Hold Me In A Tender Circle of Listening

Trigger warning – the material below touches upon themes of: suicide attempts, violence in psychiatric hospitals, electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), use of modified insulin therapy, forced medication, adoption and child bereavement, and child sexual abuse.


We are pleased to host a sound installation produced by the artist Amanda McDowell. ‘Hold Me in a Tender Circle of Listening’ is an immersive audio piece that contains the oral testimonies of five women from the British Library’s ‘Mental Health Testimony’ project (an archive of interviews recording the history of mental health care in the old asylums, from the points of view of those who were there). Using only the sounds from these oral interviews, the piece weaves together different testimonies into a circle of communal listening. Describing the sound installation, Amanda has written:


The work uses only the sound from these oral history interviews and brings women’s voices together, away from the isolation and gaze of the psychiatric institution and archive, into a circle of communal listening. The artist is driven by an ethics of entanglement – as someone with her own psychiatric experience and the daughter of a woman who has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for over forty years. This entanglement is a strategy, a way of working that blurs boundaries between the self and other; the material and immaterial; the past and present. The work is also a response to the terrible failure of psychiatry to listen, which has been repeated again and again over decades and decades. Through an extended process of listening to and reassembling women’s voices, the artist asks how historic and current silences within psychiatry and the institutions of ‘mental health’ might be opened up to create empathic encounters where trauma is allowed to speak.


About the artist


Amanda McDowell is an artist/researcher who works with sound, image and text to explore memory, trauma and transgenerational haunting. Practices of deep listening are central to her work, which is currently exploring the experiences of women in UK psychiatric institutions. Amanda has recently completed a PhD at the University of Kent. She has worked in the voluntary sector supporting prisoners and refugees, and at UK universities. She has a BA & MA in Social / Applied Anthropology and an MA Screen Documentary. Her MA film was nominated for a Royal Television Society Award (2009). You can find out more about Amanda’s work here.