On Friday, I had the supreme experience of handling (with plastic gloves) Felicia’s Browne’s Sketchbook 3, which spans from 1925-1936. It contains her drawings from Spain from very the first days of the outbreak of the civil war.
For those who don’t know, Felicia is the artist I am currently working on a project about called, Through An Artist’s Eye.
I could have called this post, The Wrong Tate, for though I’ve worked with the digital archive team at Tate Britain on their short film about Felicia’s archive and obviously knew an archive visit should take place at that Tate, a curious thing happened.
More information is needed to explain this. Embarking on this project has meant an application for ACE funding, which has led to interesting results. I’m coming up against the deadline for submission, whilst simultaneously preparing to hang a show of other works. As is often the case, a previous third project has sparked back into life, yielding new exciting research. The correspondence alone for all three projects has been beyond belief. I have also been on a gallery visit and down to London twice this week.
What happens to an autistic brain when so much activity converges is called overload. In my case this means early morning waking as my brain signals “alert” time to my body. 4 am or earlier is the witching hour at which processing seems to be at it’s height. I experience both clarity of thought and anxiety about the unresolved. An intensely practical aspect of brain function, details of outstanding issues crowd my thoughts – so and so hasn’t thought about how to hang that awkwardly mounted signage for the gallery, so and so is owed an email…
Literally, it seems that all the nuances I have not been able to follow up in the moment the day before snap into focus well before dawn.
I’m beginning to appreciate how useful this is, but obviously it can lead to trouble the next day and beyond (if it carries on for too long) due to sleep deprivation.
SO after very little solid sleep I headed to London and enjoyed (my treat to myself having traveled on a bus service the previous day) a quiet coach on a GWR train to Paddington. Emails flooded in and I was able to feel glad of my choices – news and connections, planning and troubleshooting were carried out in the luxury of silence with an excellent wifi connection.
But what had happened to the part of my brain that knew Felicia’s archive is at Tate Britain? Something about all this activity damped my connection to it in the moment and my body memory stepped in – I am a far more frequent visitor to Tate Britain. Before I knew it I was approaching the Turbine Hall entrance and looking forward to catching some shows after my archive visit.
Within minutes a phone call from my dear friend and collaborator who’d just received my text announcing my arrival at the Turbine entrance. “Sonia…are you at Tate Modern?” She tactfully enquired.
AND..of course the whole body memory thing dissolved and I was able to register instantly my mistake. Further details had passed me by – such as a letter or bank statement verifying my address and a further official identification were needed for entry to the archive. I would also be late for our appointment. I wont go into too much detail about a super kind suggestion that I get on the nearest tube station and quickest route, leading to me getting lost and meeting with total tech failure with my smartphone GPS. Why did it insist on repeatedly giving me a route to somewhere in France…very mysterious.
What I have registered deeply into my consciousness is that I should never attempt to take a new route when there’s no time to process. I resolved the issue by backing up and found to my delight that I could work it out by my own means as long as I traveled from the station I had arrived at. This is why familiarity is a real friend.
I was outside St Paul’s when an incident occurred. From the corner of my eye I observed an elderly woman fall with a crash into the main road where all the buses pass. I have been told before that I am very good in a crisis. This I now believe is a feature of my autistic brain. Planning and multi-tasking can be hugely challenging but focus, especially on the immediate is a strength. I’ve also realised something else is at play – we are actually wired for crisis. An innate sensitivity to perceived danger of any kind is acute.
Without my knowing it, and despite other rescuers (working together to lift the woman out of danger) I found myself at her upper body, close to her head, and as we lifted and turned her our faces met. You’re going to be okay, I told her, we’ve got you.
One, two, three, she breathed and looked deeply into my eyes, shocked but rallying. Once she was upright, I found it was me who checked her over, asked where she was going, established she was with her husband (also shocked) and didn’t leave them until I felt they would be okay.
Everything shifted for me in that moment – my journey to Tate Britain felt important but not as crucial as being present and connecting with this elderly couple in their moment of need. The secretary who sometimes sit’s in my brain decided to kick in – suddenly I was organising the scanning of documents to be emailed to my mobile phone and when I eventually made it (after various circuits of Tate Britain) to the archive, I was able to breeze in with the necessary ID.
I’m writing this story here, rather than in my neuro blog, The Other Side, because it relates to my earlier posts about ACE funding applications.
This is what I mean when I talk about the requirements to handle cognitive load, complex planning and linear thought processes making the current funding application format fundamentally inaccessible – despite access arrangements.
To make the analogy – as it stands it is like being asked to process a new route endlessly when the available technology attempts to direct you to an address in France.
It turned out to be one hell of a day. The archive is terrific, and working in such an environment brought back memories of my history of art degree all those decades ago. Extraordinary then that I should see and recognise a woman from my course back then, in the ladies loo next to the archive! Now a curator, she is almost entirely unchanged and as fresh faced as when she was 18. It felt incredibly right that she should be there somehow.
This is the kind of thing which often starts to happen to me when I step out of a space which is shaped by the usual constraints of time defined by clock or calendar and become more attuned to sensation and emotional priorities.
Even a cup of tea in the cafe later wasn’t without shades of my Sussex days. One house I lived in got horribly infested with mice as the vegetarians among us objected to the mice being purged. The situation got desperately out of control and incidents, I can’t relate, engendered in me a rodent phobia that remains to this day.
Imagine then the scene when my dear collaborator spotted a mouse scurrying across the cafe floor. A collective gasp could be heard and I found myself (again body memory) perched up on my bench, as in a classic cartoon reaction to the presence of a mouse.
Fuelled by the riches of the day, I eventually staggered to my train and entered the ACE portal for another look over my application. Tomorrow, Monday, I must press submit, hoping not to be directed to the wrong address in France by the technology available. I’ve worked so hard at this but I know that my brain is not ever going to be the right shape to fit the form.