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Blog - Dolly Sen

Section 136 – partners and places needed


I am hoping to realise the following project next year and need organisational partners and places to perform, so anyone interested, please email me at

Photo of the sentence Don't call me yellow - I'm trying to be as brave as I can, written in black typeface along a yellow line next to a gutter

Section 136

Section 136 is a combined arts project, full of live art, street-based interventions, humour, poetry, cuddly lambs and hugs, and getting into bed with madness. The police can use section 136 of the Mental Health Act to take you to a ‘place of safety’ when you are in a public place. They can do this if they think you have a mental illness and are in need of care. The aim is to engage the public in the debate and social experiment around themes of madness, sanity, the other, and acceptable behaviours, from an unusual and unconventional position of power. So who decides which behaviour warrants restraint? Or which art is sectionable? If I call my madness art does it give me more rights? More freedom? Is there any art that should be restrained face-down? When does art become madness or sanity? Can sanity not make sense? Be damaging? This project address what is madness and what is a healthy and honest response to the world. This project will lead to a final performance piece, a film, or a stint in a psychiatric unit.

Section 136: This is typically used when someone is acting strangely, and the police don’t have an understandable and acceptable reason to make it a straightforward arrest. It is used if the police think that the person might be a risk to themselves or someone else.

But what constitutes public display of mental illness which can harm people or those around them? Consumerism? No. Sexist ads making you feel inadequate? No. Compassion fatigue? No. Casual racism? No. Discrimination towards disabled people? No.

But what underlies all this is what constitutes acceptable behaviour in this society. You can have an argument on the phone and be left alone but if you have an argument with your voices, the police will take you a place of safety, which can be very unsafe. Last year there were almost 1,000 incidents of physical injury following restraint, and there have been at least 13 restraint-related deaths of people detained under the Mental Health Act since 1998. (Mind, 2013) This place of safety can take away your freedom, your choice, your dignity and sometimes your life. Perhaps art can provide this place of safety.

Sanity is full of ridiculous acceptable behaviour and strange double standards, such as seeing street art as vandalism but the proliferation of demeaning ads selling pointless things as acceptable. That being loud, aggressive whilst drunk is someone being one of the boys. But if someone is shouting due to being troubled by voices, it is reason to be more scared, even though you are more likely to be injured or killed by the former. The world is sanitised not sane. Why is acceptance and celebration of the mad self seen a lack of insight, when it has been forged by thought, pain and lots of questioning. There is a side to madness that doesn’t get shown, that is intelligent, funny, and pointing of the emperor’s new clothes. A lot of that has been done through my art. It is time to share that discussion with the rest of the world, and art is a very powerful way to do that.

I want to bring satire to the streets and hopefully not get sectioned because of it! I am snatching glory back from sanity. It’s ours too. They call me mad, but I want to show I make perfect sense. It is an acknowledgement that as a ‘mad’ artist, I am reacting to a society that is scared of me.

Pushing the boundaries of language, perception, the world isn’t accessible to the mad, maybe it’s time to ask it to bring the issue to the people, to confront people with cuddliness, humour, hugs, and art. The cultural landscape of the mad should go beyond four walls, whether it be cell or ward. There isn’t anything as ambitious as to make art that might get sectioned, or to turn the world into an asylum, to turn ordinary artefacts into sectionable objects.

Some street activities to be considered:

  • Sanity feedback questionnaire
  • Invite people to hug a mad person? (try and break a record)
  • Collecting for help the normal’s charity
  • Bedlamb – having a mattress covered with cuddly lambs and inviting people to join me to discuss what they think madness is and what they fear about it.
  • Performing poetry to CCTV to see it is lonely/signing to CCTV cameras to see if their paranoia is accessible.
  • Holding signs: shout at your child here/Are we queuing for something beautiful?
  • Holding a placard with my pic and saying MISSING
  • Adding angel wings to everything.
  • Providing interpretive dance for street preachers and Jehovah’s witnesses.
  • pop up asylums
  • mad sectioning of ‘sane’ socially acceptable acts that are a danger to self or others.
  • Draw the broken hearts of those died under benefit cuts on the pavement 
  • Lucky dip of free thought – help yourself.
  • Signing I love you to CTTV cameras
  • Chant on the street ‘Repeat after me: I AM FREE’
  • Art does not need permission posted on streets
  • Lots of signs pointing to ‘Not here’
  • A festival of madness at a benefit assessment centre
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2 years ago

What an interesting project. A lot of the time it feels like we work very hard not to be noticed. Putting your head above the parapet can take a lot of courage, and sometimes when we do confront things that we see as wrong or out of the ordinary we can be challenged ourselves. Looking forward to seeing performances and reactions.

Dennis Queen
Dennis Queen
2 years ago

I LOVE this

2 years ago

A festival of madness at an assessment centre is urgently needed!

2 years ago

What a great project. Happy to help promote & support this in any way we can.

2 years ago

Dolly I would like to support in any way I can. I love your ideas and you are so right that so-called normal is far crazier and more dangerous than that which is deemed as ‘mad’. Let us know more about what you need.

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