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Happy Mother’s Day, from the He(art)

Lumen, Enlai and Spencer Finch piece

Lumen, Enlai and Spencer Finch piece


I have yearned for art over the last 365 days more than food, more than sleep, sometimes more than air. Just as I want my sons to appreciate art, to allow it to rouse or soothe them, to occasionally fall asleep or wake thinking of a particular artwork, to trust it when they can’t trust other humans or when they may doubt themselves, I have sought art to help me make sense. I have used it as my drink, my drug, my altar, my here and my now, and as a substitute for my if and when. It has served as my absolute over the past year.

My younger son Lumen is allergic to over 30 foods and has suffered anaphylactic reactions previously. While he did not suffer any this year, we found out he has new allergies. After the doctor informed me, we went from the hospital to an art gallery. After another doctor diagnosed him with asthma this year, following several A&E visits, two admissions and having to learn the difference between his four different inhalers, we went to an art gallery. Before and after Lumen’s many doctor appointments and various therapy sessions — occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, music therapy — for his autism, we visit art galleries and museums.

And when my older son Enlai has shown that his love of electronics in all forms seems stronger than his love of living, breathing beings, we go to art galleries. We discuss everything on the way to and from these galleries — religion, sport, literature, friendships, music, family, food. We talk about what an amazing, curious, funny thing life can be. He often gives me a difficult time because he’s not keen to go to a gallery, so we compromise. We go where he wants to go first — anywhere but the flat, in front of a screen — and then he indulges me with a gallery. And after we view the artworks, usually a few hours or a day later, he says thank you. Thank you for introducing him to something that made him think differently, that made him learn and value, that made him see possibilities.

Earlier this week, I went to a discussion between the artist Olafur Eliasson and Tim Marlow, the Royal Academy’s Artistic Director. I was touched by many of the things Eliasson related, including a couple of stories which pertained to children. He said that he believes his first leanings towards becoming an artist may have been after his parents divorced when he was eight years old. His father was an artist, and he thought that to win his attention, he would have to become a very good artist. He also said that when he was young, he was into breakdancing. He would walk around his house as if a robot, imitating breakdancing moves he had seen. Eliasson said that rather than tell him he was being ridiculous, his parents supported him. He spoke about their courage in championing their son in doing something nobody else they knew was doing, something that likely seemed very odd to other family and friends. And the artist noted that this is what parents should be doing — being their child’s or children’s advocates in whatever creative venture they decide to partake in.

I have no desire for either of my boys to become artists. I want them to become themselves. I want them to feel happy, to love and feel loved, to feel as though they have so much living to do, that they couldn’t possibly fit it all in in their lifetime. But I would like for them to understand that art is always there for them; it is a breathing creature full of stories, of adventures, of delicate gestures and horrid atrocities. It is full of tales of light and darkness, silence and screams, of madness, of bliss, of pleasure and pain that can only be depicted with a line or colour, form or space, rhythm or texture. Art is full of survival, of the ability to affect change. I want them to know that when artists such as Alberto Burri, a former doctor, and Sam Francis, who served in the US Air Force during World War II, sought to recover from and make sense of their worlds after the war, they both turned to art. I want them to be aware that there are countless artists who suffer from debilitating physical and mental illnesses, who rely on art to help them cope.

Enlai and Lumen know they can count on me for anything, including to be cheerleader extraordinaire for all their endeavours. And if they want something additional to depend on, and they decide to trust in art as I have, I hope they will remember with fondness the times we visited galleries together. I wonder whether Enlai will recall the moment we walked out of a gallery a few months ago, and he noticed me crying. He said, “You needed that, didn’t you, mom?” I responded, “Yep.” He said, “Art, huh?”. I said, “Yep. Art.” And we held hands and walked home.

This US Mother’s Day, I want to share with you some of the artworks that my boys and I have seen over the last year that have moved us, artworks that have given me air and optimism.


Enlai and Anish Kapoor piece

Enlai and Anish Kapoor piece


Lumen and Susan Hiller piece

Lumen and Susan Hiller piece


Enlai and Mert Alaş and Marcus Piggott piece

Enlai and Mert Alaş and Marcus Piggott piece


Lumen and teamLab piece

Lumen and teamLab piece


Enlai, Lumen and I and Clayton Campbell pieces


Enlai and Kim Asendorf and Ole Fach piece

Enlai and Kim Asendorf and Ole Fach piece


Lumen and Azra Aghighi Bakshayeshi piece

Lumen and Azra Aghighi Bakshayeshi piece


Enlai and Yuken Teruya piece

Enlai and Yuken Teruya piece


Lumen and Adam Basanta piece

Lumen and Adam Basanta piece

Au-tastic – Spirits, Reflections, Trampolines, and Books

Lumen and Enlai

I am happy and proud to share the second post of my son Enlai’s blog, Au-tastic.  For those of you who have not yet read his first post, he has decided to write a blog devoted to his experience as the older sibling of his three-year-old autistic brother Lumen.

