• The Ripple Effect – Report on Impact of the Arts on People with PMLD
  • Health Improvement Scotland: Artlink/University of Dundee Project, April 2018

    Over the last decade key health and social care policies including Statutory Guidance to accompany the Social Care (Self-directed Support) (Scotland) Act 2013 and the Keys to Life 2013 have highlighted the need for practitioners to be more creative. Yet there is little understanding as to how to translate ‘creative’ into social care practice within the context of prevailing social policy drivers of personalisation and co-production. Dr Susan Levy and Dr Hannah Young from the University of Dundee, in collaboration with Artlink, are beginning to evidence the impact of the work of Artlink artists on the lives of service users, on carers, social care practice and the organisational culture of a day centre.
    Qualitative data, including observations, reflective diaries and interviews with Artlink artists, Cherry Road Day Centre carers and managers have been collected over a period of six months. Data analysis is currently ongoing. Early findings are highlighting that the work of the Artlink artists with people with PMLD at Cherry Road Day Centre are blurring the boundaries between the arts and social care, opening up a space where care practitioners and managers are learning from Artlink artists. This learning is visible in social care practice and through empowered staff working in new and experimental ways. In essence, Cherry Road staff appear to be connecting with service users at a more personal level, slowing down time to develop meaningful and reciprocal relationships that are engendering a level of agency for service users that is absent in other places and spaces in their lives. In the words of one of the artists,

    He has been able to rewrite his narrative … He can’t speak, so through his actions he is generating his own narrative identity, changing it from what’s always been imposed on him … which has been not not not not not. It’s always about the negative. Never about what can we do … and not about learning and really, really looking at people and really engaging with someone, really spending time. And I think the uniqueness of this project is the amount of time we invest… spending time with people and absorbing…. It’s about forming a relationship.

    The current Health Improvement Scotland project is exposing the synergy between the creativity of the Artlink artists and ways to work with people with PMLD in a care setting that brings to the fore the visibility of individual agency and enacts the importance of the experiences and learning of both carers and service users. From carers through to management at Cherry Road the artists’ playful, stimulating and responsive interactions with service users are being integrated into practice. This innovative work is uniquely embedding creativity into the working culture of the day centre and transforming the outcomes for service users and carers. In doing so Artlink’s work is problematising prevailing norms around disability and paid carers.

  • Laura Aldridge – Frieze


    Containers, collaboration and perception

    ‘California wow!’ exhibition view at Tramway, Glasgow, 2015.

    ‘All my work might be about vessels, the idea that everything is contained by something,’ says Laura Aldridge, standing amid ‘California wow!’, her installation in the former transport shed of Glasgow’s Tramway. The statement is perplexing at first, as there’s only one actual vessel on show, Biggest Pot (2015), which was glazed to Aldridge’s design by the virtuoso ceramicist James Rigler (showing contemporaneously in an adjacent gallery). The colours of the la landscape – grape red, sea blue, bleach white – ooze into one another, like the layers of a Tequila Sunrise.

    The three plywood structures entitled Large Bodies (2013–15) are punctured by a curved gap that is filled with cushions and, at a stretch, could contain a person. Indeed, I’m tempted to hop inside myself, but am told by an attendant it’s not allowed, which Aldridge confirms. This isn’t a strategy of frustration per se, she says, but a way of encouraging visitors to ‘think about perception’. And it works: looking at the elegant diagonal heft of one pod-like space, I’m suddenly conscious of my weariness, the throb of my feet. Not My Elbow (ix) (2015) – layers of dyed rice held in a plastic cylinder, open at the top but crowned with a twist of bisque-fired plaster – produces the same effect. The conjunction of smooth barrier, exposed surface and the ceramic’s flourish, makes me want to run my fingers through the rice, imagining the hiss of the grains. As in the work’s title, physical sensation is elicited but displaced. It almost amounts to a mild kind of synaesthesia, enmeshing one sense with another, making touch a business of hearing and looking and imagining, as well as of palpable contact. While we’re talking, Aldridge mentions someone she’s met whose vision cuts out if they hear sound of a certain pitch: a participant in one of the workshops she runs for the non-profit organization Artlink, which seeks to find ways to communicate with people with sensory disabilities and learning difficulties through art-making. When Aldridge describes ‘California wow!’ as ‘a conversation through materials’, my mind turns to this.

