More selected projects


Banging your head on the canvas? We talk to young artists about mental health and the challenges they face.



To celebrate 100 years of the Art Academy of Latvia, the school has flipped the script and is looking instead to the future. Celebrating the work of current students and recent graduates the exhibition ‘Academia’, at Exhibition Hall ARSENĀLS, provides a stunning overview of today's cultural pulse. As the exhibition has been running during mental health month, we want to explore the challenges of a creative career with some of the participating artists.

Amongst this array of creativity is an installation from multidisciplinary artist Ilze Aulmane. Anchoring into parallel walls, strokes of neon-pastel float suspended in the air. Constructed from materials that simultaneously spread outward and close in on themselves – the work ‘'Sketches for the grownup life" hangs like a playground for the mind, with opportunities to follow in any direction. She speaks with us about the importance of spirituality for her mental health, and how art can give voice to the invisible.

Did you have any tricky moments whilst preparing for this exhibition? What have been your ups and downs?

It has been, and always is, a tricky process. The main thing for me is to hear and obey that "inner voice". For example - my mind wants to run and shoot up like a volcano but at the same time my "inner voice" strongly suggests to just go and have a walk through a forest. Doubts, fears and interpreting the messages of other people involved - that's a tough race.

Tell us a bit more about your work within the exhibition ‘Academia’?

My work is a cross-disciplinary installation, formed by materials surrounding our contemporary lives and the title is "Sketches for the grownup life". It’s an ongoing experiment, being trapped in between a dump and heaven. It all starts in childhood, of course, we are "grown ups" already then. By that I mean your spirit is conscious from a very early time – maybe when a sperm merges with ovum, maybe even before then, and then the brain kicks in and the body follows.

How do you feel about being in a line of work where your persona is interlinked with your practice?  

That's the magic about work, it will always be closely connected with author regardless of what you're doing, baking cakes or chemistry. And your work influences you – it's like mirroring while the image in the mirror is so powerful that it freaks you out, or pleasantly surprises. That's because we are all partly just channels for something bigger or smaller than ourselves - like some kind of pipes or something similar.

Does your work bring you any challenges with your mental health?

"Mental health" – what is it? What is mentally healthy? My work challenges every aspect of my being. If you mean pushing over some cozy boundaries - then, yes. I see it as an exam or quest I need to solve.

“Creative, but a bit mad” - any truth to the cliché?

No. Creatives can be seen as mad from the perspective of others, but that different approach to life is only a professional peculiarity. Of course, sometimes a "crazy" person can be an artist more easily than an accountant, but another "crazy" person might be an accountant more easily than an artist.

How do you get through a bad day?

Talk to God, eat dark chocolate, live, think and work through and on. Try to analyse what was or is wrong, what lesson I can take, what changes can I make - how can I change? I don't blame the day.

In what way could a learning institution give support to its students when it comes to mental health?

There's plenty of possibilities outside - to dive into the wide variety of mind fuckers, suckers and fairies. More seriously, it would be valuable if a school provided some summary or guide about different practices - spiritual as well as psychological - life stories, controversies and history. Inviting people to talk from different backgrounds, to give a tangible experience of how it is. And it is great to have some good psychologist around to talk to in case - to make an appointment if needed. Schools don’t offer much in terms of skills or talking about how mindset can be valuable in real life.

What do you think is the societal role of art in addressing mental health and well-being?

The core of art is visualising something that, in a way, is obviously invisible. Mental issues are a complicated and “inconceivable” topic. So, art can give sensitive and powerful clues to the subject.

Has mental health ever affected your ability to create work? Or have any experiences inspired you to make something new?

Oh, yes, yes, yes. Affected and inspired. You have to have those mental and spiritual (I mention both because they overlap) experiences to create work relevant to other humans, you need some insight into reality and empathy. Those experiences can be funny as well as devastating or disturbing, and then you just need to push on, look for a solution, not give up, stay humble, brave and keep your ears open - and you will find the way out. And then you'll be eating donuts in sunset.

Do you feel the world today creates a more positive or negative environment for mental wellbeing than previous generations?

Every generation has its own challenges, and part of the "world" has been, and is, cruel and crazy for all generations. But there's also the good part that is eternal - love, joy, friendship, courage, and creativity. Some say that the world has never been so "mentally ill" as today – but also many things have studied much more, at least speaking about western world. The question of "mental health" demands wide references and takes time to touch just the top of the tip.

'Acadamia' can be seen at Exhibition Hall ARSENĀLS, Riga until Nov. 18 2019
See more of Ilze's work @ilzeaulmane