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Bluecoat Exhibitions, Residencies & Events in 2021

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Auto Agents and the issues of self advocacy

Auto Agents, an art exhibition curated by a group of five artists with learning disabilities launches at Bluecoat next week. Led by PhD candidate Jade French, the exhibition is the result of a project at Bluecoat that has been ongoing since January, below, Jade offers us an insight into the motivations and inspirations for the artists as well as a few highlights from the exhibition.

Since January, the AaA curatorial collective - Hannah Bellass, Tony Carroll, Diana Disley, Leah Jones and Eddie Rauer, have been working weekly at Bluecoat to develop their exhibition Auto Agents.  After several months of research which included visiting a number of exhibitions and galleries across the city, the curators devised a concept for their exhibition and decided that this was best realised through working closely with emerging artists to commission new work. 

Inspired by the lives of learning disabled people, the impetus behind Auto Agents speaks directly to issues of self advocacy.  It seeks to address what it means to be independent by making your own decisions; emerging from the curator’s personal observations and experiences around the continued lack of autonomy faced by many people with learning disabilities. “The issues explored in the exhibition resonate with the personal experiences of the curators in relation to self-advocacy” explains Bluecoat’s own curator Adam Smythe, “but also mirror wider societal issues of how we might enable independence through collective support.”

The exhibition launches at Bluecoat on Friday 25 November and features two new artist commissions funded by Arts Council England under the curators’ appointment and guidance.  This includes a large-scale interactive installation by James Harper titled Meet at the Tree.  This piece gives audiences the power to animate a sculpture through various independent controllers situated throughout the gallery.  Developed in dialogue with the curators, Meet at the Tree broadly explores independent choice making, notions of community whilst wryly eluding to restriction, being denied access and inclusivity for the privileged.

As well as James’ installation, the curators have also commissioned designer Mark Simmonds to create a limited edition gallery publication. This publication titled Book, was developed in close collaboration with the curators via workshops over a three-month period. Book aims to reimagine the purpose of gallery publications.  Through the eyes of the curators who employ alternate ways of ‘reading’, Book highlights the experiential and sculptural elements of books; the action of page turning, colour, form, paper weight and texture.

Auto Agents will also feature Secret Action Paintings from London based artist Alaena Turner. Curator Leah Jones explains, “Alaena's work seems to have a life of its own by painting itself. Alaena doesn't have control over it over the marks the paintings make as they drop, and to us her work is all about celebrating the accidental.”

As well as devising the overall concept and selecting artists, the curators have also developed accessible interpretation for audiences. Uniquely, Auto Agents is predominantly a text free exhibition, reflecting some of the curator’s difficulties in reading and writing independently.  Rather than traditional labels, text panels and handouts, Auto Agents will instead feature a short video filmed collaboratively between themselves and the artists.

Collaboration has emerged as a key driver for Auto Agents and has been used to examine the complexities of self advocacy, and how we might enable independence through collective support.


For more information please visit the exhibition page.

Image courtesy of Jade French


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