BORDERLINES – An interview with Pierre Leichner: By Diane Wood
Pierre Leichner curated the BORDERLINES art exhibition at the Gallery Gachet on Cordova St. from June 14 – July 28, 2013. He chose the name to represent lines being drawn, where you’re in or you’re out. It also refers to the diagnoses of Borderline Personality Disorder.People with BPD resist authority and get angry when told what to do.
The show asked the question “When does a behaviour, mood, thought become a disorder in the eyes of contemporary Western medicine?” It challenged the idea that we can put mental health in boxes.
He contacted 10 professional, established artists, who did work that would fit the theme. What he liked about the show is that it wasn’t one straight message or style. The exhibition included Jay Peachy’s humorous installation comparing the mental health industry to a fast food chain, Susan Blunt’s abstract objects that escape definition, and exquisitely beautiful flying wooden figures by Persimmon Blackbridge.
Pierre was a psychiatrist for 35 years. He left and turned to the arts to find a voice and self-respect. It was “like a factory” and he accepted he couldn’t change it from within. He realized “health care had moved to a corporate model, where your loyalty is not with your patients.”
“Though the majority of psychologists want to do what’s right, they’re a bit like missionaries” he said. “Humans create an Other, the Outsider. We don’t like things we don’t understand and we’re afraid, so we put up barriers or borders.”
The most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was released by the American Psychiatric Association this year in May. It is a categorization system used for access to care, by insurance companies for disability claims, by drug companies for research, and in courts of law.
Pierre sees it as a “categorical and rigid system, as opposed to a multi-dimensional, fluid one. There are other ways of looking at behaviour and suffering, but they don’t have the same power in North American society. Administrators need to make things easy, in black and white terms, and drug companies profit off the medication tailored to each category. The problem with the DSM is that it’s a monopoly; and it’s so powerful, it starts to influence people’s behaviour.”
Homosexuality was seen as a form of insanity by the DSM until 1973.Due to the out-cry from the politically active gay community, it was removed, but changed into the new disease of “Sexual Orientation Disturbance” which was finally dropped in 1986.
Pierre now creates socio-political sculptures, photos and performance. His alter ego, Dr. Legume, criticizes plastic and pollution on Youtube. He would like us to learn to value mystery and difference, but is scared that society is going the other way. “Values have shifted. Everybody’s looking for the latest I Pad. Buying things puts us to sleep, and we lose our soul.” His art draws attention to these issues, that we’re all connected at a spiritual level. He hopes for a gentler, more thoughtful and accepting world.
He encourages people “to do the Right Thing, even if it feels like you’re a grain of sand, you don’t know, every action is inter-connected.”