WHAT WE DO
Brexit. Trump. #Metoo. Windrush scandal. We live in a hostile environment today, fearing others who are not like us. As the external world continues to unravel, our internal states are also coming un-done. Mental health related problems remain highly-stigmatised and cost the UK £105.2 billion yearly, while undiagnosed adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) costs the UK billions annually, argues the think tank Demos. #MagicCarpet is a unique collaboration between an award-winning artist and a psychiatrist who is a world-leading authority on adult ADHD. It draws on research, practice and lived experience on mind wandering, and how it relates to ADHD and the creative process. At its heart is a colourful tapestry consisting of landscapes imagined by the artist’s hyperactive mind. Overworked and turbocharged with exotic imagery, it evokes the mind wandering process in which we flit in/out of reason. The tapestry ‘takes off’ when people sit on it with the pair to chat about their daydreams and wanderings, mental wellbeing and different minds. The ‘magic’ of #MagicCarpet is, thus, to open up a lively space for people who may not otherwise co-habit a space due to their different understandings and experiences of health, to discourse, play, co-create and learn from one another. The work enables creative collisions and ‘productive antagonisms’ of perspectives: art and science, the medical and social model of health; Cartesian versus non-Western conceptions of mind-body-world, psychiatrist and service user, and the ADHD-sceptics and those who are for neurodiversity (understanding neurological differences like autism, ADHD and so on are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome). It is truly ‘people-powered’, as it plays out how power can be created and shared by people of all walks, and how conversations can lead to insight into new ways of creating health. As the recent All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry Report evidences, the arts can be a powerful, multimodal health intervention. It does so by stimulating imagination and reflection, facilitating an improved understanding of oneself, enhancing empathy and inspiring change and growth. #MagicCarpet, thus, is a call on us to talk openly about the states of our mind, turn friction into frisson, and collaborate on new ways forward. Let's open our minds. Let us take our health in our own hands. Let’s go on an adventure together.
HOW/WHY THIS STARTED
In 2016, artist Kai Syng Tan (Artangel Open100, Biennale of Sydney) approached Professor of Psychiatry Philip Asherson (2017 NIHR Senior Investigator Award winner) upon being diagnosed with ADHD. Like most people, she knew little about ADHD. While it affects 2.5% of adults globally, ADHD has a bad image (ignored or mocked, and linked with males, crime, bad parenting and ‘Big Pharma’), or skewed picture (the 2018 NICE guidelines states that ADHD is under-recognised in females). Kai wanted to find out more as an image-maker, researcher and woman. #MagicCarpet is her process of inquiry, dialogue and thinking-aloud. Inspired by artist Grayson Perry’s tapestry series that study and interpret various cultures and communities, Kai gatecrashed the world-leading Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry Centre (SGDP) at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, where Philip is based. As SGDP’s first artist in residence, she takes part in seminars and studies and captures her questions, interpretations as well as her own mind wandering on a drawing, which gets translated into a tapestry at the same factory that Perry had his tapestries produced, in Belgium. The result is a 2.9mX1.45m carpet, which opens up a non-hierarchical and playful space not just for Kai and Philip, but colleagues and friends from their respective worlds and beyond to dialogue. With ADHD and mind wandering as starting points, we catalyse discussions about how we (mis)understand 0the mind, and minds that are different to ours, and what the boundaries of illness and wellness are.
