Brad Necyk, "Retreat," 2016
Brad Necyk, "Retreat," 2016, multi-media sculpture, installation view, inside
The Canadian Mental Health Association says Canada’s youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world, and 2.3 million people aged 12 to 19 are at risk of developing depression. This is nothing short of an epidemic. To put these numbers into perspective, only an estimated 1.5 million people worldwide have been infected with the Zika virus and most have no symptoms. Yet we hear about Zika regularly on the news, while the looming mental health tsunami seems shrouded in silence.
Edmonton artist Brad Necyk’s searing portrayal of his mental health struggles shatters the silence. Necyk, who holds a Master’s degree in visual arts from the University of Alberta and is now studying for a PhD in psychiatry at the same institution, spent his childhood in and out of hospitals, first for Hirschsprung’s disease, a congenital intestinal condition, and subsequently as one of the many university students with mental health conditions. His exhibition brings together video, photography and installation to give the issue a human face.
Brad Necyk, "Retreat," 2016
Brad Necyk, "Retreat," 2016, multi-media sculpture, installation view, outside
Necyk’s unabashed and sincere portrayal of his illness can push viewers to an edge of discomfort with voyeurism. His show is a keyhole into his journey through anxiety and depression, as well as his precarious navigation of the medical system. (Necyk says he once waited six hours in a hospital emergency room only to go home untreated.) Reflections, for instance, is a series of photographs conceived during his darkest hours. Piss and Shit feature shiny, oversized faucets that reflect distorted and barely discernable images of the artist. The harsh reality of a human reduced to his biological functions is amplified by black humour. In Piss, two columnar bottles cheerily promote the delights of cinnamon-pumpkin soap and cool-mint mouthwash. They dwarf and enclose a reflection of Necyk, despondent and naked at the toilet.
Brad Necyk, "Tub," 2012
Brad Necyk, "Tub," 2012, digital print, 5’ x 7.5’
The raw intensity of this work offers viewers a reality check and a chance to contemplate the burgeoning incidence of depression. Necyk makes no judgments. Yet the show’s title, Pharmakon (and a series of photographs with the same name depicting a cocktail of psychotropic medications) poses a paradox. In Plato’s dialogues, pharmakon signifies both an ailment’s cause and its cure – the remedy is the poison.
Is it possible the very therapies we rely on are part of the problem? Are the billions of dollars that Big Pharma reaps from vulnerable populations a wasteful exercise in temporary placebos? Are there more complex and intractable causes for the upsurge of depression, things like competition, inequity and loneliness? These questions raced through my mind as I left. But the show itself offers neither pat answers nor any glimmers of hope.