What does normal look like? Who gets to decide what is or isn’t normal?
Is there a place for madness and queerness in ‘normal’ lives?
With the multi-media installation Fighting Normal (Visual Arts Alberta Gallery, 2013), Edmonton poet Amy Willans and visual artist Laurie MacFayden explore the stigma that confronts anyone who does not present as ‘normal.’
How do we measure normal? How far outside the lines can you stray and still be considered normal? We are all ‘other’ to some degree. How much variation is allowed before you are classified as abnormal, crazy, dangerous? Is venturing/slipping outside the norm automatically a bad thing?
What if you have no choice?
This is the house that held you
White walls and red geraniums
“My life began well,” recalls Willans. “I lived in a nice house, on a nice street … my father was a doctor and my mother was a nurse. I was the middle child of three girls. We swam, took ballet and tap classes, but most of all we skated … It was a disciplined life, but how I loved the ice — its cold murmur.”
At age 21, soon after Willans earned her first international skating position with Team Canada, mental illness struck. “I was admitted to hospital where I stayed for three months,” she says. “I never skated again.”
Writing proved to be cathartic. Poetry was a path back to health for Willans, now a presenter with the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta.
Using painted panels, photos, text, and memorabilia, MacFayden and Willans have created an art installation that provides a glimpse into the normal/abnormal world of a psychiatric patient. Merging fragments of Willans’ candid poems about her experience with MacFayden’s paintings and collage, Fighting Normal challenges viewers to examine their attitudes towards ‘other’ and to consider what, exactly, is normal?
Click to hear Amy Willans recite Hazy Blue
Edmonton writer Amy Willans was a member of the Canadian precision figure skating team when she was thrust into a world of psychiatric wards, drug treatments, isolation and shunning by friends and loved ones. She is now a mental health advocate and educator. Her work has been published in The Globe and Mail, Standing Together: Women Speak Out about Violence and Abuse (Brindle and Glass, 2005); Transitionmagazine, published by the Canadian Mental Health Association in 2007; and in various journals and anthologies. As a Community Education Presenter and Peer Support Worker for the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta (SSA), Amy is using her personal story to affect social change. She is currently writing full time.
“As a psych patient, I became invisible … dismissed as crazy. The journey back has been long and unsteady, but the desire to live began to outweigh the desire to die. Somehow life opened up and I was given a second chance.”
Laurie MacFayden is an award-winning writer, visual artist and a former sports journalist. Her debut poetry book, White Shirt, won a Golden Crown Literary Society award and was shortlisted for the 2011 Lambda Literary Awards. She has published two other poetry collections with Frontenac House, Kissing Keeps Us Afloat and Walking Through Turquoise. Her short story Haircut, published in Alberta Views in July 2016, won the WGA’s Howard O’Hagan award in 2017. She writes and paints in Edmonton.
For more information about Fighting Normal or to contact the artists about mounting this show, please use the comment/reply form below.
I met you once when you stopped by The Gray Gallery at MacEwan. Your work is incredibly interesting. I would like to invite you to submit some pieces for our next show “Aspects of Self”. The call for submissions and form is on our website at http://samu.ca/student-services/the-gray-gallery/
Paulina Van Vliet
I am hoping to be in contact Amy we met in Halifax!
Amy, you so generously shared a copy of Fighting Normal with me at the Peer Support Conference in Halifax. I wanted to let you know it is an incredible and beautiful piece of art. You and Laurie are true artists. Thank you for sharing it.