While the project had only started in September 2017, it is starting to create impact on micro/personal levels, as well as on an epistemological level, to our respective sectors and beyond. When Kai and Philip were invited to PsychArt 2017, an annual conference celebrating psychiatry, the arts and creativity that is supported by the Royal College of Psychiatry, #MagicCarpet generated excitement from medical students, trainee psychiatrists, arts workers and service users. As PsychArt is a #chosepsychiatry drive, our involvement helped to inspire the students to consider specialising in psychiatry. #MagicCarpet is inspiring acceptance and understanding. After her presentation at the Third Museums for Health and Wellbeing conference at the Thinktank in Birmingham, an art curator approached her to talk about his son’s ADHD, and he is now openly discussing ADHD in his work. Researchers at the SGDP reading group discuss papers exploring the positive aspects of ADHD, and not just its deficits. A research worker sought our advice on using art and storytelling in their research on depression, and is holding her own exhibition, the Soul Relics Museum, for the first time. A co-founder of Exeter-based Documental Theatre who has previously worked in the NHS sought our feedback on an inventive arts programme set in barber shops, designed to help men talk about their mental health. The inaugural launch of tapestry was held at the iconic Art Worker’s Guild in late April, and the event included a debate and live art demonstrations, with British Sign Language interpretation provision. Accessible and dynamic, the programme generated great interest in the 87 attendees, with members of the public and arts workers alike flocking to Philip before, during and after the events to enquire about ADHD and brain function. Come May, #MagicCarpet will feature in the Innovators’ Showcase at NESTA’s The Future of People Powered Health, which will be attended by 500 health and policy professionals. In June, we will run a ‘speed-dating’ event at the South London Gallery, and conduct a workshop with local school children, including those with ADHD, as part of the Arts in Mind Festival. In September, #MagicCarpet will showcase at the Southbank Centre, SEND Network Conference (organised by Museum of London with The National Gallery, which has over 150 members of museum and heritage practitioners) as well as the 5th European Network for Hyperkinetic Disorder International Conference in Edinburgh.
BADGES, DRAWINGS, ILLUSTRATIONS
Apart from tapestry, there are other exciting, associated outputs. As mind wandering is universal but invisible, we designed a set of badges that people can wear to ‘out’ themselves as ‘mind wanderers’. The badges have quirky slogans, like ‘Mind Wanderer Overboard’, which is inspired by the ‘Baby On Board’ badges that pregnant women wear on the London Underground. People we interact with in our daily lives earn badges. Bright and big, the badges allow these people to in turn talk to yet other strangers, friends and family about their mind wandering. So far, we have given out 150 badges, including children who like to collect all designs. Through this ripple effect, we estimate that have reached 150-500 people. We have also collected 70 drawings by people from different sectors and backgrounds about their mind wandering from various events, such as from psychiatrists and service users during the 2017 UK Adult ADHD Network Congress sessions. We are thus building a lexicon that externalises what our minds picture when we daydream. In addition, Kai interviewed the Centre of Mental Health’s CEO for an film commissioned by Economic Social Research Council. This was at the invitation of ESRC Mental Health Leadership Fellow, professor Louise Arseneault. Kai and Philip both appear on a film funded by the pan-European training network MiND. In both films, Kai talks about how ADHD sends her mind to overdrive, while also affords her a non-linear approach and risk-taking sensibility. Both films will be widely-distributed, reaching social scientists and young people, amongst others, within and beyond the UK. We published a photo essay on Disability Arts Online, which has 10,000 unique users monthly. Highlighting the invisibility of neurodiversity in women in public discourse, the essay is the platform’s top 10 editorial pieces, and each of the 458 users spent more than 5.23 minutes on the article, which is higher than the site-average of 1.42 minutes. Another article targeting psychiatrists and psychologists has been published on the EU-funded Mind the Gap blog. Forthcoming articles include one in the National Attention Deficit Disorder Information & Support Service (ADDISS) newsletter which is read by individuals and families affected by ADHD as well as researchers and health providers in this area. Kai has also helped to widen accessibility of Philip’s research through art. An example is the design of posters and coasters to improve compliance from young prisoners with ADHD, as part of a £1,397,685.00 project at HM Prison Isis.
WHO BENEFITS FROM WHAT WE DO
Our audiences and participants include researchers and practitioners in, and fans of: psychiatry, ADHD, contemporary art, health, creative health, psychology, culture, policy, theatre, architecture, therapy, SEN education. Their age range from 5 through to 70. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive not just about the artistic quality of the project but its skilful choreography of people together from different sectors and disciplines together:
#MagicCarpet’s celebration of difference and pursuit of diversity is reflected in the people and organisations it works with. The project is a commission by Unlimited, which supports disabled artists making ambitious work. It was one of 6 winners of Unlimited’s 2017 Main Commission Award. It is also part of the King's Artists’ programme, supported by Cultural Programming and the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London.