I have found his blog so heart-warming from his observations as an eight-year-old to his obvious love for his brother. There could not be a more fortunate mother in the world.  My two beautiful, amazing boys…


Some think autistic people are able to communicate with spirits. People believe this because autistic beings will just talk into the air sometimes. They will probably be talking to themselves, but they could be communicating with spirits. Some of autistic people’s emotions will come from communicating with spirits. In fact, one night my mum took a video of my little autistic brother awake in the middle of the night. My mum and I watched the video the morning after and saw orbs floating around him. As the orbs were floating around my little brother, he was singing and talking, possibly communicating with the spirits in the orbs.


My autistic brother likes his reflection because it tends to calm him down. It also is one of the only things that will get him to stay still in one spot. Usually if he sees a relative, he will also stay in the same spot because he can see himself in the people that he is related to.


Some autistic kids like bouncing on trampolines. My little brother would jump 24/7 if my mum and I didn’t take him outside. My brother likes to bounce on one knee every once in a while. Keeping a trampoline out for my little brother to use whenever he gets stressed or just to go for a long or a short time jump is a reliable, useful thing and it makes him really happy.


Usually, autistic children learn to say words quickest when there are very few words so it’s not too complicated. Autistic children like my brother like things simple. The book should also have bright and clear pictures. Lastly the book should have a few flaps or textures or sounds because it will keep an autistic child still long enough to start looking at the book and eventually read the book.



Enlai and Lumen


If you’ve followed my blog, you will already know my older son Enlai.  He’s now eight, going on 20, very mature, and the very best big brother.  Enlai has decided to start writing his own blog about his little brother, Lumen.

My little Lumen, as you may also know from my blog, is allergic to a multitude of foods and has suffered anaphylactic reactions, has recently been diagnosed with asthma, and is also autistic.  In his blog, Enlai has decided to write about being the older brother of an autistic sibling.  I am eager to share his first post.  My sweet, sweet Enlai.


This blog will be about what autism really is and what it truly means, and how it can change your life or even the world possibly. Also, as much as I would love to be a scientist, I am sadly not, so some of these facts might be disagreed with, and if you do disagree with some of these facts that is perfectly fine.

Firstly, I must mention that autism isn’t quite a disease, no, in fact autism can be quite a positive thing depending on how you approach it. I have a little autistic brother called Lumen so I am experienced just in case you were wondering.

How it began
When I first found out that my brother was autistic, I was about six years old. As I was so young at the time I didn’t quite get what autism was, and what it meant. After about one year I began to realise how he was different and by the time I turned eight which is my current age, I really properly understood. And hopefully you will know just as much as me eventually.

How it’s different
Autism isn’t quite a normal trait because autistic people often develop ‘normal’ skills such as talking later in their life than we would. But it’s not always predictable, as some autistic youngsters are extremely intelligent. Some autistic kids actually develop certain skills earlier than we would, such as musical talents and sensory awareness.

Autistic children usually like the feeling of different textures and vibrating tools too. But too much of anything can cause screaming or tantrums, meaning autistic kids can be quite sensitive or experience sensory overload.

The Art of Pill-Popping, Dancing and Sliding


Isomeric Slides


My boys like to touch.  And when it comes to art, they’re too often told they can look, but not touch.  I get it – art needs to be intact and preserved so its owner can protect his financial investment or sentimental chattel, or so future generations can have an opportunity to observe the piece as its creator likely intended.  I personally think there is beauty, there is historical reference or, at the very least, there is an intriguing story, to fragmented art pieces.  Consider Kintsugi or the Parthenon sculptures.  Or maybe Rembrandt’s Danae and Night Watch, or Duchamp’s Fountain.  There are tales of sieges, of madness and obsession, of acceptance and change, of vandalism.  But I imagine I’m in the minority with my affection for the broken.  And the account of an energetic, curious, possibly rambunctious child damaging an art piece may not be as fascinating as the narrative of a demented geologist attacking a work with a hammer while yelling “I am Jesus Christ” a laPieta”.

