“It’s not very often that a conversation will centre around mental health,” observes multidisciplinary artist Benj Funk. “The goal (with Lossy) was just to stimulate discussion.”
His most personal project to date, Lossy involves audiovisual expression as well as a personal blog invoking what his reality has been dealing with schizophrenia.
“I am trying to give insight into what it was for me,” he says. “I think it’s been the project where I’ve been most honest.”
Never shying away from sharing his struggles, Funk’s first solo exhibit at Artbeat Studio drew on his battle with drug addiction and psychosis, but with his evolution in stability, he now feels ready to address his mental illness head-on as a subject matter.
“It just takes time to not judge yourself, I guess,” explains Funk. “The whole thing with stigma is it’s two-sided. You internalize that and you project that on yourself too.”
Funk feels the dialogue has become less judgmental regarding mental health in the media and elsewhere – but the most welcoming community he’s found has been on Tumblr, the host of his blog.
“I’m making connections with people and people are reaching out,” says Funk. “The amount of support – it’s not surprising, but it is eye-opening.”
When his exhibit opens Sept. 10 at La Maison des artistes visuels francophones, the immersive exhibit will feature (barring no interruptions) about eight to 12 paintings and his album of roughly the same number of electronic songs – plus, Funk plans to have a panel discussion engaging the public about mental health.
For his part, Funk is holding nothing back, blogging stories related to the shame and embarrassment he felt during his addiction (which prompted aggression), and giving vivid accounts of some of his hallucinations.
He shows talent for wielding the smaller stroke of a pen, and courage unveiling personal narratives. “There’s only so much you can say with a painting,” reasons Funk.
The exercise in treating his illness as a subject has also allowed him to delve deeper into neuroscience research, sharing some of the more momentous medical breakthroughs through his blog and helping educate followers along with him.
Funk hopes his project will establish solidarity with others fighting a mental illness – a recent Ipsos Reid poll revealed 53 per cent of young people are dealing with depression and other mental wellbeing concerns – and it’s powerful to gain insight from someone articulating their own journey.
The artist expects to continue in the vein of socially-conscious work like Lossy with upcoming projects. “I’ve kind of reignited a passion for advocacy,” he says.
While he has learned to manage his illness, his medication is not without its side effects – and it’s not foolproof. “The meds for me take care of 99 per cent of the symptoms,” he shares. “You’ll (still) hear a voice that you know isn’t in the space… I’ve learned how to take on those little battles.”
Perhaps the most poignant representation of his progress dealing with mental illness is his painting of a moon with six eyes hovering over a depiction of himself as he appeared just before he was hospitalized. “It physically separates where I was then and where I am now,” says Funk. “It’s almost like looking at your kid and thinking, ‘Things will get better.’”
Funded by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Manitoba Arts Council and 100 Nons, Lossy will culminate in a solo art exhibit at the artist-run La Maison des artistes visuels francophones beginning Sept. 10. Visit lossy.benjfunk.com to follow Funk’s blog entries and the project’s progress.