Friday, November 2, 2012

The Stables Studio: the end of a decade of rehabilitation

For around a decade I went to a place called The Stables Studio. This never received government funding, but Prahran Mission (Uniting Care) sponsored it.

It was a place where artists who had some kind of psychiatric diagnosis could do art. No religious pushing. It was amazing. A decade ago, I had only just found out about Prahran Mission’s Second Story program, that ran rehabilitation, via Job Supply (who the clinic had recommended). I said I could possibly work doing framing and they said Second Story did a program in that, which is not offered anymore. I was thinking it might help the metaphorical framing I wanted to do too. So I went there, found I was okay, but not accurate enough to work in the industry. Then The Stables Studio started and I was asked if I wanted to join. It was different from all these other programs, there was no structure, artists were free to create what they wanted and there was space to have an annual solo exhibition. But you had to be interviewed, have a folio and ability to work on your own and a huge love of visual art.

            The Stables Studio, gave me enough space to create a six-foot by eight-foot canvas and a life-sized papier-mâché crocodile and so much more. I was inspired and I really needed to get the visions in my mind outside myself.

Every year there, I thematically changed my approach to art. Highlights were my found objects exhibition that allowed me to express the way I linked things together in my mind and an abstract exhibition called, ‘But, what is it?’ I also got to do an intense recycling project called, ‘Containers’. For a whole year I threw nothing in the rubbish. All my paint water was put into papier-mâché and any dried left over paint was peeled and attached to some object I was making. My dead television got gutted and recycled into many things. Cunningham Dax bought one of these ‘Containers’ projects. Other things I made got bought as well, but I have many works still in storage.

            I was given a sketch pad at one stage when I first joined and I then began sketching all the time, relieving myself of unwanted emotions by putting them into spontaneous images. I dubbed this ‘The Automatic Hand’. It was a type of drawing where I had no idea what was going to happen on the page, but I trusted my intuition so much my hand tapped into my visual part of my mind and came up with the wild image conglomeration associated with the emotion.

            The people who worked in the office and organising things were fantastic, empathetic, but often over worked. They were all amazing artists, some of which had a history in creating iconic Australian sculptures and sold-out exhibitions.

            I got to do my first protest against psychiatric practices in an exhibition called, ‘Crowds and characters’.

And then there were life-drawing sessions…

But this year I felt I needed to move on. I hadn’t fully recovered my visual part of the brain from the bombardment of psychiatric chemicals, but my partner was encouraging me to paint landscapes with him and I was studying art therapy… I felt I didn’t need to be in rehabilitation anymore. And that urge that I had for ten years of going to a space daily to paint had dwindled.

Over the years the Stables Studio has moved three times. It was originally in an old dairy in one of Prahran’s side streets, that’s where it got its name, ‘The Stables’. Then it moved to a warehouse in South Yarra. This was the best place and individual spaces were built. But then due to costs of the warehouse, the studio moved again, to a church in Burke Road Malvern. It will continue to be there for the rest of this year, but after that, next year,  the whole project is being sized down to a small room at the back of Prahran Mission in Chapel Street.

I went to the Prahran Mission’s annual exhibition at Chapel Off Chapel this year, 2012, and all the Stables artists seemed really in shock. I know I would be if I was still in that stage of my life where I really needed the human contact of other artists, encouragement to create and space to do so, while at the same time the freedom of an unstructured program. But it just wasn’t financially viable apparently.

The Victorian government has put in changes to the way funds are allocated for mental health rehabilitation programs. The participant gets to choose where the funding goes. That sounds all good in theory. But I’m worried that there may be a tendency for psychiatrists, who are in control of things like CTOs, to point out what programs the psychiatrically diagnosed have to do in order to get off the CTO. Psychiatrists are very good at coercive control. They’re also very good at promoting their pockets. This may mean people never get access to programs that help people to express themselves, gain confidence, learn what is an isn’t okay for ‘friends’ to do, and, via their own explorations in things like visual art, writing and music, that they might not really have a disease causing a chemical imbalance and might not have to live as a zombie the rest of their life, that there is hope and ways of becoming what you love.
Here's the link to the Stables Studio (they even have a picture of my 2010 exhibition, 'Crowds and Characters' in their chapel gallery space.) Please visit, I'm sure there are some fantastic artists selling up for bottom dollar prices now they don't have any space to store their art.


  1. Good to see you speak so fondly of a sweet part of your life NO
    Go Well

    1. Wonderfully written Initially No. So articulate, genuine, and succint. This should be published in the 'mainstream' media somehow as a powerful representation of the importance of the visual arts and all the arts in mental health recovery/ spiritual/creative self awareness/ de-stigmitisation etc.

      Diogenes Clonor

  2. I'd love to ask you a few more questions about your experience at the Stables Studio if you had a sec. I've sent you a message on facebook, it'll be in your messages 'other' folder...just if you ge the chance. Thanks for sharing your insightful stories!