Back in March, Autograph hosted the popular online event States of Wordlessness: Exploring Neurodivergent Space through Creative Practice. Here, Ashokkumar Mistry reviews the event and reflects on how the neurotypical artworld can better understand and support creative practices that are rooted in neurodivergent experience. You can watch the original event back in full here.
Wordlessness and neurodivergent space are states of being in which language can be inaccessible and almost incomprehensible. The wordless world is particularly important to neurodivergent people who generally tend to better experience and express their thoughts and interactions with the world through means that require neither words nor speech. This wordless dimension is instinctive and is only just beginning to be uncovered and understood by the (neurotypical) art-world. A fixation and insistence with elucidating one's practise with verbose art-speak is something that has affected many neurodivergent artists for decades, and prevented many from excelling in their field.
I’m preparing dinner on a Thursday night and like many Thursdays, I’m eagerly anticipating the start of an online event. Titled States of Wordlessness: Exploring Neurodivergent Space through Creative Practice the event is hosted by Autograph and features presentations from three artists, whose works explore wordlessness in the context of neurodiversity. Sonia Boué, Sonja Zelić and Lucy Barker each interpret and articulate a diverse take on neurodivergent space from contrasting experiential perspectives, using text, audio, film, and photography from their respective creative practices. The result is a captivating audio-visual journey that some people might also discern through their sense of touch or through experimental memory.
So what is wordlessness and what does it mean - this is where things get tricky because this isn’t one homogeneous outlook or experience that can be quantified. Wordlessness is experienced by many neurodivergent individuals, though everyone experiences it in different ways, in myriad contexts. Wordlessness can be everything from an artwork without a title to a feeling that cannot be easily described. A relative of mine speaks of this quite often when they talk about sensations they feel in their ears as a result of encountering the texture of worn crockery damaged by a dishwasher, or the feeling of wanting to break down and cry when particular musical notes are played in sequence. These experiences can’t be fathomed using regular language, they are more than a sensation that lives in the nervous system, their presence filling an individual from top to toe. The duration and intensity of these experiences will differ and produce different responses, and this is one of the reasons why words feel blunt when an attempt is made to use them to understand these sensations. Words ultimately end up like stubby fingernails trying to etch intricate patterns.
Prolific artist and writer Sonia Boué presents first, and invites the audience into her studio through a video work that was created as part of the We Are Invisible, We Are Visible (WAIWAV) interventions last summer with Site Gallery. The studio is, for some artists, a sacred space, a crucible where new realities are cast into existence. With the artefacts of past creative experiments around her, Sonia takes the viewer into a new reality that gently organises an entire world view. The neuro-perspective takes shape gradually, until one feels as if they are seeing through the eyes of the artist.
"This magical channel hop of experiences allows what neurotypical language would understand as incoherent, transforming it to take on the logic of dreams"
Next up, Sonja Zelić takes the viewer by the hand before jumping into the rabbit hole of non-linear storytelling. Before you know it you are floating on the updrafts of an ocean seascape and cruising the outer limits of the atmosphere before hurtling through the very personal story of Sonja’s Croatian father. This magical channel hop of experiences allows what neurotypical language would understand as incoherent, transforming it to take on the logic of dreams.
Lastly, Lucy Baker slows the pace down once more with two artworks, the first of which is a metaphor for change. The latter video artwork is a meditation on the incremental change we seldom notice but is always present, and which reminds us that we are alive. Both artworks have a hypnotic quality, calming rapid eye movement to create a meditative melodic embrace.
The question is, how can the broader population understand these unique experiences of the sphere of wordlessness? This is the relatively easy part, firstly one needs to let go of expectations of human experience, then one needs to sit back and experience the work of these artists. Finally, one only needs to avoid forcing verbal explanations and just let the experience of the artwork sink in.
In other words, neurodivergent spaces need to be inhabited instead of being explained. It may seem paradoxical that I’m using text to explain that which talks about a wordless experience, however all I intend to do is get you into the correct frame of mind to experience this. I guess this text is akin to creating a safe space where you gently fall backwards and allow the neurodivergent space to catch you, and take you to a different way of seeing the world.
Ashok is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, researcher and curator working in the UK and internationally. By subverting technologies and ideologies, he challenges conventional ways of making and viewing art.
“As a person who sees and experiences the world differently, much of my work is concerned with my interactions with the world and how I make sense of everything”. Ashok's research scrutinises differences to expanding our understanding of the human condition. Ashok is a co-founder of the Disability in British Art research group within the British Art Network and has written extensively for disability arts online. Find out more at Ashok's website, or follow him @ashokmistry.
Autograph is a place to see things differently. Since 1988, we have championed photography that explores issues of race, identity, representation, human rights and social justice, sharing how photographs reflect lived experiences and shape our understanding of ourselves and others.Donate Join our mailing list