I’m Sarah Evelyn Marsh, an artist from Manchester, UK. I received a Travel Bursary to explore and develop a strand of my practice that I find interesting, frustrating, inspiring, emotive and thought-provoking all at the same time! I feel like I firstly need to set the scene…
In 2014, I piloted the first autism-friendly session at Manchester Art Gallery as a freelance artist and educator. This project was called Open doors, a monthly sensory-led session that I ran until April 2017. Consequently, I worked closely with the learning curator at Tate Liverpool to implement autism-friendly sessions that continue to run alongside the holiday programme.
As an artist, I’ve come to realise my broad artistic practice is sensory-led, most obvious outputs for this being the interactive installations and objects I design, and there’s no doubt that my work with Open doors influenced the changes I made in Manchester Art Gallery’s Clore Art Studio, that I co-curated from 2013 – 16.
But further back than that, my choice of materials is sensory provocative, I have a need to engage with the viewer through objects, narration and materials. I encourage the viewer to become the participator and this feeds into my work as an educator. My first exhibition upon leaving university in 2003 was a huge installation of wires that I’d handmade into abstract yet mathematical structures. The wires had been treated in different types of bleach and vinegars to distress and discolour them. The structure was suspended from a 60ft heigh ceiling, in an old train warehouse in Manchester, I lit the sculpture from within by a single, bare bulb. During the day I would stand back and watch with curiosity how people interacted with the wire; the smells omitting from the decaying metal, the fragility of the hair-like web that moved gently in the old warehouse cool air. I was transfixed when the viewer became bathed in the shadows of the sculptural space, themselves becoming part of the work. It was called, ‘Listen to the silence‘, I now realise how important this piece was to my future work.
A desire to deepen my knowledge and understanding of working with children with Autism was almost accidental, yet I find myself wanting to dig a little deeper and connect a little more. My practice as an artist and educator is highly sensitive and I believe this compliments working with groups to enhance inclusiveness.
I came into this ‘autism-friendly realm’ as an artist, with some previous experience of working with children with Autism and Aspergers in schools and galleries, but I’m not an expert. My journey is a constant learning curve, an experimental process and I realised at the beginning of this year that I needed space in this process to stop. And reflect.