans la nature. Le phénomène de la transcendance est aussi important dans les arts. Il y a eu des périodes où cela était un des buts majeurs pour l’artiste. Ci-joint est un article que j’ai écrit sur ceci. J’essaie d’analyser ce phénomène par différentes perspectives et je suggère en conclusion que je croie qu’avec les nouvelles technologies et l’interconnectivité social qui augmente, nous sommes à l’aube de l’émergence d’un différent genre de conscience et d’une « altercendence » qui est mystérieuse pour le moment.
Bill Viola est un artiste americain qui explore cette experience.
Bill Viola – An Ocean Without a Shore

Ce mois-ci je vous invite à aller voir les œuvres dans les galeries du bâtiment Belgo qui sont ouvertes la plupart le Samedi. En particulier, je vous suggère celle de Matthieu Latulippe qui utilise l’humour souvent pour glisser dessous de nos défenses et nous confronter a l’absurdité de nos comportements et croyances.

Galerie Banca Rupta
Bien peu de choses en somme… #2
Mathieu Latulippe

Exposition du 30 avril au 28 mai 2011
Vernissage samedi 30 avril, 15 h 00
Belgo, 372 Sainte-Catherine Ouest, étage 4/4th floor

La Galerie Banca Rupta, en collaboration avec Circa -Centre d’Exposition Art Contemporain, est fier de présenter l’exposition Bien peu de choses en somme de Mathieu Latulippe. Se rapprochant en quelque sorte des “vanités”, cette installation propose divers éléments qui suggèrent tous, chacun à leur manière, la vanité des biens terrestres, des richesses et du pouvoir, ainsi que le caractère transitoire des choses et de la vie humaine. En plus de comporter plusieurs références à l’univers de la science-fiction et des romans d’anticipation, Bien peu de chose en somme s’intéresse à la conquête spatiale et terrestre, aux projets les plus ambitieux et aux constructions les plus folles, aux ruines et aux empires décadents, aux mystères et à l’invisible, aux jeux d’échelle et de hasard, aux casinos, aux déserts et à la soif.


An exhibition by Pierre Leichner
November 2010
“Over the past five years I have been transitioning from a thirty-year career as an academic/ administrator psychiatrist to that of an artist. This desire is fueled both by a lifelong dream and by my dismay with the direction our health care system has been taking. During the past few years, I have become aware of many of the similarities between Science and Art. At their core, they share the pursuit of meaning… Both can embrace the same multi-factorial approaches to understanding, which includes biological, psychological, social-cultural, and spiritual factors. Furthermore, the past couple of years have seen an increase in my understanding that Art is not only about creating aesthetic emotion in an audience, but also about socio-political and philosophical issues.” (Leichner, Artist Statement 2007).

It is fitting that the setting of the “DSM Re–Revised” show is an emptied ward in what was once one of the largest psychiatric institutions in Canada–both because of the context of the issues explored by the works but also for personal reasons. It is because of my concerns about the commercialization of health care and its increasingly repressive administrative environment that I decided to turn to the arts to provide me with an outsider view and voice. The first carved DSM IV was done at the 3-bisf Center of Arts at the Psychiatric Hospital Montperrin in Aix en Provence. It is a centre where the public, patients, and artists take workshops and attend art events together without being categorized. The positive reaction to this work encouraged me to pursue this research further, leading me to discover book art and more about the DSM.

“Here is the book as sculpture, the book as bed, the book for burning, the book transformed, burnt, chained.” (Shapiro)

There is still debate on defining book art. Accordingly, there are many names for these works such as artist’s books, bookworks, livres de peintre, and altered books. This is not surprising since art made with books has taken many forms reflecting the influences of the literary and art world of their times. But simply, one might consider book art as books made or altered by an artist who is self conscious about book form.

Perhaps, a more practical way to group these works is the one Betty Bright suggests in her book on Book Art in America (Bright). She names four categories:
“the letterpress-printed fine press book, where text is ascendant, the deluxe book, often dominated by imagery, printed through a print making medium and costly binding materials and the bookwork which can be subdivided into two distinct types (multiple and sculptural), whose contents interacts with or comments upon the book as an object or a symbol of culture. In the multiple, alteration usually occurs on the page with a new interplay between text and image. It is printed in large edition often cheaply and directed to reach a larger audience. A sculptural bookwork, in contrast, is a work perceived as sculpture that responds to, comments on, or undermines the cultural associations with “book’.” (Bright, 258)

