'From word blindness to blind drawing, Case Study explores the affective layers, dimensions and personal associations of one person's journey.'
The flower named dyslexia
This body of work portrays a journey or pilgrimage I embarked upon in 2017. It was a 9 month internal exploration into my thoughts and process of thought.
Formed an investigation into whether I could come to terms with the tension I felt communicating with words. Or posed a question - Could I find a new way of communicating by combining making and language, so to aid my understanding of the composition of thought, to language?
Throughout my life I struggled with the communication through language, I have been mis-interpreted and became emotionally unstable, injured by self doubt and frustration. I have ‘word blindness’, I have ‘a difficulty with words’, I mis-comprehend, I have dyslexia. It labelled me “an idiot” and it ruled my life. I was not diagnosed and not supported.
After a life of battling with language and comprehension, running my arts practice became almost impossible. As my career progressed the pressure to discuss projects and concepts was growing, I was filled with stress and anxiety which was affecting my eyesight and my health. I fought on, trying to hide the true problems from myself and others.
But while in the process of struggling to understand an application for funding, it was pointed out that maybe the application should be ‘about me’ and ‘my difficulties’ with language.
With the concept of directing my investigations and research toward me embedded into my thoughts, it triggered an instant impulse to draw. I started to draw, automatic/blind drawings of my life, mapping each moment that was memorable and filled with emotional activity. It ran one continuous line for 16 feet, completed without putting an eye on the paper. Suddenly I saw my life. My life was a drawing. Something I could see, recognise and relate to visually.
The drawings were complicated lines of swirls, twists and turns that depending on pressure and movement, encapsulated joyous moments, tensions and stress. I studied them and began to read them like words. I kept drawing in the same way, now asking myself questions and answering them, using a method of tapping into unconscious thought, through the process of automatic and blind drawing.
Studying the drawings, I was recognising emotions and documenting them. I was seeing situations I could not explain in written language but I could explain what I was drawing. This is because emotions for me don’t contain words, they are prodominately sensations. However, many of the marks I was making I did not understand. I needed to explore deeper.
I was very aware of feeling like I had no clear spaces in my mind, I felt full of an entanglement of mixed thoughts, ideas, conversations and emotions that had no outlet. I was desperate to begin a process that might bring change to my life. My children were suffering and so was I. I’d heard of a regression therapist and payed her a visit, the process was extraordinary.
The regression experience was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. An experience I recreated visually in the artwork ‘Regression’, which portrays beguiling figures bowing down to their master.
Patricia, my therapist, through a series of questions triggered memories that transported me calmly to the most painful of situations of my life. This process was again directed from behind closed eyes. She took me back to moments in time where I had been most humiliated and experienced the most intense sense of being a disappointment and failure. Many of the scenarios or situations that were revealed to me felt like they had become pauses in time, continuously holding me back. I remember listened carefully to Patricia’s voice as she guided me through the first stage of my journey.
After hours of tears and internal trauma, an insight led to a white light sitting around a family member, my Grandfather, a man I had never met. He appeared larger than life and as clear as any photograph, tall, handsome, well dressed and inspiring. He appeared like a guardian, a personal hero and with a deep breath in, I exhaled. The ‘ light' fell from him and through me and in that instant, I opened my eyes. I felt transformed, all the chaos of my mind, the negative attachments to my past had somehow moved position, they dispersed. I told Patricia “I can see clearly, the chaos has gone”.
I could literally see 'space' in my brain. All that stood in the centre was a flower I named dyslexiia.
Dyslexia stood alone, like a tree in an empty field, like a bird in the blue sky. I suddenly felt able to confront my dyslexia, look at it, analyse it and work out how it controlled me.
An aspect of regression therapy that had a profound affect on me, encouraged me to walk around ‘situations’ in my mind and see them from many and new perspectives. Encouraging me to alter their associated colour and welcome a new given colour change. This was genius to me. It became the inspirational tool and technique I needed and related to as a visual artist, A tool I used while making 'Summon the forest' and many other pieces.
I started to fell like I was developing a way of understanding my cognitive behaviour and learning to communicate visual emotions, something that I found incredible difficult to communicate in my past.
'Summon the forest’, derives from the saying 'cant see the woods for the trees’ and represents my emotional interpretations connected to dyslexia.