    At Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts in 2012, Aldridge displayed another series of con­tainers: oversized fabric pockets, some fastened with giant pantomimic buttons. Entitled ‘Underside, backside, inside, even’ (2012), the series played around with the spatial expectations of sculpture. (Where’s the back and where’s the front? What’s the core of a work which declares itself hollow?) It also made a physical address: like a gargan­tuan kangaroo’s pouch, each pocket seemed, as in Large Bodies, to want to hold the weight of a human. Even the imposing patchwork fabric ‘banners’ that Aldridge showed at Kendall Koppe in 2012 are charged with a sense of the portable. Initially inspired by the advertisements that hang from lampposts throughout la, they look as if they could be borne aloft in a procession; moreover, when talking about their importance to her recent work, the artist describes the appeal of a form that she could ‘fold up and put in a suitcase and carry with me’.

    Read more here

  • Something In the Pause

    Listen here

    The idea behind this particular story was to find a way to describe an arts project that involved an artist, an informatics specialist and a man with a liking for music. The man in question had a learning disability, a sight impairment and physical disability, which meant he was reliant on others choosing what he listened to. He listened to Radio Forth a lot. So artist Steve Hollingsworth began creating a sound system which could operate with one simple hand movement, enabling the man to select, for the first time, what he felt like listening to from an extensive library of sounds. The playlist included the man’s mother telling stories, his brother playing cello, the sound of a music box he liked and personalised jingles made for him by Radio Forth.

    Together, the artist and the informatics specialist adapted an mp3 player. The sound equipment was installed in the man’s bedroom. It’s his, it’s private and he can listen to whatever he wants, at the touch of his hand.

    So how do you write about a project like this? We asked writer Nicola White to write a short story, a fiction from the point of view of the man. What happened to the story is a real testament to the skill of the writer. She turned a short story about a sound project into a sound work itself, creating an inspiring work from an equally inspiring project.

    About the Author
    Nicola White grew up in Dublin and New York. She worked as a contemporary art curator and as a television and radio producer before concentrating on writing. Nicola has had several pieces of short fiction published in addition to features for newspapers and magazines. She received a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2008 and is currently working on her first novel, a piece of catholic noir set in Ireland.

    Credits for Audio Production
    Written and Produced by Nicola White
    Read by Callum Cuthbertson
    Music by Stephen Adam
    Sound Production by Caroline Barbour

  • For social care to thrive it needs a community-centred revolution by Paul Allen

    For those of us working in social care, the last couple of years have been the toughest in living memory. From reports revealing the underfunding of services through to deepening staff shortages, it’s hard to see where any help and relief for the sector will come from. Particularly as there’s no end in sight to the government’s spending squeeze.

    Despite such a grim backdrop, many of us in this amazing industry remain resolute in our mission to deliver outstanding services to those in need. Times might be hard, but it hasn’t stopped us from asking what we can do to ensure we improve services and the lives of those who need support.

    Read Article here

  • Texts
  • Benefit sanctions are punishing disabled people for the sake of it

    Benefit sanctions are punishing disabled people for the sake of it
    by Frances Ryan

    The government’s cruel rhetoric is that with enough ‘tough love’, people too ill to get out of bed can hold down a job. Sanctions don’t work

    Four years ago, I wrote about the death of David Clapson. Clapson – a former soldier and carer for his mum – had his benefits sanctioned after missing one meeting at the jobcentre. He was diabetic, and without the £71.70 a week from his jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) he couldn’t afford to eat or put credit on his electricity card to keep the fridge working where he stored his insulin. Three weeks later, after suffering a severe lack of insulin, Clapson was found dead with a pile of CVs next to his body.

    The Tory blueprint: fund a cruel system, not the disabled people it punishes

    I found myself thinking of Clapson this weekend when I read the findings of a groundbreaking study into the treatment of unemployed disabled claimants in Britain. The four-year study by academic Ben Baumberg Geiger in collaboration with the Demos thinktank shows that since 2010, disabled people receiving state benefits have been hit with a staggering 1m sanctions.

    Read more here




  • Disabled people should be seen as individuals, not as a drain on the taxpayer

    Frances Ryan in the Guardian Dec 2017 

    ‘The Conservatives have repeatedly promised and failed to drive down unemployment figures while tightening eligibility and making cuts to out of work sickness benefits.’
    Look closely enough and recent announcements reveal the two faces of Conservative disability policy. At the end of last month, Penny Mordaunt, the former disability minister and new international development secretary, announced the UK’s first global disability summit. To fanfare, Mordaunt positioned Britain as a global leader in disability rights, pledging to help other nations “tackle the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from fulfilling their potential.” Then the same night, buried at 10pm, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) released its long-promised plan to address this country’s ongoing disability unemployment crisis.