Historically, Johanna Drucker cites the French poet Stephane Mallarmé as most influential with his work Un coup de des jamais n’abolira le hazard in 1897. In it the text of his poems are freed of the usual columns and margins whose form contributes to its expressive power. Mallarmé was attempting a synthesis of his concept of the book as a transcendental instrument and its physical form to embody new thoughts visually (Drucker). Drawing on the metaphors of Mallarmé, Roland Barthes derived “the idea of the text as a continually changing construction formed through the process of reading” (Drucker, 40). Jacques Derrida goes further in calling to question the finality of writing and sees the book as “never static and complete, always becoming” (Drucker, 41).  Rucker eloquently summarizes the concept of the book as a metaphor, “an object of associations and history, cultural meanings and production values, spiritual possibilities and poetic spaces” (Drucker, 42).
From the early 20th century books became a major form for artistic experimentation. This introduced interdisciplinarity in the practices of many of those involved. Poets, painters, and theater artists often collaborated. But, spurred on by conceptual practices, it was after mid-century that books became a self-sustaining realm of activity. Many renowned artists have since contributed to book art at some point in their careers. As one might expect, all major art movements have been reflected in these works. However one of the first to work with a book as an object was Marcel Duchamp with his “Unhappy Readymade” in 1919. Duchamp asked his sister to hang a geometry textbook outside their Paris balcony until it was destroyed by the weather. This work is particularly relevant to my work because it can be described as one of the first altered books or as installation bookwork or even an environmental bookwork (Bright, 410).
It is somewhat paradoxical that I use a category to explore my work since it is in part a critique on the limits of categorization; however, a review of the altered books or the sculptural book form category is of particular relevance. It is only since the 1980s that these works have attracted attention. I like the term used by Riese Hubert: deviant books or livre detourné (Hubert). He describes these works in oppositional terms as creating a clash between the book as object and its intellectual, aesthetic and cultural dimension. When confronted with them, they evoke a mix of fascination and repulsion. They pit art against functionalism and reading against looking. They collide with our expectations of books, be they of intimate, protected memories or containers of secure knowledge and truths.  “Book 4 (Dante’s Inferno)” by Lucas Samaras  (1962) or Barton Benes “Censored Book” (1977) wreak sadistic havoc on the books by piercing them, binding them, covering them with needles rendering them untouchable and unreadable. John Latham possibly went even further by burning or chewing books in his installation/ performance “bookworks.” In 1964, in a performance called SKOOB Towers (books reversed) Latham set encyclopedias on fire near the British Library. He objected to their rigid mode of knowledge.
To Latham, books were not a path to knowledge but the residue of a closed and contrived system that upheld a network of political and economic interests (Bright, 130). In “Still and Chew” he borrowed a copy of Art and Culture by Clement Greenberg, then he and friends chewed pages of the book and dropped the remains in sulfuric acid. He eventually sold the bottle of remains to the Museum of Modern Art in New York having thus appropriated and resituated art’s discourse.  Drucker would describe these artist’s books as agents for social change as they were produced with a political agenda to advocate for a change of consciousness on some area of contemporary life. (Drucker, 287)
Others found more pleasant or even erotic associations to which to subject their materials. Betsy Davids and Jim Petrillo Softness on the Other Side of the Hole (1976) plywood cover page has a hole in it that reveals hair behind it.  In the 1980s and 1990s artists started to address the change in our culture going digital. In How to Make an Antique, “How to Make an Antique,” Karen Wirth and Robert Lawrence (1989) force viewers to compare information delivery between video and books in a playful installation. This work perhaps points to the evolution of the altered bookwork when it joins with installation, video and performance art.

As the future of books is uncertain and digital options are increasing, books have become denaturalized as holders of knowledge or memories, spurring renewing interest and openness to using them as material for art. By altering books today one also cannot escape the questions about their future as the containers of our ever-changing knowledge and stories. As the paper book libraries empty out replaced with digitalized versions, more and more books are finding their way to dumps, and landfills, becoming part of the landscape and returning to the earth. A 2009 exhibition of altered books “Book Borrowers” at the Bellevue Arts Museum included works by Brian Dettmer, Chen Long-Bin, and Guy Laramée. They make us aware of the book as an instrument for disseminating text and images promoting specific cultural, economic, political, and philosophical agendas. Through their dissemination they can shape the thinking of readers separated in time and place. However, it is worth noting that Drucker poses a narrower definition for the category of artists’ book and would question whether these works belong to it because these are sculptural pieces “which reference the book as a cultural icon rather than explore the potential and identity of book form.” (Drucker, 362).