At this point, I knew I needed to ‘summon the forest’, so I could begin to ‘see the trees’ an analogy for facing the pain I had suffered. The work portrays despair, loneliness, failure, weakness, weeping and burnout.
I believed if I could create visionary interpretations of these painful emotions, then maybe I was beginning a process of facing them.
The process of transferring the emotions to physical forms allowed me to find acceptance of the pain, which in turn might help me heal.
'45 minutes allocated'
4 x 5 ft
Materials - wood, lead, paints, pencil, glass, dried, fried and burnt flowers, old school exams, resin
My anger toward dyslexia was still burning inside me. I started spontaneously writing dialog on a board, scribbling out any conversations and repeated words of past that I had carried. Applying layers of information, old exam papers, I felt I was offloading my past into a new space. A glass crescent framed the board, fragile and transparent but sharp to touch, I called it ‘the pause’ named from an analysis of my drawings of the same shape. At the centre I placed ‘the flower I named dyslexia’. The shape derived from a flower I recognised in myself when I struggled with language as a child. It was ‘petrified’, coated in resin, petrified in thought and manner.
It was a harrowing piece to make, with a sound track of my scribblings on the board to accompany it. I referred to it as the exorcism although called it ’45 minutes allocated’ which refers to the agonising length of time to finish exam paper from my youth.
This collection of responses to my pilgrimage I named ‘Case Study’ it included many smaller artefacts and assemblage works. These compositions were moments, memories, or emotions I needed to create and visualise and became important exercises in finding pathways to forgiveness of others and self. This was a cathartic process of making, it was slow and intense with the main purpose to heal.
I discussed the many drawings and processes of making with Art Therapist and friend Emma. She was able to aid me on my journey helping me find healing connections. ‘Case Study’ inspired Emma to make her own investigations into dyslexia, publishing her observations, ‘Learning about difference from observations of Case Study’ published in ‘Newsbriefing’ journal and ‘The British Association of art Therapists’ , Emma Wheeler 2018, with my pilgrimage being at the heart of her initial studies.
So to conclude, did I form an investigation into whether I could come to terms with the tension I felt communicating with words. And, did I find a new way of communicating by combining making and language, so to aid my understanding of the composition of thought, to language?
Simply said, yes I did to both questions.
I spent 9 months learning how to find forgiveness of self and in others, I truly ‘re-birthed’ into a new landscape that enabled me to comprehend the relationship I have with my dyslexia. With this knowledge and understanding I found self-acceptance and with that I can regain confidence and loose that “idiot’ inside me.
I now understand that my dyslexia defines me in every aspect of self. It makes me have difficulties comprehending language and literacy, but because my brain is wired differently. It responds to this rewiring by finding new paths or has "a different metabolic activation than the brain of a person without reading problems when accomplishing the same language task".* As I undersatand it, it tries to find solutions to the problems. I now embrace its problem solving ingenious behaviour and understand how I am an artist because of these same traits. Dyslexia makes me inquisitive and an investigator, beautifully connected to my emotions that radiate through and across my body. I have an unstoppable visionary world that lives behind my eyes, that inspires me constantly. I am so incredibly defined by my dyslexia and I am not ashamed.
*Dyslexia and the Brain: What Does Current Research Tell Us?
By: Roxanne F. Hudson, Leslie High, Stephanie Al Otaiba
I am open and vocal about my dyslexia, language will always be difficult for me and I believe educating others about the traits of dyslexia is essential. I realise now however that I have no need to apologise.
I continue to draw, to understand my thoughts and to exorcise my frustrations or problem solve, mostly with closed eyes. I longed to take words out of life but now I realise I have words to say and I should say them. My literacy ais slow to develop but through practicing mindfulness techniques and creating templates for everything I write, I keep balanced and calm, accepting it will take time to write. Accompanied by the support of mentors and friends, I will get there eventually.
The Arts Council of Wales funded this project and it became life changing for me. I will be forever grateful for their financial support and keeping me sustainable.
I could not have come so far without mentors supporting me along the way. Guiding me, through my personal investigations - from the perspective of an Art Therapist, ‘word smith’, dyslexic support coach, Artist or friend.
Regressive Therapist - Patricia Maddalena
Dyslexic mentor/Artist/professional colleague - Victoria E Jones
Artistic Mentor - Marega Palser, performance artist, dancer, artist
Artistic Mentor - Nathalie Vin, mosaic / fine artist