Dr Kai Syng Tan FRSA SFHEA has an emerging profile as an artist-researcher who catalyses or energises exchanges between the academy and the creative arts industry. #MagicCarpet draws on her pioneering work in running as a creative discourse, which has been praised by the Guardian (2014) and featured on BBC Radio Three’s Free Thinking (2017). #MagicCarpet is also informed by her work in critical disability (as as Visual Director and Communications Director for the opening and closing ceremonies of the ASEAN Para Games 2015), artistic practice (since 1994, with permanent collections in Museum of London and Fukuoka Art Museum), as well as teaching and mentorship (since 1998 in Singapore, Tokyo, Sydney and London). She attained her PhD from the Slade School of Fine Art and is a PsychArt’s Advisor. Professor Philip Asherson, MB, BS, MRCPsych, PhD is Professor of Psychiatry at the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre, King’s College London in the United Kingdom. Current research projects include investigations of the neural basis of mind wandering in ADHD, clinical trials of prisoners with ADHD, and the impact of ADHD on learning in University students. He is the author and co-author of more than 300 articles and book chapters on ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disorders and traits. As a world authority on adult ADHD, Philip has appeared in all major media platforms, including BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind and BBC One’s Horizon. The rest of the #MagicCarpet team members and volunteers hail from Sweden, Malaysia, Italy, Singapore, Russia and Yorkshire. The producer and photographer are young women, the public engagement events are signed by two female BAME British Sign Language interpreters. Volunteers have included service users, and students in the fields of psychology, psychiatry and art-science. Drawing sessions and hospitality are led by a mature student who worked at the NHS for twenty years, and a disabled 22-year old female.
#MagicCarpet’s partners are Headway East London and UK Adult ADHD Network, while collaborators include Professor Gisli Gudjonsson CBE (forensic psychologist whose testimony overturned the convictions of the Guildford Four, and is now interested in creativity in ADHD), Studio LW (two female furniture artisans), Dr Cecilia Wee (ArtsAdmin), Dr David Grant (educational psychologist), and Professor Andrew Stahl (UCL Slade), Art Assassins (a group of young people aged 14-20 years old) and Ruth Garde (curator who previously worked for the Wellcome Trust for 16 years).
#MagicCarpet has the potential to help to impact future care and prevention, by improving how ADHD and mental wellbeing are represented and imagined, and by contributing to current discourse on how ADHD and neurodiversity relate to creativity.
We will seek further funding from Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. We aim to tour #MagicCarpet nationally and internationally. We will also co-author an illustrated book on mind wandering and brain function. Aimed at the general audience, we will distribute the book widely so that it reaches underrepresented groups.
We will launch a network that brings together researchers, practitioners and professionals in, and fans of visual art (broadly defined) and ADHD, as well as related fields including creative health, neurodevelopmental conditions, neurodiversity, critical medical humanities, interdisciplinary and cross-sectorial collaboration. We imagine this as a positive, creative and dynamic space to share, learn, test out ideas, explore, discuss and co-create.
We also wish to replicate the ‘productive antagonisms’ that have benefitted our collaboration. We want to ‘matchmake’ a pilot cohort of arts professionals and researchers, including those on the neurodiverse spectrum, to create high-quality practice and/via new interactions with colleagues in psychiatry or creative health. Professor Helen Chatterjee, who is also Founder of the National Alliance for Museums, Health and Wellbeing, has agreed to join us. We will co-develop with participants a creative approaches to measure health. This draws on from Prof Chatterjee’s existing toolkits from the Alliance, as well as creative arts industry practices. The Science Gallery, which opens at the end of 2018, is a collaborator. The scheme culminates in an art exhibition.
