Hello! I recently attended the most marvellous conference in Cork. I’ve come away refreshed and reminded that conferences can be both stimulating for artistic practice, and also provide a framework for what we artists do. I love a good conference.
All Things Considered had a lovely spirit and provided an unusually good fit with my own areas of creative research. Aside from one awkward moment, all was harmony and light. The moment in question was in some ways quite comical, as one speaker complained about the problem of living artists (sic).
They sometimes insist on vetting and controlling what is written about them. It’s. real problem. You have to wait for them to die!
Laughter, of course, erupted in the room.
It was a moment of unmasking – unaware perhaps that there was a living artist in the room – the speaker had revealed to me a sudden and vertiginous window into the academic perspective. But we were just warming up.
A delegate beside me had thrown their arms up in protest, and so I knew I had a friend. Well I’ll just throw myself under the nearest bus! I quipped in mock outrage, but the sense of outrage was also real. The statement was both serious and made in jest. There’s a truth here wriggling to come out.
It was, of course, also secretly fascinating, and it opened the door to another question; in particular that of artists who deny the obvious influences in their work with a specific example in mind.
Who should we believe? someone asked. Never the artist! said a second speaker, this time it was a wholly serious answer.
I felt pleased to be an artist in the room to disagree, or rather to explain nuance. The creative process is complicated.
I loved the dissonance actually. I revelled in the insight. Much academic study deals with the dead, and the relationship between academia and the arts presents a potential quagmire re interpretation and ‘ownership’. For the living artist this is relationship which can be brokered – we need to be in the room at conferences. I am lucky to have had this opportunity quite often since 2013.
This conference has taken me back to the core of my own project, The Museum for Object Research, and my abiding notion that there is an area of study to be made in the use of objects in visual arts practice. It reminds me also that our forthcoming, Neither Use Nor Ornament (Arts Council England funded) exhibition and programme incorporates embodied research. I hope to invite academics to view and comment in a further iteration of the project.
Developing a performance piece, called Hung to Dry, for the conference has invigorated the performative side of my practice too. Oh the joy!
I can’t end this post without a massive thank you to my extraordinary collaborator, and the stage manager/ producer for my performance, Dr Helena Buffery.
Now I want to do it all over again!
See you soon,
All Things Considered…Material Culture and Memory, conference at University College Cork was organised through CASiLac: ‘Memory, Commemoration and the Uses of the Past’ research cluster, Departments of French and Italian, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, UCC.
The organisers were Chiara Guiliani and Kate Hodgson.
I thought I’d write a quick blog post, but keep it mainly visual. The Museum for Object Research (Arts Council England funded) #NUNO project is well under way. In fact we’re approaching our fourth month! We have a show and exhibition programme to pull together, and we’ll be making a film and booklet too. We’ll be launching on the 30th March 2019.
A lot of work goes on behind the scenes to project manage – but I’ll also be a contributing artist, and my creative work for #NUNO is evolving.
To cope with my dual roles on #NUNO, I decided very early on to place a cabinet next to my desk. The idea is to experiment with and document the contents of the cabinet as I add them, move them around, and even discard some! Easy access from my desk means I can keep this work in mind and add to it when the spirit moves me. It’s proving to be a deep and very satisfying piece of work. It’s also shifting as I go along, and I no longer know if the title of my work will be as I planned – portrait of my father, may take on a new title and I have to decide before our booklet goes to print.
The objects all relate to my father’s exile from Spain 1939-1989, as viewed through my eyes. It’s a ‘postmemory’ piece, which means that it refers to inherited memory. I love the ease with which this works. I have my tripod always to the ready, and while I began with iPhone captures I’m now using my trusty Canon EOS 400.
What I want to share today are some new photographs I’m excited about. I feel like I’m getting somewhere with the documentation, and have a better idea what I want to achieve.
The Duck, a production by Autact Theatre Company, is a remarkable play, and, going to see it at the Stroud Theatre Festival last week, felt like a significant cultural moment.
Playwright, Rhiannon Lloyd-Williams is a late diagnosed autistic woman, and she forms part of what has been termed the ‘lost generation’ – I count myself among their number. Our diagnosis’ have been delayed into adulthood through cultural ignorance about autism as anything other than a series of stereotypes which exclude us. I won’t list them here, but suffice to say that males, savants, and geeks have dominated the cultural landscape (through no fault of their own, I might add).
