Whispering Pines: Shana Moulton’s exhibition on mental health

Shana Moulton is an American-based artist who uses performance, video and opera within her work to channel contemporary anxieties through her alter-ego ‘Cynthia’.

Currently, one of society’s biggest conversations surrounds mental health and how each demographic is affected. Many people are dealing with anxiety every day and new waves of our culture’s obsession with self-improvement and wellness have taken over.

Moulton’s alter-ego ‘Cynthia’ has been consumed by all these self-help treatments. She’s tried self-help books, sugar-free drinks, complicated skin care routines, Pilates and long bubble baths. 

‘Cynthia’ is only concerned with spirituality and meaning – looking for something to guide her as she goes through life. This is interesting as Moulton’s work is being shown in a London chapel, a former Methodist space which is home to the Zabludowicz Collection. 

Moulton’s Whispering Pines collection has spanned over 17 years. In the new instalment, Cynthia is trapped in a six-metre pink tower and demonstrates with different videos and sounds, bold new steps towards self-actualisation. Next to the tower is a gentle digital waterfall you can dip your toes in. At the top of the waterfall are two eyes which also act as clocks. Eyes are a central concept in this exhibition – they are watching your every move. 

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Within the gallery’s three spaces, the sound of trickling water and soft opera music fills the rooms. Cynthia is testing different wellness methods. She spins on a traction table, endlessly Googles answers to life’s big questions and locks herself in a sauna tent. The result is she is still trapped – no matter what she tries, she is still not free of the pressures of every-day life. She claws for a solution. 

Another room is filled with knickknacks which are considered weapons to fight anxiety such as a mini water feature, LED alien faces and crystals. Moulton has created ‘Cynthia’ – a shapeshifting character – to express her fears about the world, and then mocks them. 

Moulton’s work doesn’t deliberately mock the mental health and mindfulness organisations, or the people who desperately struggle with crippling mental health, but the exhibition does take a more light-hearted approach. 

As someone who deals with these issues herself, she understands the magnitude of the situation and understands the anxiety of a mundane life. By creating this twinkling wonderland about modern anxiety it’s giving us what we want: an escape, a perspective and some necessary distance from all of life’s everyday troubles.

The exhibition is weird and wacky to say the least, but it’s uncomfortably relatable. This immersive wonderland is worth a visit. 

Shana Moulton’s exhibition is running until Sunday, December 15th, 2019 at the Zabludowicz Collection. 

Entry is free. 

Address: 176 Prince of Wales Rd, London NW5 3PT

Closest tube station: Chalk Farm

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Words: Jess Pennell

Photos: Jess Pennell