Q&A: Dale vN Marshall

If you’ve been to see any of our fantastic Fringe shows recently, you’ll no doubt have notice the colourful exhibtion currently on display in our Storytelling Court. A project led by graffiti artist Dale vN Marshall, I am not a child was created with the help of local teenagers growing up with mental health issues or in difficult circumstances.

I am not a child emerged from your work with young people in Edinburgh. What was your process in doing so? 

From the start I decided on more of a social project to be developed into an exhibition. Whilst exhibiting at The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum back in 2014 I worked with young carers and found the workshops really rewarding whilst giving at the same time. I wanted to set a similar type of project in Edinburgh because of this. We reached out to young people to come and work with us and to go through a creative process. For my art workshop I went through a basic process of collage and texture but also using a piece of canvas where it represented ourselves. We cut the canvas, restitched the canvas; it became alive, torn and scarred. 

You also worked with poet Jenny Lindsay and theatre company the Acting Scene. How did the visual art intersect with poetry/drama?

We didn’t have a set formula for the weekend. As an artist I wanted to represent the youngsters and raise awareness, but I needed to find out what we could share as a collective that we have all been experienced. For me, most of my source material came from a play the children created with the Acting Scene, drawing from their own life experiences. It was here the revelation came, and that revelation continued into my workshop as we continued discussion whilst painting. I walked away with recordings of the play and a good understanding of the young people and their lives. It was from here I could create the collection. Innocence and scars. 

What most surprised you about the teenagers’ response? 

Throughout the weekend I learned of their great intelligence, their willingness to learn and interact. Even their kindness and respect towards each other was very enlightening. Overall, I have to say their creative brilliance really surprised me. To create a play in an afternoon with a strong personal but group narrative at a very high level was quite incredible! 

There’s still a stigma surrounding mental health. What role can art play in challenging this, in your view?

I think that stigma is breaking; it’s always been from a lack of understanding, which inevitably has the opportunity to create fear. You have got to think that over a long period of time all we have seen from press is the negativity towards mental health. Pre-internet this was the source of information.  Times have changed. Art can change a lot of things in my opinion. Art has an incredible ability to connect people, for people to interact. This is the key, the interaction between folk; it’s here we learn and understand. 

We all have been affected by mental health in one capacity or another, I have been lucky enough to experience what it’s been like to be psychotic and now it gives me great pleasure to say “Do you know what? It’s not that dangerous, we’re just acting out on a different level, that’s all.” It’s the negativity that causes stigma. Embrace people with difficulties, you could learn a lot. I have.

Are you planning on seeing any other exhibitions or shows during the Edinburgh Festivals in August?

I had to return to Mid-Wales as I was moving house in early August, but later in August I will be back to roam for a few days. As with any festival, I prefer just to walk, get a feel for what’s going on and see what happens, but what a great festival!

I am not a child is on display at the Scottish Storytelling Centre until 3 September 2016.