Before continuing I want to state that this review is not the place to detail issues of gender identity within our community (which have also fallen under the radar). This play is not about women, it’s about one woman.
The play opens at the moment of recognition. I’m a duck! The duck in question is a metaphor for autism, and for 50 spellbinding minutes the audience is immersed in the thought processes of an autistic mind. For some of us (autistics) this is familiar territory and we can insert our own detail and nuance into the narrative. For non-autistic audiences this is instructive, in the best sense of the word. The play is not didactic, and the learning arrives through the offer of empathy – Lloyd-William’s brilliance is that she enables the non-autistic person to inhabit her mind, to loan it (if you will) for a brief yet vivid moment.
This is a one woman play, and actress, Lucy Theobald, gives a quite extraordinary performance. Coached by Lloyd-Williams herself, there is a sense in which she acts as her avatar. Theobald is her physical stand-in, complete with ‘stims’ (the gestures we often rely on to regulate emotion and sensation), but also allows the playwright the necessary distance to write from the gut. There are no punches held here.
As the diagnosis unfurls we are treated to the rawness of a lifetime of alienation which is unknown in origin. The torture of autism as a condition not yet revealed is really in the not knowing, which provides a vacuum for self-blame to be sealed in as tightly as superglue. My own experience is that unlocking this knowledge is redemptive. It was never autism that troubled me. I now understand that my difference is simply another way of being human. Not all autistics will share my sentiments but we can unite on the core message of this play.
I sat and squirmed as the labels which had been conferred on our heroine in the place of ‘duckness’ were rolled out in a devastating sequence. My own label was ‘naughty’. My poor parents were not to blame. They weren’t to know why I ‘disobeyed’ them royally – and did the opposite of everything they asked me to – and to their great credit they still found a way to love me. Such labelling and misunderstanding of our behaviours can be immensely damaging and even threaten our emotional survival. Our heroine makes a passionate plea to peel back the labels in order to understand and accept us.
My favourite passages of this one act play are when Lucy Theobald revs up the theatrical encounter, breaking the forth wall. Autistics are supposed to struggle with communication – and so we do at times, especially when asked to do so in conventional manner. Lloyd Williams breaks this assumption with the sheer articulacy of her writing, Jo Loyn’s direction of Theobald to engage us with eye contact and pointing underlines the point; and so the table-turning begins! Audience members are questioned (rhetorically), and drawn in to the heart of the action. We’re both inside her head and onlookers – I honestly don’t know how the author did this.
In many ways this is a confrontational work, but the beauty of the writing is that the voice is gentle and the audience is held. I like to be in two places at once. I’m prone to wriggling in my chair and casting my eyes about the room. I am also fond of observing faces and was treated to a section of the front row, which curved around almost facing me (albeit from some small but helpful distance, as I sat at the very end of the middle row by the door). I saw three things; wonder, care, and compassion. I might have glimpsed discomfort (but it was fleeting and productive, I felt).
What you want in a production like this is to feel safe while being challenged, and it’s a fine balance to achieve; so it’s all the more impressive to find it so deftly handled in a debut play from an emerging writer.
What I saw on those faces, now embossed in my minds eye, were the flashes and flickers of shifting emotions as Theobald dealt out the play’s denouement. A twist autistics will be familiar with (but no less thrilled by) and which will leave unsuspecting non-autistics gasping. No spoilers from me.
I am reminded of my own debut speech as an ‘out’ autistic person in which I declared myself a person in translation. My audience feedback was that I had changed perception – that they would never think in quite the same way again.
This is what I think the incredibly talented Rhi Lloyd Williams has achieved with The Duck – a paradigm shift. As a blogger on autism (at Autism and Expectations) she is immensely popular and widely read on a global scale because she has a rare capacity to straddle neurologies with writing that is also beautiful. She is also a poet and a performer.
