'Welter' deliberately exploits ambiguity; of language, form, and meaning. Welter - both verb and noun - is a slippery and tense concept, evoking imagery of a writhing, messy, distress. In contrast, the term ‘autism’ appears as a tidy linguistic and diagnostic tool. Beneath the surface, however, much like the language (both verbal and somatic) that Victoria has developed within her practice, this simplicity obscures the complex and diverse sensory encounters that autistic people experience.
Shape Arts - UK
'Welter' (2021) is an artists' moving image work, made in collaboration with artist Sam Williams. The work explores the physicality of sensory differences in my experience of being autistic, including scotopic sensitivity, vestibular migraine and other phenomenon such as dizziness, dissociation and vertigo.
Moving amongst a world that does not stabilise, does not settle on a name, cataracting moves the common noun. Those unnounable. Those atypical. Descending through the unnounable, perception unsettles. Light appears to approach as an owly object that ascends towards in a succession of spectacular torrents. Rapidities, the cause of undifferentiated visions.
'Welter' is a moving through the welter of the world with an elastic, sensitised brain.
Yet the word "autism" as a linguistic tool is a tidy noun. By virtue of naming, it obscures the complex sensory experiences that hide behind that easy, often pathologising, term. But as Erin Manning explains, for autistics there is 'no stable surface, no stable ground, no fixed structure' on which to cling. There is no noun that could stabilise a 'body and world [that] co-compose to a large degree in ways that are non-linear and unforeseeable' (2013). Dialling down the senses, and tuning out that disorientating excess of light, sound, and movement that assaults the body, comes at a cost.
Inside this migrainous welter, I feel a dark delay. A hole opens in the back of my head, and all of the tacit connections that ground a body in space-time, that galvinise a sense of self, fall out of that hole; 'I felt a Funeral in my Brain' (Emily Dickinson, 340). Gravity works on me diagonally. With every movement, shift of eyeline, and change in light, I multiply in the turbulence, zig-zagging backwards out of my body; like driving over poorly surfaced road, or that uncanny echo in the legs when stepping off an escalator.
It can take seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months, sometimes years, to reassemble those stabilising relations, to stop the vibrations. In this sense, neurodivergence means living atemporally. Means vigilence. Means squinting at the same object, same space on the bedroom wall, willing it to make the same sense again. Means diagramming and listing the activities, textures and functions that constellate within certain rooms, in an effort to make old associations stick. Means humming, rocking, side-to-side swaying - to coax a world back into view.
But because there is no stabilisation, and little worldly accommodation, there is only calibration. A calibration that requires recalibration after recalibration after recalibration - of the body-mind, the senses and space-time - each second, ad infinitum. The welter requires a body to filter out the exquisite bareness of life, enough to bear this life, just another one.
Bleach of wellness. Even the nature-light of the sun aggresses the undefinable, insulates fresh frequency-terrors.
Supported by Shape Arts, an Artsadmin Artists' Bursary, an a-n Artists' Development Grant, and public funding through Arts Council England.
Film stills: Sam Williams and Victoria Gray
Indented texts: Victoria Gray, extracts from 'Cataracting as Perceptual Technique: Notes on living a Lossy Ecology,' a book conceived and edited by Louisa Martin.
Forces: vision anomalies; angor animi; vision therapy; occupational optometrist; divine light; sensory profiling; Julian of Norwich; brown noise; cervical vertigo; green filter; propranalol; Quaker; exiting; syncope; midline shift to the left; R +0.50 -0.25 x 110 Visual Acuity (VA) 6/5 (110% vision); L +0.50 -0.25 x 80 VA 6/5; Dorothy Wordsworth; skull meets C1 vertebrae; seeing with the brain; diazapam; prayer; spectrum; bowen; Golnar; binasal occlusion; anti-glare coating; poor optical convergence; presyncope; Hildegard of Bingen; blue control lense; god; colour overaly; subocciptal tension; postdrome; out-of-body; Sara Coleridge; jittery; floating; C1 - C7 vertebrae; groundless; Irlen syndrome; vestibular rehabilitation; blackout; orthostatic lightheadedness; shaking; sertraline; LED; cranial nerve VIII; St Teresa of Avila