    Read more here

  • Towards Exhibition

    The Ideas Team Exhibition – curators’ statement

    Our aim is to make an exhibition that springs from the very particular ways of being that people with complex learning difficulties experience. It is not an exhibition that is about learning disabilities, instead it comes from the lived experiences, preferences and delights of people with very complex needs. They are as much the curators of this radical exhibition as Alison Stirling and I are.

    We have invited thirteen artists from Scotland and the USA to make new work for the occasion, work that derives from their collaborations with people with profound needs or drawing on years of the accumulated knowledge of care workers. For example, Boston based artist Wendy Jacob will create a large accessible sloping structure on which people can sit, lie or stand and feel sounds vibrating within the structure that have been curated by people with complex learning disabilities over the past 5 years. Sculptor Lauren Gault will present huge see-through ‘envelopes’ containing gasses and liquids which can be manipulated in different ways.

    New York artist Matthew Ronay will immerse the audience in his multicoloured artworks and Adam Putnam will use light and projections to create the sensation of weightlessness. Claire Barclay and Laura Spring will work together to produce a series of small scale objects to be handled and manipulated, inspired by the work of Brazilian artist Lygia Clark in the 1960s. Steve Hollingsworth and Jim Colquhoun will present a ‘Sensorium’ installation, a space which responds to those who enter it, and which will be the site of improvised performances involving projection, music, costume and movement, reminiscent of Fluxus happenings but deriving directly from experimental sessions with individuals with profound needs.

    The exhibition will be accompanied by a major publication, bringing together writers from a variety of disciplines alongside artists’ notes on their working practice within this context. It will also include an archive of The Ideas Team work, thus disseminating new approaches to working in collaboration with people of different abilities, people often excluded from any involvement in the arts.


    Nicola White

  • Relational Objects

    I (Aldridge) have been thinking a lot about what direction to take the work we are doing in. I’ve been thinking a lot about the sensorial and experiential in sculptural practice lately, in relation to my own work, a teaching project I am doing and of course the Sensory workshop.

    How to do we make visible things that are relational? How do you make something that can change, be fluid and evolve with the person you are working with? It feels redundant to me to make solid fixed things for the workshop – heavy objects that clutter the room, from experience we know that what works one week, may not be so great a week later, some one might enjoy a piece of purple velvet for 4 sessions, so we make something more sophisticated, but then whatever it was that held that person is gone.

    I think what we face now is finding a way of making this some sort of system – something that goes beyond simply having boxes with peoples names on them, we want something more than a box of tricks, we want to be able to think on our feet and create in the moment.

    Lygia Clarks relational Objects were propositions – they didn’t exist without being activated by the participant. They were made from simple materials and were humble in scale and quality – but THEY WERE POWERFUL! With this in mind, we plan to spend a focused period of time in the studio making a series of objects that will act as starting points and experiments for subsequent artworks. We think through making, and we know it is essential to test ideas in real time, with the people that the work is made for – the workshop is our workshop!

  •  Liz Davidson – day centre manager.   Presentation as part of Edinburgh University Disabilty Research Group – November 2015

    On The Ideas Team creative approaches and their impact on service users and staff

    Cherry road day centre provides day service for people with Complex support needs (relating to Autism, and behavioural, social and emotional support needs) or individual with Profound and Multiple Learning Disability & physical disabilities. Three years ago it adopted approaches as a way of providing a more relevant service to people with multiple sensory disabilities.

    For People with complex support needs the traditional day service model offers limited access to meaningful and inclusive activities. We invite new ways of working and thinking. So our partnership with Artlink, particularly through the Ideas Team, offers us the opportunity to exchange ways of working and learn from each other, making our service more relevant to the people who use it.

    The process that the Ideas Team promotes is not a quick fix. It takes great patience and through trial and error, experimentation and taking chances we are slowly introducing new experiences for the people we work with, experiences that we can build upon .

    For Cherry Road, The Ideas Team is a creative and inspirational approach which helps to, “break down barriers”. It encourages more effective communication, as it facilitates the development of relationships between individuals and their support staff. This creative approach is non – threatening, positive and very productive as it encourages everyone to work together, sharing our skills, theory and effective practice.