We will also co-supervise an EU-funded European Training Network PhD student researching the dissemination and public understanding of science of ADHD and mental health through creative practice. The project partner is Sense about Science, which challenges the misrepresentation of science
‘Thanks so much for hosting such a positive, intriguing and productive event […]. I think you achieved something very usual - a genuinely diverse and progressive format for people to express their thoughts. Great work. I also really enjoyed your slightly meandering approach to mediation! Somehow both provocative and reassuring at once. [My partner] said it was the best thing she'd ever been to of its type.’ — Collaborator Ben Platts Mills, author and Director of Development, Headway East London (charity for people affected by brain injury)
‘Fantastic to be involved #MagicCarpet @wesatonamat discussing mind wandering & ADHD.’ – Collaborator Professor Helen Chatterjee MBE, Advisor for All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing
‘I really enjoyed it. Great to get immersed in the discussions about art, mind wandering, neurodiversity, accessibility and the rest, and what a fantastic panel. The place was buzzing.’ — Dr Sarah Holme, editor of ADDISS newsletter and science communicator
‘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
‘Please keep creating awareness!’ –Anusha Ramji
For our recent launch and debate, one audience member said: ‘Loved it loved it loved it. Felt at home (underlined twice). So Happy! :)’. 100% of the feedback agreed or strongly agreed to questions: ‘The event was useful to my research/professional development and/or interest’ and ‘This event has challenged my understanding of how artists and scientists work together, and/or my own body and mind and that of others that are different to mine’. Asked to name the highlights of the evening, audiences said ‘Meeting people the same as me - I am not alone!!! :)’, ‘‘Engagement with audience’, ‘debate’, ‘being introduced to different concepts and different ways of seeing things’, ‘The conversation was great’, ‘The artists to speak to, the speakers and the debate’, ‘Atmosphere’, ‘Diversity of definitions’, ‘Speakers’ ‘Contents’, ‘Discussing art practice + ADHD + a neuro-normative art market world’, ‘Discussing education - barriers faced by people with ADHD’, ‘Science-neuro-diverse-art’. Audiences appreciated the productive antagonisms and gained new insights: ‘Thank you for bringing us all together’, ‘I have gained a better understanding of what the possibilities are and the constraints that our society constructs place on us’, ‘A really engaging and interesting and thought provoking evening!’, ‘Well done!’, ‘I thought this was a very interesting evening and a very interesting discussion on both embracing and the definition of neurodiversity to different people’, ‘You are great!’, ‘I enjoyed everything’, ‘Keep doing more events. Thank you.’
The project has also positively impacted our own team members and funders:
‘Rich, layered, detailed, worked, overworked and a perfect example of #creativecase where #ADHD is no barrier but instead a creative impetus. We can’t wait to see the full tapestry unveiled!’ – Jo Verrent, Senior Producer, Unlimited
‘Incredible work here from @kaisyngtan as her @weareunltd tapestry commission @wesatonamat #MagicCarpet is literally woven into being. Fascinating piece & process with layer upon layer of image and meaning #mindwandering.’ – Unlimited. 2018.
‘The project is a very exciting and innovative integration of art and science and functions as a wonderful platform for the clinical and scientific community to develop an interesting dialogue with Kai, and to find new, exciting and innovative ways to communicate the science of ADHD through her art.’ — Professor of Psychiatry Philip Asherson, King’s College London.
‘The artists of Headway East London always benefit from collaborating with other artists and professionals. It gives them the opportunity to tell their story and share ideas. They in particular love the opportunity of showcasing their talents and nothing better than engaging in a workshop in which to do this. […] [W]e feel that it will be great platform for the artists to share their thoughts about mind wandering and what that might mean to them in particular since their brain injury.’ — Michelle Carlile, Submit to Love art studio Manager, Headway East London
‘Thanks […] for being able to gather so many different people and create such a proactive, engaging and safe environment for people from all disciplines to be part of the conversation (yesterday I spoke with NHS people, academics, poets, theatre-makers, students….).’ — Alessandra Cianetti, producer and curator, who is also #MagicCarpet’s Arts Production Manager