Interview with Spanish artist Pere Ibañez and XiaoJie, the founder of Candle X
Spanish artist Pere Ibañez and Chinese NGO CandleX join forces for a Bipolar Disorder campaign, with the aim to reduce stigma and increase awareness. The core of the project will be Pere Ibañez new photographic series and it’s first piece is currently being exhibited in LACDA (Los Angeles Center for Digital Art). Here we have Pere Ibañez himself and XiaoJie, founder of CandleX.
- Pere I. & CandleX: Could you briefly describe what is #B and what this project is about?
CandleX: The CandleX MoodlaB Project is a year-long project created in order to raise awareness and increase knowledge about bipolar disorder in Beijing and China. Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a mood disorder that causes unusual shifts of great magnitude in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out daily tasks. In China, there’s lack of awareness on mental health in general. Bipolar disorder is even less known due to lack of public education. Many people who suffer from bipolar disorder is also misdiagnosed and mistreated; moreover, there’s social stigma attached to bipolar disorder, which prevent people from seeking help, and or receiving support from friends, family and work place.
Through workshops, photoshoots, online and offline media campaigns CandleX with its partners is eager to not only help the project participants and models understand their mood and mental health better, but also benefit and inform the wider society about the topic that is rarely discussed in China.
- Pere I.: How different is this new photo collection from your previous works?
In a way this collection picks up where my last one ended, my last series “I.See.Dark” explored the idea of survival and overcoming traumatic experiences. In the case of this new ones my intention is to depict that struggle in finding balance between fuzzy lights and the darkness within.
Regarding the aesthetics there’s gonna be some differences, mainly being this series way more subtle and less explicit than my previous works. But can’t deny that the connection between them is there, and it almost seemed like an obvious path to follow after my last collection.
- Pere I.: How and when will this new photos be released?
Pere: The campaign will last for over a year, a new photo will be released every 2-3 months via exhibitions or different medias, and in a year time CandleX will hold an exhibition and release a book with the pictures alongside personal stories of people and their experiences with the illness. I might release the whole photo-series on my own some time after.
- CandleX: Who are the models participating in the project and how were they selected?
The models participating in the project have all applied to be a part of the project. We expect that the models would have first or second hand experience with depression or bipolar disorder and would be keen to share their stories with the community in order to make the project as effective as possible. As for the selection itself, firstly everyone interested in becoming a model had to submit their application forms with attached photos, The application asked various questions – from the interest in the project to the experience with depression/bipolar disorder. After that CandleX staff interviewed each applicant in order to learn about their personality and experiences a bit better and to introduce them to the further project activities. All participants are required to participate in moodlab emotional wellbeing workshop as a way to understand in depth how emotion works, and how we can deal with them. The main selection of the final 20 models happens during the workshops. We expect their engagement be an empowering process for them, and some of them to be advocates of their own community.
- Pere I.: Why presenting the 1st photo in LA instead of Beijing? Are you finding any difficulties releasing your work in China?
I worked with LACDA (Los Angeles Center for Digital Art) for many years now, they are a gallery that open its doors and welcome new artists all the time. The campaign that CandleX is doing may be focused in China, but with today communication and social medias I see it as an obvious opportunity to share the information and art on a global scale.
- Pere I.: It isn’t the first time for you to collaborate in a social awareness project, can you tell us a bit about previous collaborations?
Back in 2013 I was approached by Canadian NGO Peace for Humanity to work on a campaign and project on domestic violence. We did two exhibitions in Beijing and talked about it to the public sharing facts and resources for victims to find their way to safety. We had lots of volunteers who dedicated their time and passion to help making it possible, i’m still very thankful to everybody involved. And although I’m sad to see this still an ongoing problem in the world, I like to think that every day we take a small step forward knowing and understanding that NOBODY has the right to control or abuse anybody.
- CandleX: What do you expect to achieve with this project?
XiaoJie: The main goals of the project are to raise the public awareness of bipolar disorder, increase knowledge about this mental health issue, and reduce the wide-spread social stigma. We are hoping that through the various planned activities not only the participants can understand their emotions and mental health better, but that the project would benefit the wider community as well.
- Pere I. & CandleX: What are your own experiences with depression or bipolar disorder?
Xiaojie: the ultimate drive for me to initiate MOODLAB project is my own personal struggle with bipolar disorder. Social ignorance and stigma has stopped many from seeking help and treatment. I used to be ashamed of the diagnose of “bipolar” back in 2012, and was running away from it. it had only made it worse; it took me years to come to realise that it’s not my fault. it’s a long painful struggle when you fight the illness on your own, without the power of knowledge, without the support of the society.
Now I have been so stable, and so much stronger physically and mentally coming out of it, it became my mission to provide help and support that i wasn’t able to get. I cant think of a better way to live my life being help to help others who are still struggling on their own, invisibly.
Pere: I won’t get into details but is clear that darkness is no a stranger to me, it comes visits me often like an old friend who overstays its welcome. I still consider myself a very lucky person because I have a constant surrounding of friends and family who are unconditionally supportive and I’m never left on my own devices. This new works will also reflect that human connection that is much needed.
- CandleX: Being yourself one of the models, what is like to work with Pere Ibañez?
XiaoJie: Pere’s always been an artist who’s compassionate and sensitive. I find it very precious in the world of art. Art is a powerful tool that can have an impact on people’s thoughts and value on a deep level when a soul is touched. Working with him has been a process to implant the sensitivity, subtlelty, and compassion into the photos.
the process is not easy though as Pere’s been known for a style of “Dark”. However, Bipolar itself has two sides, both mania and depression. How do we find the balance of it has been a working progress. It’s definitely a challenge trying to make both ends meet. I don’t want to be in the way of an artist’s free spirit, but also need to be sensitive the msg that we are sending out to the public. bipolar is a severe mental illness, but it shouldn’t be a horrifying disease as some mistakenly think and tagged as “crazy” or “dangerous”. so we’ve been working around these lines too.
For my personal photoshoot, it was very quick. he told me the idea that he had: birds, cage. we immediately clicked. the darkness in the room zoomed me into my inner self, the self who’s a little scared, who knows that she has a battle to fight, and who’s focused. the whole photo shoot took only about 40 mins. We had many other ideas together that day too, how else we can use the birds for photoshoots with other models.
- Pere I.: Could you tell us a bit about the idea behind “11 de Octubre” the 1st photo from this new collection?
Pere: The way I processed this work was bringing back a very dark day from my recent past (hence the title), a moment of absolute emptiness and shattered hopes. Standing still in the dark, trying to pin point what was wrong, what did I do that led me to that point.
Did I find the answer? Was there even an answer? Looking back I think that it doesn’t even matter, that what’s important is the fact that I stood still, that I stood there all the way through the night; right up until the sun came up again – because against all expectations it did. And even if those dark nights come visit again (they sure do), the morning after the sun also does without delay or excuse.
For more information on Pere Ibañez and CandleX please refer to: