2019 has been a game changer.
I saw the year in with the mighty NUNO (Neither Use Nor Ornament) project, the culmination of two Arts Council England awards to research neurodivergent (ND) leadership whilst delivering a stunning group exhibition in March with some of my favourite people on the planet. This is the beauty of self-led projects, people! You can catch all the action and the artists’ work here.
I’m so thankful to all of the artists for their creative work on NUNO. Susan Kruse, Hugh Pryor, Katherine May, Naomi Morris and Sonja Zelić, also contributed majorly behind the scenes.
I’m also grateful to have had the most wonderful local partners for NUNO at Arts at the Old Fire Station (AOFS) and OVADA, which enabled me to deliver something truly ambitious accessibly. A big thank you especially to Sarah Mossop and Lucy Philips on this score. I’m delighted to be a supported artist at AOFS, and associated artist at OVADA.
Another huge shout out to my WEBworks mentors Miranda Millward and Sarah Mossop is in order – they moved mountains for NUNO and worked so flexibly around my needs. Miranda is now engaged in groundbreaking work at the Iffley Academy School, Oxford, featured in the Durham Commission Report, and also developing her own art practice. I watch with excitement and awe! You can find her beautiful collage work on Instagram @scissorspaperpaste
NUNO succeeded in creating an authentic model for working across neurological types – a particular passion of mine – and I’ve been delighted to continue developing aspects of this model in collaboration with Birmingham Open Media (BOM), both on the Propellor Project and in supporting a new intake of ND Fellows. It’s been hugely rewarding to provide consultancy for funding bids, and to be part of a team invited to seek further funding. Props to Karen Newman, Chloe Lawson and Louise Latter. Watch this space!
A family crisis in mid May listed this freelancer’s ship for a while. I’ve had to work out how to keep work and a creative practice afloat when life takes over. It’s been a work in progress, much assisted by the help and understanding of my colleagues and collaborators – so a very heartfelt thank you to you all! I feel privileged to be involved in so many projects with a caring ethos.
My film commission for the AHRC funded Playing A/Part Project is now fully underway as I edit footage taken in the academic year 2018-2019 at Limpsfield Grange School. I’m so grateful to Professor Shaughnessy and Shaun May at the University of Kent for opportunities to showcase both aspects of NUNO, and Playing A/Part works in progress.
I couldn’t have predicted it but the impact of Playing A/Part on my own practice has been seismic, spawning a new creative project called This Mirror of Mine. My research into Arts Council Funding now includes a Developing Your Creative Practice (DYCP) application, which I’ve begun documenting on my new A-N blog and Instagram. This has set off my social justice antenna and I’m keen to highlight that the 10% success rate for DYCP applications which is almost half of the 2015 success rate for applicants to Oxbridge.
I’ve blogged that applying for DYCP is of professional development value in and of itself. As an artist it’s an opportunity to design the perfect ‘strings-free’ project and to engage in ambitious thinking. In seeking endorsements you may find your best self reflected, which can be incredibly affirming. I’m so grateful to Jeremy Spafford, Director of AOFS, for such empowering words and for telling me what I didn’t myself know.
‘Her generous, collaborative and assertive engagement with us has made a big difference to how we work.”
The opportunity to take up an A-N Travel Bursary to the Istanbul Biennial in September was a particular bright spot. Being invited on the A-N Artists Council delegation proved both huge fun and inspiring. To say that I met the best people would be an undersell, but I don’t want to sound like the ‘orange peril’ so I’ll leave it there! I loved it all. So huge thanks to all the artists on this trip, especially the Istanbul Rebels and my partner in queue jumping – you know who you are! Such trips are a joy and a precious resource. I’m going to sound greedy but, more of this in 2020 please!
Istanbul was followed by my appointment to the A-N Board, a huge honour and truly humbling all at once. I’m excited to take on this role with such a diverse and prestigious team. I’m in it to learn and to contribute to the max! Props to A-N, and to the brilliant Julie Lomax for personally providing accommodations for my participation at Board meetings.
In November Instituto Cervantes, London, commemorated the 80th anniversary of Spanish exile in the UK, and I was thrilled to be invited to present some of my work to an audience deeply invested in this history as either a family member of an exile, or a specialist on the subject (often both!) This wonderful event proved a catalyst to create my own commemorative act of reviewing and showcasing (as an Instagram story) six years of practice responding to this subject as both a family member and specialist. I can’t recommend this type of review enough! So much good has come from it, including finding exciting new artists working on the Spanish Civil War, and gaining new insight into my practice. I’m invigorated and inspired, and I’ve been enabled to renew my commitment to the memory of the exiles.
My ongoing collaboration with the Shadowlight artist Richard Hunt received a major shot in the arm as the Shadowlight group celebrated their 10th anniversary with a major new Arts Council England award for LUMINOUS, their most ambitious project to date! Huge congratulations to the Shadowlights, and bring on 2020!
It was a 2019 highlight to meet the fabulous Dr Dawn-Joy Leong and Peter Sau on a British Council funded delegation from Singapore in late November. The three of us talked so enthusiastically in my freezing studio that we forgot to sit down, and I never quite made it to the kettle despite many offers of hot drinks. We then processed to FILMOxford for further talks with the Shadowlights. I could live from the incandescent glow of this meeting for quite some time and look forward to continuing our conversation remotely.
As I look back on this year I’m happy to have come through some tough times and succeeded in keeping the wheels on the freelance bus without dropping the quality or commitment of my engagement with the many strands of my practice, despite some truly wobbly patches. The game’s changed because I now add carer to the list of my responsibilities, and because the Conservative Party has just won a majority in parliament. The challenges of keeping a creative and socially engaged practice going just got greater, but this also means that it is more needed, which spurs me on.
I’ve ended my year with a new project idea to connect ND creatives nationally, called Beacon. The project is still forming as I write, but it will happen! Watch out for some heartwarming community action, signalling identity and hope in 2020! I’m indebted to Sonja Zelić and Dan Thompson for helping me develop this idea.
I want to conclude my review by saying that there are things I hope to do better but some things which will forever remain works in progress. As an autistic person it is difficult to generate the social glue that cements both personal and professional relationships. Yet relationships are vital to ensuring freelance work continues to flow. I want to thank all of those people who meet me half way, and who don’t mind when I’m absent for months on end only to turn up in their lives at random with the latest bright idea! It’s the in-between stuff I find so difficult, and when people get this I can be my best self. When I’m with you I’m with you 100%.
A final heartfelt shout out goes to Binita Walia my A-N Istanbul twin, who is also my top online engager this year. Thank you all for your support over the year and for reading my review!