Hello,

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.


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Another accidental, life changing event happened at Manchester Art Gallery in 2011. Whilst running a drop-in weekend workshop I noticed a woman quietly observing from the edge. On approaching and inviting her to join in, she introduced herself as the Learning Curator for a gallery in Gdansk, Poland, who was researching new ways of working. We briefly chatted about our approaches to gallery education and, never wanting to miss an opportunity, we exchanged contact details. Fast forward 5 months and I find myself in Gdansk, running workshops at Łaznia CCA funded by the British Council and later in the year having supper with Gilbert and George! (this really is another story). But with these lines of communication open I ensured they never closed and have subsequently been back to develop other experimental workshops with the public of Gdansk and beyond.

Not only have these opportunities allowed me to share my practice and interchange knowledge with others, they have provided a space for me to reflect on what I find important in art and have developed an awareness of creative communication; how does my practice and ideas translate within a different country, without speaking the language?(more on that later).

I made contact with Ania Meronk late last year and shared the work and research I’d been developing with Manchester Art Gallery and Tate Liverpool. Earlier this year I was invited to present my ideas and practice at the Why and How? conference at the Royal Academy of Arts, and Ania was able to attend as a participant.

And this is where the Travel Bursary comes in, with it I was able to set up the sensory-inspired project, Space in the Process; a 6 week residency, co-curated by myself and Ania Meronk, Head of Education, Laznia II, Nowy Port, Gdansk, Poland. I worked with families local to the area and together we explored handmade sensory objects and environments, that bonded us through actions and non-verbal language. The next posts will guide you through the processes we all went through


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