    For the individual with profound learning disabilities it offers an opportunity to exert control over their environment, using an activity to create new forms of communication which further inform what is, changing their role from that of a passive recipient to an active participator.

    By looking at this creative process as a form of communication, a way of breaking down barriers, exploring the detail in the individuals responses we have opened up an alternative 2 way process. Carers and individual are sharing experiences and learning from each other. It’s an exploration of human relationships built upon mutual trust and equality. All parties involved are learning and exploring their environment and sensory world, listening and observing together for the first time.

     Impact on the service.

    The most powerful impact on our service has been the change in attitudes and expectations that we (carers and service users) have in relation to each other. Sharing the experiences in workshops with the carers strengthens the identity and individuality of each participant.

    This has facilitated the development of a service that offers opportunities and outcomes that are truly meaningful to the individual, motivating and inspiring them to engage with their environment and the people around them.

    Positive and respectful relationships that have now become exciting journey’s for us all to develop our skills confidence and trust in each other.

    It’s has increased other people’s expectations of the individual making us all braver to try new things and take positive risks.

    Improved the staffs abilities to communicate effectively with and understanding the individuals they support. Not just in developing the augmentative communication skills but learning to stop, look and listen beyond our functional responsibilities for the individual.

    Significant increase in the individual participation in making choices that impact on their day to day lives and experiences.

    Enabled carers to take this journey with the person and share ideas and opportunities.

    These working approaches have facilitated new experiences through the introduction of activities ( and environments) that would have previously been too difficult for the individual to cope with e.g. group activities, community based activities and shared day to day activities.

    We have evidence of these experiences increasing individual’s toleration when exposed to social situations and sensory triggers. Also we have observed reductions in individual’s anxiety levels and the expression of behaviours which have previously had a significantly limiting impact on the individual’s lifestyle.

    Measuring reaction and success of the opportunities offered has enabled the service to utilise evidence and review and assess outcomes in a more productive and successful manner. Visual evidence rather than the subjective descriptions of 1 person’s opinion helps us gain a better insight into the journey people take, and what motivate them.

    Many times we are inspired by the individual and what they have to teach us about who they are. This has changed our perceptions of them as people who have so much to offer us who are not the passive or resistant recipients of our care and resources we imagine them to be.

    It feels like the individuals we work with are starting to tell us that we have at last ‘got it’ and I wonder if they are also saying ‘why did it take you so long?’

    It is often simple actions that are the most effective, we need to take the time to stop and listen, watch carefully, learn and share an experience with people rather than do it to them. This has opened up a whole new world of opportunity for us all.

  • Red Note Ensemble article in Arts Manager magazine 

    It’s all in the detail

    As Scotland’s contemporary music ensemble, Red Note is renowned not only for its virtuosity but also for its voracious enthusiasm for challenging work. As part of its quest to reach underserved audiences, Red Note recently collaborated with Artlink, Edinburgh’s ongoing programme ‘The Ideas Team’, established in 2005.

    The Ideas Team projects support unique arts practices shaped by the interests and lived experiences of people with profound learning disabilities. By positively challenging the often very limited expectations of individuals, it seeks to bring together families, musicians, care workers, artists, engineers, designers and people with profound learning disabilities to share their knowledge and shape high quality work which is both thought-provoking and relevant.

    As a result of delving into the minutiae of individual responses, from the sound of a coke machine to the blink of an eye to the thrum of a cello, the work started to uncover a view of the world probably never experienced before.

    Artist Miriam Walsh already had an established relationship with Cherry Road, and explains the inception of the project:
    “I started working on Artlink‘s Ideas Team just over a year ago, supporting American artist Wendy Jacobs’ to work with care staff to collate sounds on her Sound project. My remit was to encourage care staff to observe, describe and collate sounds which drew the attention of the people they worked with. We called this work ‘Sound Diaries’. Our aim was to create a landscape of sounds informed by the individuals responses to incredibly detailed and fluctuating sounds which formed their everyday. Over time, we explored sounds which might have seemed small or even insignificant, and as a result all of our understanding evolved. We began to learn from each other, through sharing this detail and a whole new sensory world filled with unending detail has been revealed.
    Using the Sound Diaries approach as a springboard, Artlink Edinburgh invited Red Note Ensemble to Cherry Road to take part in and deliver individual performances informed by the individuals’ existing relationship with sound. It was a bit of an experiment to see what would happen over a series of four visits. Key to Red Note involvement was the preparation and the material gathered by Miriam, quite simply, they had to ‘hit the ground running’. She explains how this worked in practice:

    “to prepare for the musicians I worked with staff at the day centre creating personal sound profiles gathering information about the types of sounds (pitch, tone, tempo, rhythm etc.) which seemed to have some resonance with the individual.
    “I shared these sound profiles with Red Note to give them some insight into the people with whom they’d be sharing their music. The intention was to ask the musicians to look at the detail of how they play sounds with the possibility that they might be able to uncover new sounds or ways of playing that become an interactive rather than passive experience for both musician and audience. As the sessions evolved the sounds have become conversation pieces, gestures and improvisations – the click of a tongue, the swirl of the flute in response – the start of an intimate conversation through sound.”
    The musicians quickly recognised that a heightened awareness of an audience changes the way in which a performer engages with them; and a willingness to respond to this musically makes the beginnings of an active collaboration, rather than simply a passive listening experience. This acute attention can ideally offer both parties the opportunity to uncover perspectives they may never have experienced before. Red Note flautist Ruth Morley found the process of consciously tuning in to and responding to their audience made the sessions deeply affecting:
    “Sharing music and sounds in the sessions at Cherry Road has been moving, funny, perplexing and at moments bizarre. Playing a ‘personal concert’, improvising, moving around rhythms and melodies and trying to connect, changing what we play depending on the response, playing to people whose response is always fully available, unmediated by social politeness and convention we are trying to read responses and create a dialogue. We’re trying to read a facial expression, a head movement, the level of body tension, a vocal sound, and play something that connects. The response to our playing has been euphoric, angry, contented, confused, surprised, excited, relaxed…and more.

    “Some memorable moments have been watching Donald’s response to our first ‘performance’. He seemed to travel with the music, following the shapes of the phrases and the shifts in harmony. His face was a picture of emotions as he listened, it was amazing. The first time we played to Joe he was quite agitated, he was not having a good day, but as we played his movement slowed and he became quite still and calm. When we stopped playing his movement began again. The second time we played to him he danced in circles, giggling as he span around. After we stopped playing, he stopped spinning and sat down (probably to let his dizziness subside!)
    For Red Note cellist and Artistic Co-Director Robert Irvine, the experience was one which stripped away the conventions of a standard performance and engendered a direct link between performer and audience. He reflects:
    “This is a music-making experience for us that is completely without any of the nonsense surrounding the strange world of classical contemporary music. It feels very, very direct to have the opportunity to play music to people in an environment of total honesty. This opportunity to play from the heart to the heart is such a good experience for me on lots of levels. We know the music is being ‘heard’ without any other layers of context getting in the way. Sometimes the music is loved and enjoyed and sometimes it is rejected. There is no pretence at Cherry Road. We should all learn from that”.

    For both Ruth and Robert, playing at Cherry Road is raising fundamental questions about how they communicate and relate to music, why musicians play and why we all need music; how we listen and respond to it and why live music has such an effect compared to recorded music. As Ruth says:

    “It’s big…! Life can get in the way of communication – we’re busy, tired, stressed, scared of what will happen if we let ourselves connect. We’ve all experienced those times when music seems to bypass all conscious systems and get straight to the core of us. We need to be ‘available’ for this to happen”

    So how can Red Note’s musicians carry what they’ve learned through these collaborations into performing work elsewhere? For Robert, the questions raised and lessons learned will sit at the core of his performance practice:

    “The experience for me at Cherry Rd feeds into my approach to performing in all contexts. As musicians we must always be sure to question the validity of every concert, workshop and lesson we give. This project reinforces the core values of music as a human interaction that is beyond and irrelevant to words”.

  • A learning curve (arching over 3 days)


    Just before Xmas in 2014 we commissioned writer & curator, Kirsten Lloyd to write an essay about The Ideas Team. It’s a smart essay in that it describes (and questions) ‘care’ within contemporary arts practice and its impact on artists practice. It’s an extremely clever essay in that it places these arguments within an alternate world, one in which care, involvement, participation and community have an altogether different meaning.

    By this I mean that the people involved rely on others for every part of their lives, from what they eat, to what they wear, to what they do or don’t do, to how they go to the toilet. It’s overwhelming on so many level just how reliant people are. And as a result, how little they have the opportunity to experience different things. Just how intense/mundane their everyday experiences are.

