I made a flying visit to Margate to attend the Turner Prize Preview for A-N on Friday, a not insubstantial journey from Oxford!

Arriving early to preview ‘Quartet’, an exhibition at the Lombard Gallery featuring two A-N artist members (and one outgoing Board member!), I stepped off the train to THAT view. The heavens opened and my pitiful new umbrella (at £4.99) snapped in the first 2 minutes of the attempt to withstand the squally gusts from the Atlantic.

Margate imposes itself immediately. My third visit and I’m still swooning, instantly in love with the seafront and street furniture redolent of my beloved San Sebastian.

I made my way to the Lombard Gallery as in a further 2 minutes the skies had cleared. You don’t need Google maps in Margate. Just head to the Turner Contemporary and then dodge into the gorgeous streets and lanes to your right. The pleasure is in sniffing your way.

Quartet features A-N artist member Dan Thompson’s ‘Your England’, an ACE funded  “year-long journey to find Englishness in unlikely places, writing 100 poems along the way’. A-N artist member Dawn Cole shows a series of prints entitled ‘End of Day’ which document years of printmaking and the ritual of creating prints from her cleaning rags. Paintings by Tracey Thompson and Graham Ward complete the Quartet. It’s a rich offer and I spent at lot of time talking to Dan in particular about his object art practice. A-N has connected us, and now I would like to feature Dan on the Museum for Object Research, which began life on A-N!

Dan also introduced me to some of the local network. I visited the Pie Factory and got a real sense of a thriving and active community of artists in Margate. It is enviable for an Oxford based artist (where we struggle for showing spaces) to see so many local openings to show works, including empty shops. The Turner Prize off-site programme is alive and kicking.

So on to the main event! Dan and I arrived before the hoards but it soon filled up. What I loved was how good the relationship between the Turner Contemporary and the local arts scene felt. Dan introduced me to TC curator Fiona Parry, and we quickly fell into a conversation about accessible seating for the 1 hour and 39 mins long film by Helen Cammock. Having missed this access issue in my recent ACE funded #NUNOproject, I could totally get on board with how vital it is to get these details right.

As the TC entrance space began to swell with bodies and sound we were joined by Dawn Cole, and we hung back by the shop area so that we could still talk above the cacophony of voices echoing around us. At some point I peeled away to see the works! Surely this was what I had come for?

I can’t view when there is a lot of noise, Dawn had said earlier when I asked if she’d like to view it with me. As I made my way through the throngs (sorry, sorry, sorry I intoned) I began to see Dawn’s point. Finally threading my way up the stairs to the galleries I hit the Oscar Murillo installation (or rather it hit me) in somewhat of a daze. A stuffy smell, the sensation of heat, a prickling claustrophobia, the sense of having stumbled on something I don’t understand. I am a child in a stuffy school hall, viewing a strange assembly or congregation. The smell I decide is coming from the figures, I notice the thick impasto painting on the black drapes. The chink of Margate sky Murillo has allowed in this otherwise blocked out (and seriously famous) view. I haven’t had time to do my homework, I don’t know what this work is about and the noise from the crowds (plus Preview music) is unbearable. I decide to move on and return on a quiet day. Murillo deserves more than this.

I think I probably love this work, I love the darkness and the sense of ritual, and the fact that it spooks me! I couldn’t have processed this in the moment. It is only through writing my experience that I can unpick it.

From this moment I am simply feeling my way. The usual signposts of gallery viewing fall away in the noise and the crowds. It’s not possible to view the quieter pieces, the pieces that require a depth of concentration, and there are too many other visitors occupying seats for film works to be accessible. I miss Lawrence Abu Hamdan entirely (I will return) – I just can’t locate the work amidst the hubbub.

I find and appreciate ‘Shouting in Whispers’ a series of hand pulled screen prints by Helen Cammock, I can see that there are rich layers on offer here but I don’t dive in. It is impossible in these circumstances.  So I push on through to Tai Shani’s immersive installation. A gallery attendant hands me a headset, suddenly I am removed from the pain of coping with the auditory onslaught and treated to melodious sounds. The lighting is dim and this soothes me. I begin to notice detail and the brightest of jewels pop out at me. This is an environment I’d like to explore though I’m ambivalent about the pink blancmange elements.  Reluctantly I leave this space after 5 minutes. I need to give it more time (I need to read and understand more what it is about). It has to be more than respite for me to make up my mind.

As I catch the tail end of the speeches and politely push my way back through the throngs I reflect that I don’t yet have a favourite, though Oscar and Helen pull at my heartstrings.

I find myself standing next to Dawn who introduces me to the Director of TC, Victoria Pomery.  What a friendly network this is!

As I head for the station I reflect that of course Previews are never about viewing the art. As an autistic person this never ceases to amaze me, but I’m coming to understand the great importance of chatting to people. I do enjoy it when its accessible – and people being friendly makes all the difference.

This experience has given me some ideas about how to manage very busy Previews from a sensory perspective, and I will write more about this in future posts.



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Eva Kotátkova’s ‘Machine for Restoring Empathy’ installation.

An autistic delegate’s perspective

What must it be like to trust the universe to keep you upright? What is the cause of neurodivergent anxiety? These seemingly unconnected questions ricochet inside my head as I try to distil the peculiarities of being an autistic delegate for AN at the Istanbul Biennial 2019.

I’ve decided not to be ashamed of almost missing my flight. Not because my reasons are glamorous. They are not. A brain which snatches at an association to remember a gate number, yet switches allusion (and number) at will, is not to be trusted with number, clearly.

What must it be like to live in world where numbers don’t dance about and taunt you with their slippery ways? Sitting at the wrong gate sure that you are at the right gate would not be a thing. But we shall move on. Ever present and counterbalancing anxiety (in actual fact a friend in such contexts) creates a system of checks and balances. The problem actually is if you relax.

Running is a thing. Rennies to counter heartburn are a thing. Combined they ensure my passage to Istanbul. I arrive in one piece, the person who has organised a group taxi for my fellow delegates. I am the consummate organised professional (because I have to be).

Yes, I have decided to lay myself bare.

On the whole this works as a strategy for me. The more I open out about my neurodivergence the more empowered I become. Anxiety powers my professionalism, and of course I am not alone. Not burying myself in shame (the shaming of our perceived ‘weaknesses’ is pernicious and endemic) enables others to be open. This is not just about the ‘autistic spectrum’ – we have to believe in a ‘human spectrum’. In my view anyone worth knowing can engage with this idea.

I’m tempted to say this works in the arts, but I know it doesn’t always. It can be very costly to ‘unmask’ oneself (you can see some of my very recent ACE funded research on just this topic here)

This means something important happened, and my key take out about this awesome AN delegation is not the incredible locations (such as Büyükada Island) or my top artist picks (details below).

What artists like me need to know is that we can trust the welcome in any given opportunity. Is it genuine or token? Will we be enabled or disabled by it?

What I most want to say about my experiences in Istanbul is that AN is an exceptional organisation with regard to access and enablement, in my view. My sincere gratitude to all my fellow delegates for all your support (both witting and unwitting) – you made inclusion possible for me without even knowing it in many cases, just by being awesome.  The best enablement flows from relational acceptance – and in this regard my neurodivergent cup floweth over. Gracias AN, de corazón.


Top artist picks: Eva Kotátkova, Simon Fujiwara, Turiya Magadlela, Haegue Yang, Rashid Johnson, & Piotr Uklański.