Reflection on invisibility of women with invisible neurodiverse conditions published on Disability Arts Online
What/How Else Could 'Neurodiversity' Look Like?
#MeToo has exposed how women’s body, mind and mobility have been policed. #Timesup is showing how women are fighting back in a myriad of visible and vocal ways. Yet, as Guardian writer Frances Ryan points out, ‘disabled women are rarely featured in the media: even in campaigns or content that are purposely striving to include marginalised women routinely miss out those with disabilities’. The effect? By excluding ‘women like me’, we are ‘made to feel invisible’. And if disability is the ‘last frontier of inequality’, as argued by Ryan, it can be argued that hidden disability in women is something that needs to be especially highlighted. This is a photographic essay published on February 19th on Disability Arts Online that aims to contribute to this discourse, with a focus on neurodiversity. A documentation of a performance I carried out as a woman with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) Badge Wearing Mind wanderer In Action (MIA), it is an invitation to widen the visual (re)presentation of what we mean when we say that our brains are wired differently. Responses to the article has been positive. They include: ‘Excellent’ (Roundabout, UK dramatherapy charity), 'Great exploration of ADHD as a way of knowing & being' (Assistant Professor Dr Jess Hughes, Reading Area Community College, USA. 2018), and ‘Great piece, really interesting research’ (Tracy Turner, PhD researcher. 2018). Here are screenshots of the article. Another version will appear on the National Attention Deficit Disorder Information & Support Service newsletter in April 2018. The 72mm badges (series of 5) premiered at the UK Adult ADHD Network 2017 in September 2017. The photographic performance series Badge Wearing Mind wanderer In Action (MIA) was performed in October 2017, and the earliest public articulation in words of the work was in November 2017 at the PsychArt Conference 2017.
Developing the (Dow Jones) Infinite Scale of Thrills, Novelty and Risks-seeking that goes up and up and up. Then Cat dies.
What goes up must come down - or could it go up and up, infinitely? Yes, if the Dow Jones' past 120 years' record is taken as a reference. ADHD is not just about attention deficit. In any case, according to comedian Rory Bremner at the UK Adult ADHD Network 2017, it is a surfeit. The 'H' is about hyperactivity, and related to this are notions of impulsivity, novelty- and risk-seeking, and one school of thought explains this as due to how the ADHD brain understands (or not understand) reward. In this insatiable quest for to (try to) feel, to sense, to pursue sensations, to deliberately/unwittingly go with your instincts, and to deliberately/unwittingly go against your instincts, you keep going, doing, running, climbing. You dip/crash/need and take time out, but press go, again. The world didn't stop after the 1930s and 2008 financial crashes, the way 2017 followed on swiftly, indifferently, nonchalantly after 2016 Summer, which is the silliest Summer season of them all, and now 2018 is happily coming along like nobody's business. There are costs/victims/editing/regrouping/changes/lessons learnt and unlearnt, but it stubbornly climbs and climbs and runs and runs and spins and spins. Your keep your right foot pressed firmly down on the accelerator pedal in the go-kart permanently, even if you step on the left foot steps on the left every now and then, even if Cat dies, Cat with the ill-temper and large belly that sways side to side when she walks, acknowledging as you do the juxtaposition of death/pause/halt with life in a sensate/evolving/revolving/sentient world, and of tracking/charting something fluffy/intangible/unquantifiable/vulgar as happiness/pleasure with a yardstick for money.
Special thanks to data scientist Lukas Stappen for inspiration and advice. This post is dedicated to Wes, who was 16, maybe 15, maybe 17 on 23 December 2017 when she went, and who appears in several places and times in the tapestry, rather like Shroedinger's.
Towards the design of the tapestry + reflections on fieldwork at SGDP
The more you learn or try to learn, the more you realise that the less you know. Artists enter/land in situations to make interventions; for an encounter to be meaningful the intervention has to be bi-multi-directional. I had expected the residency to be challenge my assumptions, habits and blind spots as a mid-career artist, early-career researcher and fulltime scpetic. So it has.
