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First Contact

“First Contact” is a unique interactive installation, exploring how vital and crucial that first interaction is with a person who is struggling with their mental health, and the lasting effect that moment can have.

Fuse Arts presents “First Contact”, staged at Kew’s wild botanic garden Wakehurst. A new multimedia installation that examines attitudes to mental health. Led by a specially designed app, developed by partner Despite the Monkey, visitors journeying through Wakehurst’s woodlands and gardens will encounter a series of three trees, each accompanied by a sculpted figure representing a person experiencing poor mental health.

As they meet each figure, visitors are encouraged to reflect on how to reach out to someone in need and the lasting impact of that first interaction. Their thoughts, messages, and questions can be shared and recorded in different ways at each tree, from leaving voice messages, to sending digital text messages through the bespoke app, or even handwritten notes. The unique blend of technology, soundscapes, and visual art forms a family-friendly, sensory trail and offers an accessible way to consider what it may feel or sound like to be trying to cope with their own mental health.

First Contact also offers the opportunity for visitors to contribute to a new significant study developed by Dr Paul Hanna and the University of Surrey. Analysing the ways people engage with the installation and their overall impression of the experience, the study forms the foundation for a major evaluation project into attitudes to mental health. Those who wish to participate further will be invited to take part in a more in-depth survey at the end of the installation.

Dr Paul Hanna, Clinical Psychology Research Director at University of Surrey says: “Mental health communication is central to breaking down some of the boundaries created through mental health sigma and discrimination in society. However, what is also crucial in mental health communication is the way in which the individual speaking out is received. First Contact offers an interactive interaction to its audience in relation to these two issues and I am privileged to once again work alongside the creative team that brought you Blackout.”

Mig Burgess, Director of Fuse Arts Collective and Senior Teaching Fellow at University of Surrey says: “I am excited to once again be working on a creative research project with Dr Paul Hanna. We have combined the power and impact of production design techniques with research in the social science field to forge this innovative interactive walking trail for Mental Health Awareness Week.  First Contact was designed and conceived to break down barriers around the topic of mental health and get us all feeling more comfortable talking to one another about it.  I hope the audience enjoy the experience but also enjoy playing a bigger part of helping us to evaluate this topic to help better understand attitudes towards mental wellbeing.”

First Contact is funded by Arts Council England and is supported by the Mental Health Foundation. Visitors can donate to the Mental Health Foundation during the visit or via the app. The bespoke First Contact app will be available to download from 21 May from the Apple App Store and Google Play.