    The simple, overwhelming fact that other people’s responses to their disabilities are often what prohibit their development.

    I am sitting talking with Steve Hollingsworth, one of the Artlink Ideas Team artists and we are having a conversation about art. Whether the work that we do with people with profound learning disabilities is in fact art or an odd form of social work. We meet regularly. Talk over his project, look at his work, discuss direction andplan for the coming weeks. Sometimes our conversations hit a dead end and at other times the conversations take us in some inspiring directions. This morning it’s enjoyable. We come to the conclusion (again) that the art is all in the detail. In the tiniest of responses. In what is made as a result of taking the time to determine what a slight hand movement, flutter of an eye lash actually means.

    Later on that day
    I’m editing a press release. Getting flustered. I want to word the press release in such a way that I ensure that the people involved are respected for what they are doing. I don’t want it to sound like something from the social work department nor do I want it to read like an overly conceptual art treatise. I’m stuck.

    What is the work about? Is it about agency? Is it about finding ways to encourage the individual to gain a voice, to make change? Perhaps. I’m not sure.

    I leave it.

    I go to an event in Glasgow. I’m thinking about level playing fields, where all involved contribute on their terms.

    The event happens. I only see part of it. What I see is a form of social choreography, people coming together, celebrating. Someone is shouting out what the participants are to do.

    I’m on one. I’m back with the Ideas Team. How do you know there is equality within the development of ideas? How do people contribute even although they don’t know what they are contributing too? What’s equal about that?

    I’m thinking about a time many years ago when a group of activists arrived in a day centre. They came to empower. They did. People started shouting about what they needed. They wanted change. Everyone listened. And then, after two weeks, the activists left. The people continued to shout and everyone stopped listening. The impetus had gone. The power imbalance returned.

    Sunday evening
    The Ideas Team. The structure was devised many years ago to establish a more equal playing field. A structure which relied on everyone involved making it work. Which ensured that the benefits of taking part are always felt by the people at its centre. The people at the centre being people with profound learning disabilities.

    It starts with a simple achievable aim, identified in response to the person at the centre. Everyone in the team must sign up to it.

    To explain. The Ideas Team will only progress if each of the people taking part stay involved. That’s the artist, care worker, parent, engineer whoever is needed to realise the idea. The idea gathers impetus over a long amount of time as each of the groups members pitch in, pushing the ideas forward.

    The more they work together, the more the person at the centre benefits; the clearer the idea the more the person at the centre benefits; the more artists and thinkers are involved, the more the person at the centre benefits; the more time they spend learning from each other, the more the person at the centre benefits.

    Within ‘socially engaged’ arts practice it’s important that we take responsibility for what we seek to do, the impact it has on its participants, now and in the future. We therefore need to take the time to learn from each other, to make mistakes, to listen, to work our way through a lifetime of prejudices and presumptions. It’s integral.

    Sunday nights are always a time to think about the coming week. To worry about what’s ahead.

    I think we are making headway. The art is in the detail.

    In the coming years we have our work cut out for us but I know it’s worth it.






  • Sensorium – Steve Hollingsworth



    I met Ben in the Cherry Road Learning Centre in Bonnyrigg. He seemed to be on the fringe of things, passive, his potential untapped. Week upon week, for an hour or so at a time, Ben took me on a journey. As an artist I absorbed his world. This began with the idea that I could somehow enable Ben to have choice, provide him with agency, empower him with greater abilities to do or not do. I had a few basic facts about Ben – he could see, he could hear and enjoyed high-pitched sounds. I was Ben’s pupil and I would learn by creating aesthetic experiences for him. I combined sounds and light to see how he reacted using a video projector and amplifier. I made sounds using my voice, echoing him. I also focused on what Ben could actually do rather than what he couldn’t, trying to find ways to empower him. I noticed he could use his right hand; it lifted when he was excited or laughing. We yelled and made noises together and each time I noted when he laughed at something or reacted strongly or subtly. Together with his care staff we would try and work out why.
    Process was key to learning: not knowing where we’d end up; working intuitively, ethically, playfully, sensitively and creatively; looking at tiny details of reactions and what might have caused them. Trying to be as imaginative as possible without imposing my own narrative on Ben. Being sensitive and receptive to Ben’s reality at all times.
    Art here lies in the joy of a conceptual journey, entering new sensory realms that propel him beyond the physical confines of his wheelchair and introduce him to new perceptions. To this end I started working with Lauren Hayes, a PhD researcher in the music department in Edinburgh University with an interest in haptics. Lauren wrote some software that could manipulate still images and sound – slow sounds down, speed them up and also increase and decrease the scale of images and turn them around. It also changed the color through varying speeds on an LED strip. This all added up to an immersive sensory experience for Ben, controlled via a joy-stick. I downloaded images from the Hubble space telescope and the sounds of planets’ magnetic fields turned into audible frequencies. Allowing Ben to journey to the stars. Ben probably has no understanding of outer space but the other-worldly colors and sounds provide a huge sensory load that Ben can manipulate and enjoy. Once Ben was laughing so much during a session he pressed down on his footplate with such pressure of joy and broke his wheelchair. This isn’t a remote experience for Ben in the way of a video game. It involves all of us – Ben and the people who care for him playing together.


