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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.