Suicide survivor makes sense of life through art

Published 9 October 2012

These days two-time suicide survivor Mic Eales can embrace life, thanks to the healing and solace found in creating installation art.

Now the Southern Cross University doctoral candidate hopes his latest exhibition Inspired Lives: Discovering Life in Imagination, opening at Melbourne’s Dax Centre on October 11, will encourage conversations and greater understanding about the darkness that leads people to take their own lives.

It comes as the 59-year-old from Mallanganee, west of Casino in Northern New South Wales, was recently appointed to Suicide Prevention Australia’s Lived Experience Policy Advisory Committee.

The Dax Centre’s Inspired Lives: Discovering Life in Imagination shares the original voice of artists who have attempted suicide. The exhibition explores the psychological and spiritual crisis of suicide and its damaging after-effects, revealing the deeply personal experiences of the artists as they work through their struggles, find inspiration and take steps towards healing.

Some of Mic’s pieces in Inspired Lives are drawn from his PhD thesis, ‘Different Voice, Different Perspective: a visual arts enquiry into understanding suicide through original voice narratives’.

As an artist, Mic said he sees himself primarily as a storyteller.

“Each of the installations began with a conversation about suicide. I connected with people who have attempted to take their own lives and reinterpreted their stories as artworks. I then worked with them to find materials, metaphors, symbols to accurately depict their story.”

His installations are a departure from the typical darkness and forebodings expected of suicide art, and instead include children’s tales reproduced on lead; cube-shaped jigsaw pieces; and porcelain casts of lotus pods.

“There is a childlike quality, a playfulness, a quirkiness to the pieces,” Mic said. “At the core of my work is the question, ‘what is the opposite of suicide?’, and for me the answer is childhood innocence. The only time in my life when I felt free of emotional and psychological pain was as a very small child.”

One of the Inspired Lives collaborations is with Associate Professor Baden Offord, a senior cultural studies lecturer at Southern Cross University, who has a family history of suicide.

“The story of suicide has been with me all my life. My father on the eve of my 19th birthday in 1977 and brother in 2008 both took their lives, while my sister, my mother and I have all attempted suicide,” said Professor Offord.

“Working with Mic has been an incredible and life-affirming experience as it has helped me recognise how much we can learn about this usually unregarded human story. As strange as it sounds, what I have learned through collaborating with Mic is how important it is for the deepest of human sufferings to be unveiled, expressed and given light, articulation and form. His work is an art of compassion and insight.”

Mic twice-attempted suicide as a teenager but it was after his brother Bryan took his own life in 2002 that he began creating artworks about the family and community ramifications of suicide.

He said art could be a form of therapy for all those touched by suicide, as well as the general community.

“I want to reduce the stigma and taboos associated with suicide. We need to help and encourage people through their trauma and darkness to embrace life.”
Mic said he was looking forward to being able to drive improvements in policy, service delivery and outcomes for suicide prevention through the Lived Experience Policy Advisory Committee.

“I’ve finally got to the point in my life where instead of focusing on my own suicidal tendencies I want to start giving something back. To take what I’ve learnt and start making a wider contribution to the community.”

Inspired Lives: Discovering Life in Imagination runs from October 11 2012 to January 11 2013 at the Dax Centre Gallery, Kenneth Myer Building, The University of Melbourne, Genetics Lane off Royal Parade, Melbourne, Vic, 3010.
Opening night is Thursday October 11, 6–8pm.
Photo: Mic Eales holds one of his porcelain cast lotus pods.

Media contact: Sharlene King media officer, Southern Cross University Lismore, 02 6620 3508 or 0429 661 349.