My other artist-in-residency programme: at Submit To Love Studios, Headway East London
Above: swift notes and sketches from making small talk with Mike, Ken and Saroj, 10 October 2017
Michelle Carlile is a great teacher. High-profile shows that the art studio manager has helped to lead at Submit To Love of Headway East London, a charity for people affected by brain injury, include a recent exhibition at the Southbank Centre. Watching Michelle work is something else. She is gentle and positive yet firm. She wasn't just drawing and painting. She was dancing, leading the artists to also jiggle (to Bob Marley), doing physiotherapy with the artists (guiding Lawrence to complete a circular shape on paper), having fun, making everyone have fun, making, creating. I began my first visit on Tuesday 10 October. I wanted to learn, observe, make small talk with the artists. I loved the mark-making, play and colour explosion. To conceptualise my visits as an 'artist-in-residency' challenges / clarifies my primary residency at King's College London working with psychiatrists and academics. I have qualifications in fine art and teaching but it was a revelation being there. The uninhibited play with perspective and scale, the pleasure of shapes, the visceral texture of paint applied on top of other paint was a kick in the rump that sat on years of framing my practice as and talking about it as research, in REF/impact/TEF/'contribution to knowledge'/etc etc. Kicks in the rump are critical to make the mind and body agile, to keep me on my toes, to shake the ground off my feet, to make me recalibrate, to mock anything that's fixed/stuck.
My education/ gatecrash/infiltration / artistic intervention / durational performance / going native / fieldwork at SGDP
You need to dip, no, soak, get yourself drenched, hands on, feet on, head first and get dirty, filthy for a full-body full-mind mind-full experience of something you are researching (objectivity is a myth invented by the elite to put down/marginalise/other those not working in 'traditional'/orthodox ways). American philosopher Donald Schön (1930-1997) conceptualises the ‘reflective practitioner’ as one who bridges the gap between the ‘high ground’ of reflection (‘technical research’) and the ‘swampy lowland’ of practice (where ‘the problems of greatest human concern’ lie):
‘In the varied topography of professional practice, there is a high, hard ground overlooking a swamp. On the high ground, manageable problems lend themselves to solution through the application of research-based theory and technique. In the swampy lowland, messy, confusing problems defy technical solution’. (1987a, p.3)
The reflective practitioner undertakes ‘reflection in action’ – that is, thinking as we are performing an activity or, in Schön’s words, ‘thinking on our feet’. Not only that, ‘reflection on action’ – that is, evaluating our task upon completion – is critical, too. It is when we engage in both practice and reflection, thinking while carrying out a task as well as afterwards, and, additionally, by allowing ourselves to experiment and fail (1987b), that effective learning occurs. Experiencing Jean-Michel Basquiat's Boom for Real at the Barbican (outrageous, playful, highly-learned faux naivete, energetic, energising, unapologetic but knowingly clever, political) and Stephen Wright's House of Dreams first hand pushed everything to the edge, amplifying and magnifying the thoughts that have been swimming and concepts learnt since my residency (and how to present/reimagine these thoughts): the UKAAN Congress 2017, a seminar by postdoctoral fellow Dr Jessica Agnew-Blais defining adult-onset ADHD (and along the way dissecting the DSM V criteria for ADHD), and a DIVA training course for clinicians -- that's the Diagnostic Interview for ADHD in Adults, not the Maria Carey variety involving throwing hissy fits while looking fabulous. Here are a few unstable mappings that help me build towards my own lexicon and library of resources for my tapestry, itself an unstable mapping and forever incomplete (hence the participatory component - you sit on it to activate it, add to and challenge the layers/palimpsests).
