Short bio, where are you from, what is your background?

My name is Niamh Swanton I am an Irish photographer currently based in Dunmore East, Co. Waterford. I attended Crawford College of Art and Design in Cork. Graduating in 2019 I obtained a BA in Fine Art. Since then I have gone on to exhibit my work in various galleries Lismore Castle Arts, Waterford, and Crawford Art Gallery in Cork. I have also had publications of my work in Source magazine, Bloomers magazine and an upcoming publication in Aesthetica magazine. Working in solitude I create scenes which depict the human condition. Influenced by both psychology and dream symbolism, acting through performance and staged photography to build tangible forms of thoughts and emotions.

Tell us about your project that is in the exhibition.

In Your Own Intelligence Has Become The Problem, I explore the effects of how anxiety can have various impacts on our daily lives. When creating this work, my goal was to expose how such anxieties can taint the way we perceive even the most trivial of tasks and or situations. I record these observations through creating scenes which are fabricated from both invention and memory. Whilst the narratives are totally imagined, I hope the images act in a way to invoke a space where we question the relationship we have with ourselves.

What is your process like when your making work?

Like thoughts, beliefs and emotions, my work is guided by the subconscious. The process for me can come in various forms. Be it extremely methodical, where I plan a photo out for months and retake it over and over again until I’m happy with it, or I can come across either a landscape or an object which piques my interest and I wing it from there. Once I get an idea for a photo, I then see if it can play into the project I would currently be working on. For me, dream symbolism plays a vital role in my work. With the work being so heavily influenced by the subconscious I see it as only fitting to portray the images in one of the most wonderful things our subconscious gives us, that being dreams! Each scene that is shown is acted out. I do not alter an image in post production.

How does mental health or wellness factor into the creation of your work?

I have always been inspired by the human condition. Particularly, the despondent moments we all live through. Be that heartbreak, anxieties or existential dread. So mental health has a huge effect on the work. Any form of mental illness, I feel, has a drastic impact on how we think, feel and act. A situation to one person may seem like nothing to another, it may seem like the end of the world. Which is what I stated about trying to achieve within this series. I think anyone who does struggle can empathize with how menial tasks can become overwhelming.

How did you begin this project?

It began when I realized just how much I was trying to predict the future. Spending many hours trying to conjure up various possibilities to several different situations. It had become a huge strain on relationships and my wellbeing. I set about trying to correct it through numerous philosophical teachings when I came across a Stoic philosopher called Seneca. Seneca wrote a letter to a friend called Lucilius explaining how ineffective trying to predict the future is. He stated in the letter that “we suffer more often in imagination than reality”. Whilst it did not ease the anxieties, I decided to take a different approach to how I was feeling. I began to almost mock how I was feeling. Not in a way invalidate how I felt, rather in the hopes to lessen the effects and control it had over me.

Was the process of creating this project helpful for dealing with the emotion or issue you're describing in your images?

I believe so, I tend to use humor as a coping mechanism for most trying situations. Whilst I am not free from the straints of anxiety. I do feel looking back on this work there’s a reminder that being in a constant state of fear or worry does nothing but anticipate sorrow and the more we worry about future situations the more we taint the present.

Has the pandemic shifted the way you approach your work at all?

I wouldn’t think so.

Has the stigma around mental health affected your art practice?

Not necessarily and if it has, I haven’t noticed. Art you create whether it be for the public realm or private I don’t think should be made to please others. As long as the topic you focus on pleases you that’s all that should matter. And if other people enjoy it, even better! I understand that I must sound overly confident in what I’m saying right now but that is not always the case. I go through a constant battle of ‘my work is shit and I’m a shit artist’ but I have great people around me who will give their honest thoughts on what I make. But I do think as long as what you make makes you happy, that’s all that really matters.

How has stigma affected your life in general?

I come from a background where it isn’t really the norm to speak on how you're feeling. So there were many years of suffering in silence until it became unbearable. I think it’s why I create the work I do. I don’t think I’m the best at speaking about my feelings and find it a lot easier to portray it in a visual form instead. I guess there are still times where I bottle things up and I shut myself off from those around me. I feel it will take a while to break from cultural constraints but I think our generation does a great job on being extremely open and honest about topics such as mental health.

How do you think Art could help end stigma around mental illness and mental health?

Art has always been a safe place to express myself when words have failed me. There is a comfort in all forms of art, be it music, literature etc. I think the struggles with mental health can become lighter when we come across something we can empathize with and hopefully it creates a space where people become more open with how they are truly feeling, or even a space where they can refuge in.

Is there anything else you would like folks viewing your work to know about it or in general? What are your closing thoughts?

Try not to let fear dictate your life. My grandmother always says “what is meant for you won’t pass you”. Have faith and trust the process.

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