Brian Dettmer deconstructs illustrated reference books by carving into them with scalpel bringing out their object-ness while masterfully picking out details, maps, illustrations, snippets of text, a kind of spatial hypertext, reinstituting their magic (Landow). Chen Long-Bin is a Taiwanese sculptor who uses waste materials such as telephone books to create sculptures that unify form and content. His “Guan Ying with Flower Crown (Ming Dynasty)” looks, from a distance, like a bust of the Buddhist Goddess of Compassion carved from mottled marble, but   she’s actually made from Manhattan telephone directories.

Also relevant to my works is, Guy Laramée, an interdisciplinary Quebec artist for more than 25 years. Guy Laramée’s work embraces a large disciplinary territory:  music, theatre, dance, video, painting, writing, sculpture and installation. Laramée sculpts landscapes with books. He sandblasts books into rocks, mountains, volcanoes, and plateaus. In “La Grande Bibliothèque,” a whole Grand Canyon has been constructed from sandblasted volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Laramée’s “Pétra” is a replica of the renowned Jordanian archaeological site, while “Toute les idées se ressemblent” takes slanted dictionary tomes as fodder for a craggy mountain landscape (Upchurch).  It is also of particular relevance as Laramée who also has a degree in anthropology has a specific interest in interdisciplinary practices and concerns about the divisions brought about by specialization.

During the Interdisciplinary Practices on Art Colloquium held in Montreal in 2000,
Guy Laramée remarked that artists are not shielded from the desire to function in the framework of distinct categories, that is, categories where inter-subjectivity is minimal. Furthermore, he states that artists are particularly sensitive to the struggle between rational thinking and language, and intuition and experiential knowledge. Unclear boundaries are uncomfortable. He goes on to say that we need myths to live and that, as we abandoned humanists, modernists and spiritual myths during post-modern times, we have replaced them with the scientific myth. Inert and biological material is all that matters and financial institutions direct this paradigm.
Art may have lost its place as furthering knowledge and human meaning to reason, business and scientists. The challenge for artists who seek to reclaim their myths resides in reaffirming the positive aspects of non-discursive cognition. We need to make art to understand, not only for pleasure or distraction and to redefine knowledge as a state of being. According to modern pedagogy, you have to be taught to know ‘how to do it.’ and it is only after you are trained that you are allowed to ‘do it.’ This connection between training and doing puts the holders of the knowledge in power and control of their territory. Once you share the knowledge you can claim the territory too. This is how selective disciplines lay claim to knowledge and create systems to protect their territories.
Laramée encourages us to ignore disciplinary boundaries and for artists to do what no one else can do. (Laramée). Making works in this territory without boundaries is perilous because one has to find their balance between: “Trop de Rigueur et pas assez de Coeur ou Trop de Coeur et pas assez de Rigueur.”  And if one had to summarize the flaws of the DSM it is that it has:
“Trop de Rigueur et pas assez de Coeur.”

“One of the raps against psychiatry (DSMs) is that you and I are the only two people in the U.S. without a psychiatric diagnosis” — David Kupfer

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM IV TR) is a categorical and rigid classification system that was created by researchers in the United States. North American clinicians, due in part to their need to legitimize psychiatry as a medical science, adopted it. Today this system is being globalized. This bridge that was established between clinicians and researchers has become more of a one-way street and has been seized by corporate administrators. Clinicians behave more and more like researchers and employees while patients are more often seen as economic commodities.

The American Psychiatric Association publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. It is used in North America and increasingly around the world, by clinicians, researchers, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and policy makers. It has thus become a sort of Bible for psychiatry. The DSM, including DSM-IV, is also a registered trademark belonging to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). It is a bestselling publication from which APA makes huge profits and gains considerable clout in world psychiatry, especially as many reputed research journals require studies to use DSM classifications in order to be published.

The manual evolved from systems for collecting census and psychiatric hospital statistics, and from a manual developed by the U.S. Army.
DSM-I (1952) was 130 pages and listed 106 mental disorders.
DSM-II (1968), listed 182 disorders, and was 134 pages.
The DSM-III (1980) was 494 pages and listed 265 diagnostic categories.
DSM-III-R (1987) was 567 pages and contained 292 diagnoses
The DSM-IV (1994) was 886 pages and listed 297 disorders.
The upcoming DSM-V is currently in preparation, due for publication in May 2013.