Inhabiting Stephen Wright’s mind at the extraordinary House of Dreams, East Dulwich, London 30 September
BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ STIM STIM STIM
‘We are soft and nimble when alive, firm and rigid when dead’. — Lao Zi 500BCE
‘I have often said that man’s unhappiness springs from one thing alone, his incapacity to stay quietly in one room. […] Our nature consists in motion; complete rest is death.’ — Pascal, 1670
‘If you think of death as perfectly still, and so the opposite of death would be to move as fast as you possibly can’. — Martin Creed 2008
‘Don’t let things come to a standstill. Don’t take things lying down. Get on your feet. Create, disrupt. Run away from your comfort zone. Cross disciplinary boundaries. Be ill-disciplined. Run into difference. Charge, be in charge, and feel re-charged. Let your imagination run riot.’ — Kai Syng Tan 2017
SPANKING NEW HOME BACK IN THE BIG SMOKE
Since being awarded the Unlimited commission in late March 2017, things have been in transit. Finally, my ears are perked up again. #MagicCarpet is back with a Biggish Bang, turbocharged by a spanking new new team and a sparkling new home. I’m thrilled to have been named as one of 6 artists for King’s College London’s inaugural Kings Artists scheme as well as Visiting Researcher at MRC Social, Genetics and Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) and ecstatic with my migration back to the Big Smoke. Sitting quietly in one room/city/country/doing or being one thing/sticking with one school of thought is the opposite of (my) life. Having lived in mad cities all my life (Tokyo/Singapore/Chicago/London/Sydney/Helsinki) I can’t wait to plunge myself back into the intellectual and sensorial stimulation and overload/crowds/noise/messiness/crazy prices/difference/rudeness/anonymity/shrewd competition in the art and academic worlds/ plurality/accents/300 languages/smells/odours/choking in polluted air and drowning in the indescribable joy of the indescribable taste of the London tap water.
STRETCH: INTELLECTUAL, IMAGINATIVE
And I am trembling. #MagicCarpet is an extension of my research since 2009 on running as a creative toolkit to think about the world around us, and my practice -- since the beginning of time! -- on the restless body and mind (walking/swimming/drowning/skipping/islandhopping) and how that relates to place and other bodies and minds. Nonetheless, it is a new territory of investigation (mind wandering) in that it is framed within a new world and new language and new paradigms, ie that of science — and psychiatry at that. As a professional sceptic and having read Freud then RD Laing aged 19 I have had many questions many things starting with psych: psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy, psychic (though less antagonistic towards psychogeography and psychonauts?). Yet as a seeker of thrills and novelty and lover of risks, it is why I signed up for something that seems tantalisingly terrifying. The physical/emotional/visceral/intellectual immersion/investment for 12-months on a new topic (mind wandering and its relationship to ADHD and functional impairment, and how it relates to visual art), working with scientists for the first time not only provides critical primary material for my tapestry (itself a new medium), but potentially disrupts/challenges my practice and habits as a mid-career research-practitioner. Fabulous. Essayist Michel Montaigne has talked about the criticality of travelling and seeing the world, while author Bruce Chatwin romanticises about 'adventures of the mind and body.' As someone who loves running into and mixing with people from other species (Butoh dancers, urban planners, noise artists, geographers et al), my own surprising/recent/late diagnosis of ADHD, dyslexia/dyspraxia generated questions, not clarity. #MagicCarpet is my process of inquiry/discovery as a woman/artist/curator/researcher alongside the public/audience. It is also my interrogation of existing representations of ADHD, which I have found to depict as mainly affecting children or adult male criminals, and as an aberration to be corrected, cured, ironed out, fixed, and medicated. As part of this adventure, I will be volunteering for clinical trials, experimental evaluations of mind wandering. #MagicCarpet could reveal earth-shattering life- or world-changing epiphanies. It might also all go Pete Tong. Or, like most things, it is likely to have a mixture of both and then flatline, then up, then down again, and so on. There will be tears, falling limbs and bruises and mishaps, and there may not be cathartic closures. The occupational hazards and joys of doing an artist-researcher-curator. It’s a privilege. And against the mise-en-scene of a post-Brexit, post-truth reality marked by fear and anxiety, and London's threat level set at 'critical' given the 4th attack in the space of 5 months, it is arguably more important than ever before for conversations across difference, (including across disciplinary/territorial assumptions) and for art to open up a space that allows us to contemplate and interrogate.
UP AND AWAY
I am going full speed full steam from now on with a packed calendar of activities and deadlines. It will be exhilarating and exhausting. See you.
Header photograph by Kai Syng Tan 2017