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Disquiet: Vignettes of Anxiety

About project

Mixed media: found photographs, dip pen drawings, and digital collages

Anxiety is a frustratingly complex emotional state that can be helpful in small doses and utterly crippling in larger ones. In my book, Disquiet: Vignettes of Anxiety, I take the reader on a meandering journey interrogating my anxiety and its effects on me. In this self-reflective study, I ask questions about art making, the idea of anxiety as an inherited pattern of thinking, as well as what it means to work on a topic where my experiences and willingness to be candid may help my readers understand their own anxieties slightly better, or at least, feel less alone.

I looked at a wide variety of resources to start the project. I was particularly struck by Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City for how she incorporated scientific research on loneliness with her own experiences and art critique. I aimed to have a similar approach to my work on anxiety where I would include reflections on art and research I consumed. I illustrated diary entries and moments from my own life, such as conversations with my therapist, to provide the reader a more personal lens through which to view the information.

In addition to scientific research, I wanted to showcase other people’s perspectives on anxiety and so issued a series of questions on my Instagram story that I later compiled and transcribed. I highlighted the most visually evocative statements and envisioned the book being divided into three broad categories: research, other people’s perspectives, and then my own experiences with anxiety, with a set number of pages devoted to each category.

I asked the following on my Instagram story:

1. What do you understand by the word ‘anxiety’? How does it manifest for you?

2. What do you do to combat it? Are you listening to music, watching something, hanging out with friends to distract yourself?

3. Would you want to live without it?

The first two questions yielded a variety of results, showing that each person understood their anxiety to mean something personal to them (though shortness of breath and tears were two recurring answers). For the final question, responses included people saying outright that they wished to no longer be anxious while others feared that without it they would become less empathetic and attentive to others in their lives.

By the end of the fall semester I had largely given up on incorporating other people’s perspectives on anxiety, as well as scientific research. Though I had made some reiterations of those pages (seen above), I had no idea how to stitch them all together or do them justice within the time constraint of one academic year.

I decided to focus only on my own experiences and illustrate those but even that proved vast at the time. I found it difficult to focus on any one aspect of my anxiety and to present it in a way that would make cohesive sense to anyone who wasn’t me.

During the winter break I experimented with patterns and sequential art. The project began taking shape, it could be a collection of abstract pieces that could each say something different about how I experienced anxiety. These pieces would be accompanied by text further explaining what was happening and to inject humour into the book when things became too tense. In one illustrated crowd scene, accompanying text would ask the reader to pick out whoever was anxious in that crowd. The next page would reveal the answer: they all were.

I indulged in free writing and used my brushes to letter some more dramatic pieces. I also experimented with found photographs. I scanned them and drew over the printouts, wondering if I could use family photographs to question anxiety as an inherited trait.

The patterns became the breakthrough pieces of this collection. I drew dense repetitive symbols and marks to mimic the often suffocating feeling anxiety evokes in me.

However I soon felt the need for a cohesive structure and so constructed a narrative within which to hold all my pattern explorations as well as all my thoughts about the different causes and facets of my anxiety.

Inspired by Inside Moebius I constructed a meta narrative in which two characters, one representing my rational side, the other my anxious, went on a journey through my mind to confront my numerous questions on my anxiety. The anxious side is covered in the suffocating floral pattern, embroiled in her anxiety for the course of the book.

The resulting book looked at anxiety in relation to art-making, familial inheritance, and what it means to be making such a self-reflective and highly personal work for public consumption.

At the end of the book, the rational character questions the anxious one whether she would ever want to be rid of her anxiety. The character responds with “I…” and then the background fades to black with the reader left to ponder the implications of the unanswered question.