The DSM has attracted criticism as well as praise.  Its global availability has worked towards decreasing stigma by legitimizing mental disorders and it has allowed for better identification and earlier interventions. It facilitates data collection. One of its advantages is that it is written in layman language thereby decreasing the knowledge barrier between provider and client but this also has led to self-diagnosing. Diagnoses then can become internalized and affect an individual’s self-identity, in a way reinforcing a disorder. Furthermore, under its veneer of scientific methodology it is increasingly a political instrument guiding the delivery of services and their development. Zur and Nordmarken have summarized the concerns (Zur):
. Diagnosis of mental illness remains more of an art than science due to poor clinician reliability even with the DSM. Diagnoses wax and wane in popularity according to availability of pharmacotherapy and experts’ influence.
. The DSM gives the false impression of supporting a bio-psychosocial and cultural model for mental illness. Although there are five axes for diagnosis, including one for psychosocial stressors, these are rarely used. It supports primarily a biological model of mental illness.

. The DSM tends to pathologize normal behaviors rather then emphasizing, a fully dimensional, spectrum, or functional impairment approach.

. American psychiatrists, insurance companies and the psychopharmacological industry control the DSM. It has become a lucrative business for them.

“In increasing the generality of the already large group of (dispositifs) devices described by Foucault, I call device all that has in one way or the other the capacity to capture, orientate, determine, intercept, model, control and insure the actions, conduct, opinions and discourse of living beings.” — Giorgio Agamben

For me, this body of work is not anti-DSM, anti-psychiatry, anti-diagnosis or anti-pharmacotherapy. It is not against books per se as instruments for the dissemination and control of knowledge.  But it is against the unquestioned and unbalanced use of any mode of intervention by health care providers and uninformed acceptance of those interventions by their clients. It is against any theories or treatment approaches that diminish the importance of the unquantifiable humanness necessary in health care. It is against providing health care as a for-profit business.

This work is about questioning “power relations in a given society, their historical formation, their source of strength and their fragility, the conditions that are necessary to transform some and abolish others” (Foucault). It is about recognizing text as a continuously changing construction with personal, cultural, political and spiritual associations.

To explore a subject I like to use a variety of strategies to gain a better understanding. This often involves drawing on our visual, tactile, auditory and–when appropriate–gustatory senses. I also like to have viewer participation when possible. This is to stimulate a dialogue and self-reflexion.
For my first carved DSM I sought a physical connection by carving it laboriously out with a hospital spoon that I manually filed and sharpened. It took a week to get through it. I then chewed some of the carved out paper and recast it into book size blocks with cornstarch and sugar (the binding components in pills). I captured the sound of the scratching and filing to play softly in the office where it was installed. My concerns about the ephemeral and tenuous nature of these and related texts led me to carve landscapes in them. I did so with chisels treating the books as informed blocks of wood (codex in Latin) that signify a way of thinking about mental disorders and their treatment. Throughout the carving process I documented profusely with photography and with sound, like an archeological dig and with the goal of creating a time-lapse video. DSM I was captured in amber (Resin) like a fossil.  I sculpted open pit gold mines from around the world as man made landscapes and continued to make objects with the carved out paper by paper casting into plaster molds I made. Some of the book altering strategies have similarities with the works of Samaras, Latham, Dettmer and Laramée cited above, although they are more specifically connected to the contents of these books.
To emphasize the insidious dependence training manuals create on practionners, I thought of guide dogs for the blind and put together DSM Training guide dogs. The guide dogs invite viewer participation as they are on wheels so they can be lead around. Since it was not desirable to ask people to taste, or chew and spit these books, I decided to install the diagnoses in Fortune Cookies, playing on the criticism that the diagnostic process is unreliable.
This project draws me back to my 2007 artist statement. It is interdisciplinary in its nature and by the issues it addresses. It allows me to express my concerns on an aspect of mental health care in a visually aesthetic and metaphorically manner. Hopefully, it will also be art that helps in the understanding of these concerns. Being invited to install it in a psychiatric hospital in an emptied wing adds further personal satisfaction and meaning.

Works Cited
Agamben, Giorgio. “Giorgio Agamben. What is a Dispositive?” 2005 European Graduate School. Oct. 26, 2010.
Bright, Betty. No Longer Innocent-Book Art in America, 1960-1980. New York NY: Granary             Books, 2005.
Drucker, Johanna. The Century of Artist’s Books. New York, NY: Granary Books, 1995.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Sept 06, 2010
Hubert, Riese. Readable; Visible: Reflections on the Illustrated Book, Visible language 19,4: 521, 1985.
Landow, George. “Hors Livre.” Modern Painters. Nov. 2008 p. 71-77.
Laramée, Guy. “Les Aventuriers du Mythe Perdu, L’espace traversé.” Reflexions on Interdisciplinary Practices in Art. Trois Riviéres, QC:  Editions D’Art Le Sabord, x 2000, pg. 160-179.
Shapiro, David. “A View of Kassel.” Art Forum 16, 1:62, 1977.
Upchurch, Michael.  “The Book Borrowers: Contemporary Artists Transforming the Book.”  At BAM. Originally published Fri., Feb. 27, 2009; viewed Sept. 9, 2010.
Zucker, David. “Psychiatric manual’s update needs openness, not secrecy, critics say”.  Originally published December 27, 2008; viewed Sept 12, 2010.,0,3080538.story.
Zur, O. and Nordmarken, N. “DSM: Diagnosing for Money and Power.” Summary of the Critique of the DSM. Sept. 6, 2010