As an autistic person who (disclaimer) is also a friend, my one wish for the play (in the moment) was for the author to act the part. I quickly saw why for many practical reasons this wouldn’t work. The remove, in working with an actress rather than making this a performative piece for the author, reveals itself as the production’s strength. Theobald’s embodiment of Lloyd William’s words is an extended act of empathy, as I suggest at the top of this piece. She leads the audience in a parallel act.
This is not the usual autism shtick so many autistic people have come to dread, which only serves to feed unhelpful stereotypes. We’re tired of Rainman and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. This is something wholly new. An authentic voice has emerged, and it’s my fervent wish that The Duck can be seen and heard in many venues across the land.
The Arts Council England funded Museum for Object Research and WEBworks collaborative project, NUNO (Neither Use Nor Ornament), is also proud to count Rhiannon Lloyd Williams among our WEBworks creatives as Poet in Residence for the project.
At the Museum for Object Research we love to support related work and events. This fascinating exhibition opens 10th September in Sheffield at the Chapel Walk Gallery! It includes contributions by two of our MfOR project artists Dave Edwards and Sonia Boué – indeed creator and curator of the exhibition is Dave Edwards himself.
We’ll keep you updated as more information about this exciting show comes in.
The Museum for Object Research & WEBworks will be presenting a new project in the spring of 2019 entitled, Neither Use Nor Ornament, in collaboration with the OVADA Gallery in Oxford.
Neither Use Nor Ornament comprises 14 artists working across neurological boundaries
Think you know about objects? Think you understand people? Think you know about Art?
Join us for a series of creative provocations including:
Neither Use Nor Ornament is the outcome of artist Sonia Boué’s Arts Council England funded research on how to be an autistic project lead and bring two distinct professional networks together; one network predates her autism diagnosis and the other was formed in response to her findings.
The result is an inclusive collaboration at the heart of which will be an exhibition focusing on the use of objects in 8 creative practices.
6 autistic creatives will present a supporting programme of events to run concurrently.
Neither Use Nor Ornament as a term of disparagement will be subverted.
This project is Arts Council England funded and seeks to redress an imbalance of perception and assumptions about autistic people. Here you will encounter autistics as creative instigators, organisers, and equals among our non-autistic peers on the project.
We are open for business again! Arts Council England have awarded The Museum for Object Research funding for an ambitious project bringing together findings from our R&D (research & development) phase!!
This means that our Artists will exhibit their work in realtime at the OVADA gallery space in March – April 2019. We will finally bring our blog to life!
At the beginning of R&D this outcome was our main focus. My research into working as an autistic professional was to facilitate leading on this outcome.
But if the initial version of our project design was a charm bracelet, the model we set out with at the start of R&D was a weighty chain, bulging with sharp edged bling, doomed to snag the very fabric of our plans. The charms looked good but were heavy with disabling ‘neurotypical’ expectations and we had to start from scratch on our project design. The learning curve on creating an autistically sound project was hard won but so worth it.
What developed (quite unexpectedly) was a project within a project. Through the autistic professional development side of my work I discovered a great need for support and opportunity within my community. WEBworks – was formed.
WEBworks redresses the balance of the project. Alongside the Museum exhibition we will now run a programme of events showcasing our autistic WEBworks artists/ creative partners. Information about WEBworks creatives’ projects will be added to this site ASAP – so do watch this space.
In effect, we will bring together two networks and level the playing field.
This project will also turn the seams inside out on my practice as I bring it all together in collaboration with artists and arts professionals across neurotypes. It’s a huge honour to receive public funding for this work and I intend to live up to it.
It’s also a challenge – but there is no doubt that each artist will produce a compelling work of beauty and excellence (this is why we have our funding!) My job is to make our offer to audiences gel. I want to enrich the cultural landscape artistically and challenge perception at the same time. No biggie!
Lucky for me I have a brilliant crew and an Arts Council approved ship. From bling to vessel we’ve come a long way – I’d love it if you could join us on this journey. So please do subscribe to our blog and follow our progress. We will blog and upload new content as we go along, and we’ll make our final works accessible on this website too (if you can’t join us in ‘realtime’).
So it’s a massive thank you, Arts Council England, for supporting and approving this project and a special thanks to @an_blogs for originally hosting The Museum for Object Research blog and being such a brilliant inclusive platform for artists!