Festival of the Mind returns to Finchley Road

Singer songwriter Ana Silvera

Singer songwriter Ana Silvera - Credit: Archant

Ana Silvera, spoken word poet Leah Thorn and Dr Joseph Berke are among the guests at this thought-provoking event, says Daniel Wittenberg.

A unique mix of psychology and culture characterises next weekend at JW3, featuring the most intellectual of festivals where only the mind matters.

Comprising thought-provoking seminars from local creatives and consultants such as the singer Ana Silvera, spoken word poet Leah Thorn and Dr Joseph Berke, the annual ‘Festival of the Mind’ returns to Finchley Road.

The cerebral symposium begins with a series of activities, including a guided walk exploring the lives of the Freud family in Hampstead, a drop-in workshop with the artist Xenia Moseley where participants can create their own epitaph, and sessions on dance therapy, art therapy and mindfulness.

What follows is an evening of talks and performances from notable artistic names, with a special focus on depicting mental illness in their work. Contributing to a panel of ‘Artists on the Couch’ alongside the bestselling author of The Shock of the Fall, Nathan Filer, and comics artist Ian Williams, Silvera will explain why the mind is a central theme of her music.

“Mental health is such an important subject because it is a part of life. Most people are affected by mental illness, whether it is personally or through a family member, and there are so many different ways to approach and understand the issue,” she says.

For the Crouch End singer-songwriter, psychological problems are especially emotive after witnessing her brother, Daniel, experience episodes of psychosis as a teenager. He was ultimately diagnosed with schizophrenia and died seven years ago, aged 29.

Most Read

She has since written a seven-part song cycle, ‘Oracles’, with the Roundhouse Experimental Choir and collaborated with the Royal Ballet to compose ‘Cassandra’, both sharing intimate stories of suffering from schizophrenia and caring for those experiencing it.

Although Silvera acknowledges the challenges of describing such distress, she hopes that voicing her involvement will encourage psychiatric patients and carers to raise their concerns. “The people who, year after year, are going into psychiatric hospitals are often the most articulate on the subject. They are the most insightful when you talk about the issues.”

Her ambitions chime with those of Thorn, whose recent poetry film, ‘Watch’, converts her painful experiences into a powerful take on the impact of dementia on a father-daughter relationship. “I find that people are eager for a means of talking about what they have been through,” she says. “As an artist, you can explore themes that are often uncomfortable in everyday life. I feel a responsibility to be as brave as I can when I am articulating my own story.”

Thorn will co-present ‘Dementia Chronicles’ with the writer Leah Bridgeman as both artists employ a variety of forms, including storytelling and photography, to reveal the centrality of memory to identity. Their performances will segue into an open discussion about the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, which invites the audience to share their personal experiences.

Dr Berke, the Highgate psychotherapist and writer on psychological and religious themes, also features in the festival to discuss his new book, The Hidden Freud: His Hassidic Roots, on how Sigmund Freud’s ancestors influenced him. Events entitled ‘Neurotic - Who, Me?’, ‘Bibliotherapy’ and ‘The Sound of Mind’ complete the day-long programme.

Daniel Wittenberg

‘Festival of the Mind’ takes place on Sunday, 17 January at JW3, Finchley Road. Tickets are available (per event, or £25 for the whole festival) at jw3.org.uk/festival-mind.