List of Works
Altered Books
Manuel Diagnostique et Statistique des Troubles Mentaux Texte Révisé (DSM IV) Gratté,  170 x 240 x 40 mm, 2010

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM III)  Gutted .
190 x 260 x 45 mm, 2010

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV)  Chained,
Book and metal chains, 185 x 260 x 50 mm, 2010

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM III), Canyonized, 190 x 260 x 45 mm, 2010

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM III) Badlands,
190 x 260 x 45 mm, 2010

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM III) Ceci n’est pas…, 190 x 260 x 45 mm, 2010

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) Quick Reference Guide, Quick fix, book and metal hinges and handle with pill like candies, 107 x165 x 20 mm, 2010

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM I) discovered, book in resin with cigarette buts, 280 x 280 x 30 mm, 2010

DSM Case book, cases, 150 x 230 x 23 mm, 2010

DSM Cas Critiques, Glacé (Frozen), book in ice on metal stand, 160 x 240 x 20 mm, 2010

6 Compendiums of Pharmaceutical Specialties–The Canadian Drug Reference for Health Professionals (CPS) open pit gold and diamond mines:
Argyle mine-Australia, 240 x 290 x 60 mm, 2010
Castle Mountain mine -United States, 240 x 290 x 60 mm, 2010
Illegal open pit mine- Congo (2 CPS), 240 x 290 x 120 mm, 2010
Timmins mine- Canada, 240 x 290 x 60 mm, 2010
Udachnaya mine-Russia, 240 x 290 x 60 mm, 2010

6 DSM Training Manual dogs, toy stuffed dogs on wheels with leashes, variable sizes from
400 x 400 x 300 mm to 330 x 230 x 200 mm, 2010

Synopsis of Psychiatry–Behavioral Sciences, Dog-eared, 190 x 265 x 33 mm, 2010

DSM Internet Companion, book and manual typewriter, 280 x 280 x 30 mm, 2010

Paper Castings
Pavlov’s Bell, paper cast from Synopsis of Psychiatry–Behavioral Sciences, Dog-eared, 170 x 330 mm, 2010

Ceci n’est pas … ,Paper cast from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM III) Ceci n’est pas…150 x 120 x 30 mm, 2010

Segnosaur eggs– Cretaceous period, Paper cast from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM III) Badlands, 230 x 170 x 60, 2010

5 DSM and CPS mirrors, paper cast from CPS and DSM books, variable sizes from 600 mm in diameter to 220 X 32 mm, 2010

Ice pick, paper cast made from Synopsis of Psychiatry–Behavioral Sciences, Dog-eared, 300 x 50 mm, 2010

8 DSM and CPS Angels, paper cast from CPS and DSM books, 90 x 60 mm, 2010

Manuel Diagnostique et Statistique des Troubles Mentaux Texte Ré Révisé reconstitue, paper, cornstarch, sucrose, saliva, 130 x 180 x 20 mm, 2010

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM III) reconstituted, paper, cornstarch, sucrose, saliva, 130 x 180 x 20 mm, 2010


400 DSM Fortune Cookies individually wrapped

Photographs and Video

The DSM Re- Revised Book , 25 digital prints, 8×10.5 in. on archival paper bound in 310 x 330 x 30 mm., 2010

12 DSM and CPS excavation series digital prints 12×16 in.

Video and sound

DSM and CPS excavations time lapse video –40 minutes


My “I am bought” (see August 26th, 2006 post below) and my “Doc the scientist” paintings are part of a group show at the Gallery Gachet in Vancouver. Westerm Medicine is so focused on quantity and measurement. Quantity of life that is making us live longer preoccupies its efforts with relatively less attention and ressources given to improving ou quality of life while we live it.
This is one of the reasons mental health research and services have been at a disadvantage. It is a multilayered problem all the way from the individual to the CEO’s and governments. Yet the secret to our future is held in the jelly between our ears defying measurement.