For the most part, my little fellas understand they can’t touch.  They’ve been to countless museums and galleries, and when those moments occur when they can barely resist the temptation to glide their fingers over a texture, climb on a sculpture, or make hand shadow puppets to interrupt a film projection, there are usually cordons, invigilators and their mama to help them practice self-control.

So when an exhibition like Carsten Höller’s “Decision” at Hayward Gallery comes along, I am a happy (read: more relaxed) mama.  Touching is allowed, even encouraged.  There’s interactivity, there’s physicality.  And very appealing to me, there is the observation of my children and others intermingling with the works, sometimes laughing, sometimes embarrassing themselves, sometimes suffering negligible injuries, and most times questioning.  Questioning what they are supposed to do or whether this is art.

Right before entering the exhibition, we were handed guidelines highlighting the physical and experimental nature of the show.  One piece has a minimum height and maximum weight requirement, another requires you leave all bags, coats and loose items in the cloakroom or locker, and for some of the works, visitors are urged to refrain from “using” them if they have an existing condition which might be exacerbated.


Decision Corridors (lightened for viewing purposes)

Decision Corridors (lightened for viewing purposes)

There are two alternative entrances.  We – two mothers, two seven-year-old boys, and one two-year-old boy – chose the risqué one, a work called Decision Corridors.  It is a pitch-black (except for miniscule lights which take time for your eyes to actually see once they become used to the darkness), confined corridor that twists and turns.  Höller describes this work as an architectural intervention which “delays the entrance to the exhibition and prolongs the transition from the world outside the gallery to the topsy-turvy world within.”  I was somewhat nervous because, truth be told, I was carrying my strong, heavy, autistic two-year-old son Lumen whose reaction to different scenarios cannot always be predicted.  I was wrong to be nervous.  Lumen loved the piece.  In my arms, he glided his fingers across the walls of the corridors, laughing.  He didn’t wriggle, he didn’t try to jump out of my arms.  The other two boys were justifiably disoriented, nervous but pretending not to be, bumping into each other, and shouting each other’s names when they became separated.  This was my favourite piece in the show, this indoor, covered, inky hedge maze which does not cater to claustrophobics.  It asks one to lose his reliance on sight and instead engage his senses of hearing and touch.


Pill Clock

Pill Clock

The second work to stir our imaginations was the timepiece, Pill Clock.  A single red-and-white capsule drops from the ceiling to the gallery floor every three seconds, the interval of time Höller suggests is the “length of time in which it is possible to create the impression of presence”.  Amassing in a rising pile, the pills provide a visual indicator of the passage of time.  All of this was lost on the boys.  They saw a pile of pills they were allowed to touch, pills which they could put in their mouth and swallow should they choose.  A water fountain is conveniently provided on the wall next to the pile for those who choose to ingest.  My older son Enlai asked what was in it, what the flavour was, what its effect would be, whether it would hurt him now or damage him later, whether I would be trying a pill.  I told him that I would not be trying a pill.  He asked if I was scared, and I responded that fear was not a factor, but that I was not a pill-popper, and that I wasn’t keen to swallow something whose exact makeup I wasn’t aware of.  We then discussed hallucinogenics, addiction, pharmaceutical companies, headaches and vitamins.  And he decided he would take a pill.  My mom friend decided she would, too.  Her son didn’t.  For us, this piece was more about decision than time.


The Forests

We then happened upon a large room, a small portion of  which was used to offer a long bench, the entire length of which was used to supply about 10 seats with corresponding headsets and earphones.  In these headsets and earphones was The Forests, a 3D, dual-screen video piece which splits our vision in two as one eye is guided to the right around a tree along a path, and the other eye to the left.  Höller intends for the work to be an experiment in seeing double, in looking at two things simultaneously.  My mom friend and Enlai commented that the soundtrack was haunting and the images confusing.  My little fella Lumen had no interest in engaging with the piece, but he and I both appreciated that he was allowed to run around the sizeable space without interrupting anyone’s experience of the art as they all had headsets and earphones on.  The invigilator smiled at me, perhaps sensing that this boy gives his ol’ ma a good workout chasing him around.

