I am writing this response to Shape’s new exhibition ‘Unfolding Shrines’ as someone who has fairly extreme dyslexia (writing is normally pretty hard for me, so thanks to those who helped me articulate this!), symptoms of ADHD, Autism, and diagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder, as well as hormone issues and mild but constant back pain. I'm not trying to prove anything to you, or win anything, but rather explain where I’m coming from in terms of ability, ableism and its effects, when I respond to this work created and curated by disabled people. Maybe it's completely irrelevant, or maybe you’ll see this response in more colour.
My first feeling when downloading the app to view the exhibition feels exciting, like turning the last corner after your 45 minute commute to the venue. The app is easy for me to read, and it’s quick to jump into your first Augmented Reality experience.
I’d never done an ‘AR experience’ before - only VR once or twice when visiting my friend Jazmine Morris’ exhibitions. As I enter my first room (of Jason Wilsher-Mills work), I won’t lie to you, I was screeching and bouncing up and down in awe and confusion as my kitchen turned into a magical, highly saturated land that I can walk in and out of, from my kitchen into this new room, and back again. I’ll admit I’m distracted at first by the whole thing (and btw I’m one of those gen z’ers who are scared of technology, and prefer zines and meeting for drinks) so I’m walking in and out of the room, and looking at this weird doorway that has just been created in the place I just had my morning crumpets and tea. After so long of not being able to experience art, and being stuck here in this place waiting, it’s pretty amazing that it’s been brought to me here, without me having to step outside. Jason’s world is the best to start with for this reason - it’s absolute magic. Colours and forms surround you and childish curiosity consumes you. I am stepping inside the mind of Jason, his dreams, his ideas, his experimentation. Looking closer I realise I’m in a gallery like any other, four walls with hanging art and two centrepiece sculptures. I walk closer to inspect each wall hanging and his work is strange and comforting. I turn around to see the doorway back into my kitchen. It really feels like I’ve been waiting to experience art in this way for a year now.
The next rooms are very different. A New York landscape, which feels kind of similar to a rainy day in the little lanes at the back of Soho or Carnaby street. It feels a lot like a dystopian sci-fi film, where the city is so lived in, so populated and walked all over, that it’s starting to decay, only held up by its neons.
The next room is another magical one, that feels dangerous, immediate, and emotional. The room transforms into fire and lava, hot and uncomfortable. A sign speaks about the context - some disjointed, poetic phrases that let us know why we’re there. Basically, People are devastating the planet. I see an arrow somewhere near my kitchen table and I click it. Greenery takes over and my house is a fresh and vibrant jungle of plants. I am an avid house plant collector so obviously this was a bit of me, but also tugged at my heart as I realised I don’t have enough plants, again, getting distracted by my small world. I guess that’s the interesting thing about this whole experience - whilst focusing on the art, you can’t help but be taken over by the mundane thoughts of housework every now and again. I suppose I used to use art events as a way to shut those things out for a while.
This work is about the environment, but it’s also about how Black communities and communities of the global majority are the hardest hit by environmental issues, yet are the communities who contribute the least to the issue. It makes me think about how in communities across Asia, people used natural materials to carry and transport goods, until the west introduced the plastic bag. The work is necessarily urgent, and captivating. It brings the environmental catastrophe, which so often feels far away, distant, an issue at someone else's front door, to your home, and you can yourself see what may come, upclose, and invading your space, as it will. I think about how clever this idea is, and how far artists and scientists could take this concept to get more people involved in the fight against climate change.
Work by disabled artists is wildy different, it’s not a genre in and of itself. The thing we have in common is the body, and the knowledge that in one way or another, the world wasn’t designed with our bodies in mind. These works are about our bodies, where they live, where they find themselves and where they’ll be, how they feel and what they look like to ourselves. This exhibition was made with us in mind, which is like, so nice. I hope you have a go at it, and feel free to let us know what you think x
Mia Maxwell @miamaxwelll