zack mennell


an exhibition of cultural sewage

(para)site began with a vision; I can't remember if it was waking or sleeping. There is a person, an alive, moving body swaddled in puffy white diapers. This person slowly approaches a body of water and walks in upright, never swimming. Being both viewer and nappy-being in this vision, I feel the weight of the diapers absorbing the environment. I feel my skin infringed upon by the water and its microscopic aberrations & pollutants. I feel the pressure around my ribcage and the silted ground under my feet. My nervous system begins bursting with adrenaline as the realisation sets in that I cannot swim well, if at all, let alone weighed down by 26 diapers. The vision ends as the water swallows my shoulders, meeting the submental space of my chin.

*      *      *

I received a letter in the post in a PRIVATE & CONFIDENTIAL envelope, headed by the NHS logo was a lengthy account of my mental illness, crises and all. The letter notified me of my new updated record, telling me that I have EUPD (emotionally unstable personality disorder), not Bipolar, for which I had been unsuccessfully medicated for over two years. No wonder it was so unsuccessful. I took a photo of this letter and sent it to the DWP (department for work and pensions). They said I was not ill enough. My GP (general practitioner) told me to stop working. The CMHT (community mental health team) said I was too ill to see them. The ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder) department asked me to keep chasing them for an appointment while telling me that my diagnosis of ADHD makes it difficult for me to remember things like appointments. The DWP assessment centre said I made a hearteningly healthy amount of eye contact. My psychiatrist said I made too little eye contact and that I overshared. In the MHAU (mental health assessment unit), I pissed in the corner of my room and then complained about the smell, only to be told it was in my head.

IFLISWATIA (I Feel Like I Should Write All This In Acronyms).

Walking away from the entrance of St Thomas' A&E (accident & emergency), I take all these papers to the river. The river will make sense of them. The river will keep flowing. The river will take me with it. The river will wash my records clear. The river will take me downriver. The river will take me home.

Tangled within the residue of the city and the detritus of you, its people, I find myself downstream, but not yet at the chalky gorges and metal industrial estates of my childhood. Fishing myself from the water, I crawl up a wood corridor in the riverbank, ascending stairs to spite the undercurrents. Oozing liquids unknown, I drag myself through the town to a small space with a glass wall; here, I begin to unpack all that I am and have been and everything I have collected along the way.

Opening Hours

Thursday 22 to Sunday 25 September,
12pm to 6pm

Live performance on Deptford Foreshore,
Watergate Street, SE8 3GG
Friday 23 Sept, 6.30 - 7.30, RSVP

>Location & access


para(site) has been commissioned as part of Tidechangers, a developmant programme for early career artists by The Thames Festival Trust and presented as part of Totally Thames 2022. The project has been supported by VSSL studio and Deptford X.

Images:  (para)site: taking the piss, Live Art Club London. Photo by Queer Garden (Beliza Buzollo)

About the exhibition

(para)site: an exhibition of cultural sewage is zack mennell’s first installation at VSSL studio. The installation is a response to zack’s memories of growing up in a working-class community along the industrialised Thames in South Essex, and their experiences as a medicalised, societally infantilised disabled & neurodivergent queer person.

In zack’s performance and analogue photographic practices, they research class, disability and ecology, and their new works - video, photography, object and collage - will be shown alongside research materials and ephemera.

zack’s humorous works have been shaped by their psycho-geographic explorations of Deptford, especially the Foreshore, which provides direct access to the Thames and upon which much is washed up with the tides.  


Artistic expression is, for me, a way to make sense of the world and an attempt to contextualise who I am within it. In stepping into difficulty and pain through artmaking, I attempt to understand life through a different register to that of daily survival. I want my work to have an uncanny quality, that it might temporarily unsettle familiar places, making visible some of the strange aspects and tensions embedded there.

Zack Mennell is an emerging (unemployed) artist using writing, photography and performance to explore queerness and neurodiversity in relation to presence and visibility. Zack has been active as a performer, photographer and writer since 2015. They have collaborated frequently with performance artist Martin O’Brien, notably in Sanctuary Ring (SPILL Festival, 2016) and The Last Breath Society (ICA, 2021).

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