Auto Agents supports learning disabled artists to take a curatorial lead at The Bluecoat, Liverpool

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Bluecoat, Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts have launched Auto Agents – an art exhibition curated by the AaA collective, a group of five artists with learning disabilities: Hannah Bellass, Tony Carroll, Diana Disley, Leah Jones and Eddie Rauer.

Photo of a group of artists standing outside the Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool

AaA Collective: Hannah Bellass, Tony Carroll, Diana Disley, Leah Jones and Eddie Rauer outside the Bluecoat in Liverpool

Led by PhD candidate Jade French, the exhibition forms part of the AHRC funded PhD study Art as Advocacy at the University of Leeds, in collaboration with self advocacy group Halton Speak Out and Bluecoat’s own inclusive arts project Blue Room.

Jade said; “Reimagining the curatorial process to make it accessible for learning disabled people has had fascinating implications on how the work in Auto Agents has developed. What has emerged is a participatory approach to curatorship based on shared experience rather than a prerequisite knowledge about the arts.”

Auto Agents broadly explores what it means to be independent by making your own decisions, which comes from the curators’ personal knowledge and experiences around the continued lack of choice and control many people with learning disabilities face.

The exhibition breaks new ground in enabling learning disabled artists to develop a curatorial practice, but also to take on a commissioning role. With support from Arts Council England, the curators have commissioned new work by The Royal Standard artists James Harper and Mark Simmonds.

James said; “The work I have made for Auto Agents is the product of a merging of several aspects of my practice. The production process has been aided in no small part by being able to work so closely with the curators and Jade French. The project as a whole has been a joy to be part of. ‘Meet At The Tree’ is interactive on a very base level. When growing up, friendship groups always have a landmark at which to regularly convene, a meeting point. For me this was The Tree.”

Photo of a large shape covered by brown cloth next to a tree

Auto Agents: ‘The Tree’

Mark said; “I was commissioned to make a publication. Developed over a series of workshops with the curators, the book explores the inherent constraints and possibilities of the printed page, the book as a tangible space, and the materiality of printed text and image. It seemed appropriate to title the publication ‘Book’.”

As well as these new commissions, Auto Agents also features the work of London-based artist Alaena Turner for the first time in Liverpool.

Alaena said; “The ‘Secret Action Painting’ series (2008-present) uses oil-paint as glue to create an abstract composition that suggests change and incorporates accidental marks. It demonstrates the act of making a painting, asking whether a painting can perhaps make itself, and how far this should be edited and controlled.”

Adam Smythe, Bluecoat’s curator said; “The curators of Auto Agents have worked closely with three artists to produce an exhibition that interrogates how we make, think about and experience art with varying degrees of independence and collaboration. The issues explored in the exhibition resonate with the personal experiences of the curators in relation to self-advocacy, but also mirror wider societal issues of how we might enable independence through collective support.

The curators have taken apart standard models of curating and rebuilt a model that works for them. In the process they have developed pioneering approaches to working with artists and engaging audiences that will no doubt have wider implication for the discipline of curating.”

Auto Agents is on show at The Bluecoat from Sat 26 Nov 2016 – Sun 15 Jan 2017
Open daily in the Vide, 10am – 6pm. Free.
To find out more visit the Auto Agents page on the Bluecoat website or alternatively visit the AaA Collective website