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Art as therapy in Mitchell Moreno’s Pandemaniac

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This article was printed in the Then & Now issue of British Journal of Photography magazine, available for purchase through the BJP Shop or delivered direct to you with an 1854 Subscription.

Moreno’s Latest work draws on glamour, Freud, gender and performance as they navigate an isolated lockdown.

The Covid-19 lockdown could easily take a toll on one’s mental health. With their boyfriend isolating in Italy, London-based artist Mitchell Moreno found themself alone, without work or access to friends. To keep busy they created a visual diary, exploring their mental health journey through an isolated summer. Pandemaniac is part diary, part performance and part therapy.

“The making of the work was, in a sense, an act of survival,” Moreno explains. “A few years ago I stopped making work because of a mental health crisis. I had a period of two years where I didn’t create a thing. Looking back I see how that really compounded my illness. I now know that my creative practice is central to my being well.”

From the series Pandemaniac, 2020 © Mitchell Moreno.
From the series Pandemaniac, 2020 © Mitchell Moreno.

“The act of queering is key to the process. Not only, as a genderqueer artist, in terms of identity politics, but also in terms of how I can play with and subvert the motifs of lockdown to open up a broader and richer set of possibilities of meaning.”

Equipped with a small budget, a London apartment and a camera, Moreno documented their experience through intense, dreamlike personas. These images act as a heightened and distorted look at the artist’s isolation. Video calls, new hobbies and hoarding of food supplies are all relatable lockdown experiences, yet Moreno flips the familiar into a vivid mix of glamour, colour and luxury.

Pandemaniac is rooted in a genderqueer telling of lockdown living. The self, understood through Freudian psychoanalysis, shifts through various masks, drifting between polarised concepts such as desire and anxiety. The identity of the artist can be seen within the personas, metaphors with lives of their own. The everyday becomes intensified as Moreno documents their wellbeing – the resulting work is not just a reflection of their physical space, but an exaggerated look into their mind. “The act of queering is key to the process. Not only, as a genderqueer artist, in terms of identity politics, but also in terms of how I can play with and subvert the motifs of lockdown to open up a broader and richer set of possibilities of meaning.”

From the series Pandemaniac, 2020 © Mitchell Moreno.
From the series Pandemaniac, 2020 © Mitchell Moreno.

Fashion photography meets unsettling reality as Moreno inverts its purpose; Glamour becomes an absurd futility in the face of a pandemic, while simultaneously providing the language to explore anxiety and disaffection. “If you look closely, there’s always something wrong [regarding the glamour in the images]… I was interested in referencing the visual language of fashion and beauty photography because consumer capitalism is based on desire, and with desire always comes anxiety.”

Before lockdown, Moreno worked as a builder and decorator, with a past in circus and opera performance. Performativity is clear within the images, and when possible, they aim to further develop Pandemaniac into one-to-one confessional theatre. Dressed as the people within the work and using the images as a tarot deck, Moreno hopes the project will become a starting point to open a dialogue between artist and viewer; discussing health, lockdown, and the masks we all wear. “That kind of genderqueer performance facilitates a kind of freeing for the visitor,” Moreno explains.

From the series Pandemaniac, 2020 © Mitchell Moreno.
From the series Pandemaniac, 2020 © Mitchell Moreno.

Pandemaniac, which will go on show at this year’s Format International Photography Festival, is not easily defined, working on multiple levels for both artist and viewer. By looking inwards to the mental effects of lockdown, Moreno creates a series that plays on the impact of months spent inside, balancing between mundane reality and a distorted imagination. “There are lots of people who had never before experienced depression, anxiety, OCD, problems with food, and so on, but are suddenly being confronted with those struggles. We need to recognise just how difficult these times are, and find a language to discuss mental health without shame.”

@_mitchell_moreno

Pandemaniac will be on display at this year FORMAT International Photography Festival. Find out more here. 

Isaac Huxtable

Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.

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