In Focus is a programme produced with and for neurodiverse communities. Co-commissioned through a partnership between Project Art Works and Photoworks as part of a three-year programme EXPLORERS, the Phoenix in Brighton present Anna Farley’s ‘This Gives You A Score of ‘0” alongside work from Photography Club participants as part of the larger project. Review by Colin Hambrook.
As the title of Anna Farley’s exhibition suggests, there is a subtle political element to her exhibition in its intent to show the realities of being processed and receiving support through the government’s Personal Independence Payment (PIP) scheme. There are 3 elements to the show: a series of 300 ‘infinity fidget cubes’, and two sets of larger cubes, one of which cuts up personal independence application forms in a way that juxtaposes the contradictory elements of the process; statements declaring fairness and equality alongside demands for deeply personal intrusive information. Often beneath seemingly ‘objective’ statements lay judgemental and humiliating implications about very personal aspects of an individual’s life.
Sixty large cubes are abstractions from the PIP forms that Farley’s mother must complete on her behalf. Based on a points system, every answer is critical and the cost of getting it wrong is huge.
In a chaired conversation between Farley and her mother Helen last Saturday, the latter talked about the complex emotions that filling in such a form evokes and how she is regularly reminded of a negative narrative about what it means to be the mother of a daughter with autism. “We live in a culture where we are being measured and checked constantly”. The question Farley’s exhibition raises is how do we change the narrative. It’s a great thing that people receive support in our society. How can it be offered in such a way that isn’t so psychologically damaging, enforcing the idea of being a burden?
Farley plays with words and concepts. It is a mark of the eloquence with which she presents herself that she talks about herself as an ‘autist’ – an artist who despite the challenges to her need for privacy, is compelled to make work that reflects her experience of autism and of the condemnatory process she and her family have to endure in order for her to get the support she needs to live.
At heart, Farley is a sculptor. She brings a tactile, interactive approach to her photography through the presentation of ‘infinity fidget cubes’. Her starting point was thinking about how to turn one of her favourite toys from childhood into objects that use photography to tell stories about daily life. There are 365 infinity cubes, one for each day of the year. The 300 small infinity cubes represent Anna’s attempt to visualise her autism for the sake of making her invisible disability something tangible for a PIP form. Like mini conversations, she has selected 2400 images divided into sequences of eight images – taken from hours of footage whilst wearing a GoPro camera.
There is something very satisfying about pulling the cubes apart. They reveal images of some of Anna’s favourite ‘stims’; a cloth wiping surfaces, rocking from side to side. I found myself identifying with the blocks as someone with a brain that fragments everything, chops it up and then works hard to assimilate the pieces into a sense of order. As you pull the cubes apart you find connections between the fragmented photographs that in turn give you a hint at being in a certain place at a certain time. The act of being able to feel and play with the cubes sets up a connection with Farley’s experience that you wouldn’t get from just looking at a set of photographs.
Manipulating some of the larger cubes – big blocks of eight – takes a certain amount of effort, offering positive images of things that give Farley pleasure. Seeing her talk and engaging with the work gave me a strong sense of the intent being explored. I think without the luxury of having arrived to see Farley explain what she was doing I would have had more difficulty in absorbing the work. The short film on display helped, but Farley talks with such passion and erudition, it would have been great to have had more audio of her taking the audience on a journey through engagement with her infinity cubes.
I am sure we will be hearing more from Anna Farley in the future. She is a bright and clever artist, with ideas that turn the way we understand photography on its head, and inside out.