Pete Regan was born in 1986, in Madrid, Spain into ‘una familia numerosa’ (a family of four or more children). His parents worked for a drug rehab charity, and this gave him and his siblings an understanding and affinity for outsiders and people on the margins of society.
This affinity with the marginalised has fed into Pete’s work – making him particularly sensitive and aware of the hardships we negotiate as human beings, the difficult tightrope that is living.
Publicised by mental health campaign Time to Change is De Profundis: From the Depths, Pete Regan’s current exhibition at Warrington Museum & Art Gallery (7 February – 2 May 2015). Pete offers a visual, aural and inspiring installation of his journey through cyclothymia, considered a milder form of bipolar disorder. The cumulative effect of a slideshow interspersed with sound, neon lighting, mirrors and photography offer fragmentary glimpses into the fluctuation of moods and the cyclical aspect of depression. The overall effect of the exhibition is of reflection and solitude, a secular yet seemingly spiritual or transcendent place.
With De Profundis: From the Depths Pete sets out to capture the breadth and depth of human experience. By his own admission, this exhibition was aimed at ‘my younger self’. As a younger man, Pete spent months in bed isolated by the darkest of depressions. In the depths of this turbulent, and seemingly inescapable numbness, Pete was given a camera and began exploring the world and finding beauty again despite the bleakest of moods.
Monastic voices reverberate through the corridor as one enters De Profundis. Images are scattered across the wall, sprouting volcano-like amid neon-tubes of lighting (red, yellow and blue). Sound, lighting and image combine to give the viewer a truly felt experience. A feeling not unlike entering the darkness of a cinema to re-emerge transformed and having to face the weather again (both inner and outer). It’s a feast for the senses, but somehow the cumulative effect is not of sensory overload.
Pete’s careful use of colour is strategic and helps to represent the gamut of human emotion. Crucially the black and white is not just that – but the deepest black. Pete also plays with the positive/negative duality of photography by offering us the whitest of white pictures – ghost-like, cold, almost eerie. Also on display are swathes of colour – but not just colour – colour in all its neon, glaring, night-infused garish glory. The neon tubes of lighting – are a reflection of this primary palette, building up the mood and tension of the whole exhibition. In this way, his thematic approach to colour reminds me of Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo 66, whose palette of muted Buffalo colours (red, blue and white) infuse his film only adding to the sense of melancholy.
The people in the images are transformed by this strange, other-worldly light and colour. A woman with a 1920s haircut is profiled and bathed in the deepest of reds. A young man with an intriguing, but slightly menacing smile is given the bluest of neon tinges to inhabit in. Faceless people gather in underpasses and at lonely bars. Empty tables protest that no-one dines at them. The re-entering into the world is not necessarily smooth, and Pete’s vision attests to this. The quieter, interior pictures reflect a starker reality of our inner worlds, perhaps peaceful, but a trapped peace.
Religious motifs appear in the pictures – suggestive of burden and heaviness. The use of the positive is redolent of another iconic sequence in Easy Rider, of the cemetery. Even though these alterations in mood are not drug-induced, they are suggestive of altered states.
This allusive build-up of the artist’s own journey is also present in his films which are shown in conjunction with music varying in mood and pace. In a slideshow of the artist’s childhood, wonderfully accompanied by guitar music, by Liam Morgan there are again hints of the religious – a first-communion, the ancient glory of Roman ruins savaged by a bleak sun. This accentuation of tradition and statues is carefully echoed throughout the exhibition. The use of the circle in the slideshow is also a motif in the circular pictures of the seasons. These repetitions and reverberations help to create a ripple effect of circularity, thus given a sense of a completeness in the exhibition and lending the work a very structured, cohesive nature. In another video piece the viewer is invited to contemplate the gentle breeze of the wind, slowly swaying the top of trees. The effect is soothing, almost like the visual equivalent of mindfulness. It is also reminiscent of the opening of Gus van Sant’s Elephant which gives it darker overtones and hints at Pete’s strong pull to the cinematic as an artist.
Almost signalling the exit, a neon yellow sign that reads ‘Hope’ is situated next to a black and white image taken in New York. The image stands out as it has a more photojournalistic feel to it than the other more oblique works on display. In the foreground a taxi exhorts us with these maxims ‘EVERY DAY COUNTS’ and ‘RESPECT YOURSELF… LIVE WELL’. In the chaos of the background – smoke, high-rise blocks and harsh sunlight – it could be difficult to live up to these exhortations, but somehow the photograph seems strangely hopeful. This reviewer’s reaction is of slight anxiety – how can I make every day count? – and yet this is the strength of the exhibition as a whole – it allows you to feel, and it gives a validity to these emotions, a dignity.
So often, art is applauded for its lack of sentimentality, particularly in these irony-ridden times. There is no fake sentimentality here, just unadorned feeling. De Profundis does away with this dreaded fear of feeling. One of the most dehumanising aspects of depression is the feeling of not being able to connect with others. In this exhibition, Pete connects to that which is human in everyone – woe, darkness, pain, joy, exuberance, hopelessness, hope. His photographic pilgrimage and the restorative power of walking and finding these places is truly potent.
Oscar Wilde in De Profundis, a letter written to his lover while incarcerated, said: “To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.”
Pete Regan bravely confronts his experiences in an affecting and impassioned exhibition, and in doing so makes a stark and powerful contribution in combatting the stigma around mental distress.
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