  • Sensorium – impact of my practice on the individual and care staff 

      Steve Hollingsworth: The  impact  of  art  in  this  context  (art  as  relationships  and  new  perceptible  forms-light,  sound  and performance)  is  enormous  in  this  area. The  art  is  really  in  the  relationships  that  form  over  time  between  the disabled,  their  carers,  parents  and  other  professionals  (as  well  as  new  physical  and  tangible  art  objects)  Opinions change  and  new  narratives  happen  as  a  result  of  the  work  that  occurs,  art  has  a  powerful,  transformative  effect on  all  it  touches,  it  offers  change  and  catalyses  new  potentials  (Lisa  Wylie  getting  a  new  job,  new  stories  occur for  people  that  they  themselves  ‘write’  through  new  reactions

  • Update on Steves work

    My overall aim is to refine ideas concerning the developing immersive sensorium (and what is most appropriate for Ben and Nathalie) and also to be ambitious as possible in moving toward a further potential version of the Sensorium. To do this I need to learn more from Ben and Nathalie, this will come from the staff and the results of their weekly missions and from my own developing work and ideas. Everything feeds into the developing work. Its important that the work keeps moving forward, to avoid stagnation.

    It is also very important to keep working at Cherry Road I feel as I always learn something new about Nathalie and Ben.

    Working with Bobs assistant Anna is also very helpful as her observations on both Nathalie and Ben are insightful in offering another point of view.

    Much of the work, is in knowing what point of view to follow as there are so many that surround people with disability and my role is to let the voices of Ben and Nathalie speak loudest of all to inform the continuing work. i.e Bob was extremely keen for me to keep working with people directly in the centre as each exposure and use of the equipment helps Nathalie and Ben access new experiences as they learn to control it. Ben’s movements are deliberate and can be observed as such:

    13.11.14 Ben was grumpy and in a general bad mood when he entered the space this week but soon cheered up when he was in charge of the joystick, he was the most engaged I’ve seen so far. Did more gentle sounds make him more introspective? Anna thought he was searching for a melody using the joystick, trying to find what he’d heard before. At one point I left the room, during my absence the sound got very loud, so much so Ben actively attempted to turn the sound off. Do the images need to be more patterned to impact upon Ben-yellow white? Bob suggested that a new program could comprise of two balls moving around a screen controlled by a joystick, when they hit, they explode resulting in big sound and colour, this would expand Bens ability to control something external to him.

    The joystick that Ben uses to change sound and image also keeps his arm and hand moving, he is motivated to do this through the experiences he enjoys.

    Work so far has concerned the engagement of the visual and aural-sight and sound. I want to try some ideas around the vestibular, balance, where the body is in space. Wheel chairs are always level with the ground, what if a system could be made to incorporate ideas of the current sensorium with an hydraulic platform? To start I want to remake the revolving disk to put a wheel chair on and start to work around movement and perception of sound when turning.

    Nathalie is a far more subtle person and much more work needs to be done to understand her sensory world. Bob was very keen to try and analyse her movements: are they deliberate or not? Does Nathalie know she is producing sound from the ipad? Last time (6.11.14) she vocalised a lot, Anna thought Nathalie was copying the sounds of Bloom, waiting for the sounds and then copying them vocally. Joan (Nathalies mum) has a key role to play in working with Nathalie at home to see if she reacts in different ways to the same stimulus at home. Try to get inside Nathalies head, what is she sensing? Nathalie needs a different interface, a different touch system than affects sensory change. I need to work out what this is