Juliette Ripley-Dunkelberger: Inner Workings

Show: February – March, 2018
Reception: February 2nd, 2018 6pm – 10pm

In February and March 2018, the gallery will be showing pieces from sculptor Juliette Ripley-Dunkelberger’s “Inner Workings,” a series exploring themes of mental illness. The work will be viewable during normal gallery hours and at the opening reception for the artist, February 2nd, from 6pm – 10pm at the gallery.

Artist Statement: Our inner workings are a mystery.  To varying degrees, all of us struggle to express what is going on inside and reconcile that with our experience in the outer world.  What if your inner world were tilted, off of its axis, just enough to make you stumble for no reason.  What if your inner workings were affected by vertigo and didn’t make sense to even you at times.

Those who battle with mental health issues and their care givers are constantly looking for a way to right those inner workings; to find a way to walk on level ground like everyone else.  They do this while fighting against an invisible enemy.  One that isn’t seen by most doctors.  While 25% of primary care patients suffer from depression; primary care doctors identify less than 30% of them1.  It is an invisible enemy.  Perhaps that is the crux of the problem, we can’t see it.  We must trust those that feel it to be telling the truth, even when the truth sounds ‘crazy’.
The social stigma surrounding mental health issues stop us from asking, talking about or often looking for the symptoms.  Even those that suffer from mental health issues often don’t consider that as a culprit for their discomfort or struggles.
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, communities help by raising money, bringing food or offering other needed support.  When someone is diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, there is rarely a rally cry for support.  More often there is a careful mapping out of one’s life so that others don’t find out.  Where are the full freezers so you don’t have to cook?  Or rides to your appointments because the med’s make you nauseous, or just the supportive look or tone of voice offered with empathy for the hand life has dealt you?  Instead there is often condemnation for having a bad attitude, not trying hard enough or just being weak.
"Inner Workings"
Inner Workings

Mental health/illness is very like diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease or chronic respiratory disease.  It is an illness.  It requires medical care, medications, habit change, diligent self-care and therapy.  No one suggests that someone with heart disease should ‘buck up’ or ‘just get over it’.   Unlike with other illnesses, we can’t do blood tests for depression or biopsy for Bipolar which makes it extraordinarily hard to diagnose and treat.  Medications for depression, for instance, may help with suicidal thoughts or may cause significantly more depending on “if they work for you”.   The experimentation continues until something helps.  And all of that is assuming you have health insurance to help pay for it.Mental illness not only drains those who battle with it, it also drains our economy.  Mental health disorders are one of the five most costly conditions in the US, as much as cancer treatments.  We pour over $60 billion into our mental health systems annually.

Mental health costs are the largest single source; larger than cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, cancer, or diabetes. Mental illness alone will account for more than half of the projected total economic burden from non-communicable diseases over the next two decades and 35% of the global lost output. Considering that those with mental illness are at high risk for developing cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes, the true costs of mental illness must be even higher.3
National Institute of Mental Health. (2011, September 28). Director’s Blog: The Global Cost of Mental Illness [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/2011/the-global-cost-of-mental-illness.shtml
This art work has been an exploration into the experience of mental illness, fighting the invisible enemy, and the many frustrations that come with it.  I have created an illness character, embodied in this dark figure, because to fight it, we need to see it.
  • Both ‘Deluge’ and ‘Storm’ are about depression: being unable to feel joy in any experience.
  • ‘Unwinding’ is about feeling out of control of one’s mind or thoughts.  The illness will take what it wants and leave you with very little left.
  • ‘That’s Mine’ is about loss.  The loss of the future you had hoped for.  The loss of relationships because you can’t do what needs to be done to keep them.  The loss of self as the illness changes you.  And the will to fight that loss with determination and discipline.
  • ‘Distillation’ and ‘Alchemy’ are about finding medication that works.  It is so very much like putting lead in a beaker, distilling it and hoping you get gold.
  • ‘Imbalance’ is about the frustrations and side effects of medications.   Often medications for anxiety makes you sleepy or dull.  Medications for depression can make you feel apathetic or flat: by trying to keep your chemistry from dipping too low it also limits how joyful you can feel.
  • ‘Old Friend’ finds one having accepted the current reality.  That this illness has been and will be hanging around for a while. It can be and must be lived with.
  • ‘I’m Fine’ is a piece about how mental illness is perceived by our society and what is going on inside.  This piece was a collaboration between myself and a family member who wrote the text.
  • ‘Worries Blind Us’ show the frustration of how anxiety can blind us.  It causes to enter fight or flight, which happens in our reptilian brain.  We can no longer access the frontal lobe where are capacity to problem solve comes from.

Mental illness is an invisible enemy which changes our inner workings.  Perhaps it is time to stop saying “I’m Fine” and start saying “I have anxiety and I am having a tough day.”   Those who suffer and those who care for them need to speak out, when able, to paint the picture for others who can’t see these illnesses.

To fight it we need to see it.

1. “Data on behavioral health in the United States.” American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/helpcenter/data-behavioral-health.aspx.

2 thoughts on “Juliette Ripley-Dunkelberger: Inner Workings”

  1. I am a Burien resident & artist, unaware of the Scarlet Ibis gallery. A friend raved about Juliette Ripley-Dunkelberger’s work. I’m now anxious to attend next week!

    1. We hope you have gotten a chance to come in and see Juliette’s work. It will be in the gallery through the end of the month.

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