…allowing (my son) to explore the space as he wanted meant that his anxiety levels decreased. Parents reflections of Open doors 2016

…we cannot ‘know’ the space or make quick assumptions. In this way it remains a space that invites curious minds.’ Ian Whadcock, Senior Lecturer on the BA(Hons) Illustration with Animation Manchester School of Art discussing ‘Pattern installation’, Clore Art Studio 2015, Manchester Art Gallery. Designed by myself and Jessica Wild.

My understanding of the importance of the right space and the impact a space can have on a persons (child’s) engagement, meant I knew where to focus my attentions first. With a week to prepare for the six-week project, I spent time in the grounds of the gallery where ‘Space in the process’ would take place; connecting to the surrounding area and becoming aware of the daily sounds, smells and other textures of life. With so many distracting noises coming from the nearby tram stop, the passing cars and the school next door, I wondered if it would be over-stimulating and possibly stressful for some of the families. But this wasn’t the case; by creating engaging, sensory interventions and concealed mini spaces within the natural environment, the children and adults felt safe, protected and relaxed, this created deeper levels of engagement and interaction as the project progressed. As with anything process-led, it’s an experiment, and there were moments where the set-up or materials just didn’t work too well, but these times were important for the group to experience so we could develop our understanding of each other and continually build on our new found language, inviting the group to take ownership of the space and future sessions and projects.

In these environments we explored themes; connections, concealment, colour, construction and play. We engaged with constructed installations, the outside environment and the spaces around our bodies. Dens were made from fabrics, cardboard and other materials with interesting textures and sounds, sometimes these ‘dens’ were just pieces of fabric that you rolled your body into. A popular space was a small hut we built from large cardboard sheets. Suitable for one person, this space invited it’s occupier to lie on the soft velvet, lavender filled cushions and listen to the echoing sounds that reverberated off the walls from a handheld speaker which would be held to a stomach or cheek, the vibrations creating space within their own bodies. Whilst lying in this cardboard shell, children liked to bang on the walls and listen to the sounds they created, (this reminded me of a young girl who came to Open doors and would sit in a large green plastic tub, holding your arm she would knock it on the sides of the tub, the echoes and vibrations made her so happy!) This small space became a sanctuary for some children. A mother commented on the calming effect it had on her son who was, ‘always running, always watching TV, never just ‘being’.

One rainy afternoon, we took the installation inside and shone an overhead projector through clear acetate, (I’ve named this the projection hammock). Children lay underneath on fabrics and cushions and looked up; placed on the hammock were colourful acetate shapes and mesh fabrics, the light cast shadows and colours over the mesmerised children. This space could be experienced by a group of children at the same time and they didn’t seem to mind sharing it, something that can be tricky for a child with autism.

The spaces we created were experiences for the families, they were interactive and sensory and full of ideas that could be taken home and reimagined. On our final day a parent revealed they had tailored their summer holidays to the needs of their sons’ obsession with lifts (elevators). Destined for Stockholm, they’d been researching the most interesting buildings and lifts in the city; they will view the city through the eyes of their child, they will visit the places he feels most safe in and by doing so the family will get to share a unique experience together. I can’t wait to hear how it went!


Making objects that you can touch, move, smell or even ‘wear’, has been a growing element of my practice. Space in the process, provided the perfect opportunity to explore the benefits these objects may have on a child with autism, whilst providing time to create!

I knew I wanted the project to encompass a fusion of education, design, fashion and play, and I wanted to create handmade objects that would become part of the projects’ pedagogy. I’ve always loved working with textiles, and with help from my assistant on the project, Monika, I found an Aladdin’s cave of colours and textures just a short train ride away in Gdansk.

An added bonus were Monika’s passion for design and seamstress skills! Our combined enthusiasm and love for experimental design was the perfect match, we understood what the other meant when describing unconventional ideas and we both developed an acute awareness of the sensory benefits of the objects we made during the project. We developed a range of designs including items that were wearable and helped you view the word in different way. Our aim was to create elements that provided a sense of security and safety for the children, safe spaces for their bodies.

For a number of years I’ve been making sculptural ‘lines’ from fabric, stuffing and wire. These tactile and malleable structures were initially part of an interactive artwork for Tate Liverpool’s Wolfson Gallery, 2014 as part of the Palle Nielsen exhibition; The Model, which documented how kids ruled the Moderna Museet in Stockholm for three weeks in October 1968 through transcripts, photographs and film. My interactive space was positioned alongside the exhibition as a homage to his ideals. Initially, these lines were used by the participant to twist, connect, loop and coil to create ‘sculptural doodles’, but they became extensions of peoples arms, legs and heads. By attaching the linear forms to body parts, the participants became further connected to the work and the activity. I wondered if the children in the Space in the process project would emulate these developments of engagement and if the children feel positive benefits by engaging with the objects.

During Space in the process, I added scents to the sculptures using lavender and various spices. I found lavender was the most welcomed smell, it provided a sense of calmness to the children who enjoyed it, some children with autism have a hyper sensitivity to smells and find them overbearing, that’s why its recommended not to wear perfumes around children with autism. I also incorporated different textures into the sculptural forms using dried beans of different shapes and sizes and sand. Sculptures containing lentils were explored by mouths, one boy in particular loved the sensation of biting into them and surprisingly, my sewing skills meant that the sculptures stayed in tact! The shape of the lines also changed; they became more limb-like, children loved wrapping them around their stomachs and arms, they were comforted by them, each one like a big ‘hug’. It’s so interesting to observe a child with autism exploring an object with their hands, feet, mouths, stomach or ears. ‘Reading’ an object in such a way must create different sensations for the child. Experimenting with different fabrics was also successful; stretchy lycra, chunky scuba and super silky velvets gave the sculptures a heightened sensory element, I also attached strips of fabric to the ‘lines’, so they could be used to conceal and bind parts of the body.

These sculptural linear forms, worked on a number of levels, they were used to create imaginary creatures, they were woven into the fencing and twisted with other strips of fabrics and paper. Some children enjoyed the sensations they created by wrapping them tightly around stomachs, coiling them around legs, arms and heads. They transformed people into different characters and were explored with different parts of the body. They gave comfort, heightened senses and altered spaces. I intend to continue developing this idea by creating new shapes and forms and exploring their sensory qualities further, my linear journey continues…