Intrigued by the sound of music, we walked a short distance to another room and were now immersed within Fara Fara, Lumen’s favourite piece.  It was a dark room, with visitors sat on the floor between the two screens which, seemingly in unison, depicted the music scene in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Fara Fara means “face to face” in Lingala – a Bantu language with over 10 million speakers – and is a musical competition which was formerly used as a means of resolving disputes.  Congolese music, according to Höller, is “very different in structure” from Western music, zigzagging between different styles.  For me, there is something about percussion and its infiltration into one’s bones.  Lumen danced the entire time.  He held his hands up to me, and I picked him up, and we danced together.  My mom friend danced, and the two older boys were embarrassed by the three of us.  I imagine Höller was only trying to share the Fara Fara world, but in so doing, he opened some of our ears, and awakened our hips and shoulders.

After walking upstairs, we had to make the decision whether we wanted to wait in an hour queue to experience Two Flying Machines, a simulate flight offering the opportunity to soar above the traffic of Waterloo Bridge while those in the queue, those looking out the window, and those below, look on.  The machines, described as a “combination of carousel, paraglider and motorbike” were designed by Höller to allow contemplation.  The “rider” contemplates his surroundings, but the observer of the rider contemplates the rider and his reactions to his surroundings, as well as other observers’ opinions of and comments on the rider.  The boys had neither the patience to queue or to wait for their moms to queue, so we made ourselves content watching the other adventurers in the air.

Instead, we played around with The Pinocchio Effect, a combination of vibrating devices and drawings which guide you to hold your nose with your fingers on one hand while using the other hand to place the vibrating device on one of your upper arms.  Höller based this piece on an experiment by a psychologist who discovered that it was possible to modify the way we perceive the size of our  nose by rousing certain muscles.  The artist says his own device works by influencing proprioception, a fancy word for body awareness.  Proprioception, considered one of the seven senses, is an unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation which allows us to locate our bodies in space, and to be aware of where our limbs are in relation to one another.  When you are the mother of an autistic child, you know a thing or two about proprioception as many people with autism have difficulty processing everyday sensory information and tend to be hyposensitive or hypersensitive, meaning they may stand too close to others or bump into things, or in the case of the latter, have difficulty with manipulating small objects, such as buttons.  Yes, my little Lumen liked this artwork.


Dice (White Body, Black Dots)

Body parts still feeling as though they were vibrating, we then opted to experience Half Mirror Room and Dice (White Body, Black Dots).  Reminiscent of a ballet studio sans the barre, the mirror was designed to create a double of the gallery and everything in it.  It has a certain appeal to the narcissist and the voyeur.  While Lumen jumped in front of and made faces in the mirror, checking to see if his reflection would follow, the older boys writhed through the holes in Dice.  As if a jungle gym created by a Yatzhee aficionado, Dice fulfilled the older boys’ need to climb, squirm, and hide.  Only two are allowed in Dice at a time, and the boys took full advantage of this, saying they may just camp out overnight in this square tent with circular windows.  I recall seeing this piece at Frieze 2014, and just as it seemed there, it is a component of a distinctive playground, one in which Höller is “using other people’s kids in order to fill the sculpture with life”.


Experiencing the Upside Down Goggles

A few steps away, we grabbed a pair of goggles hanging on a wall and listened to the invigilator’s directions before being lead to the outside terrace.  This piece, Upside Down Goggles, was the older boys’ favourite.  Goggles on and perplexed as to which was the right way up, they attempted to reach out to one another, to high five each other, to walk around the terrace without hesitation.  I told Enlai to look up at Höller’s  Adjusted Hayward Sign, and because the sign depicts the words “Hayward Gallery” upside down – which would mean it was displayed right side up when viewed through the goggles – he said he thought his goggles weren’t working.  I watched one woman walk around the terrace with such uncertainty, she only took about three steps.  I watched one grown man fall over another.  This was some Laurel and Hardy stuff, and I was enjoying laughing at the expense of others trying to make sense of an upturned world.


Adjusted Hayward Sign

And then, ladies and gentlemen, came what many consider the pièce de résistance of the exhibition – the Isomeric Slides.  Not dissimilar to his Test site in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall some years back, Höller constructs slides which ask us to look at them as both artworks and functional objects, and then to consider whether we’d like to take advantage of their functionality as a means to exit the exhibition.  Höller says the spiralling transporters introduce “a moment of playfulness” to the gallery’s brutalist architecture.  We all decided that we did indeed want to indulge in a bit of play.  The little munchkin didn’t meet the height requirement so he wasn’t allowed, even on my lap.  My mom friend and the two older boys went ahead, my son running excitedly up the stairs, which are visible to everyone in the room.  I could hear shouting and nervous laughter, from the top of the stairs all the way down the slide.  As soon as I knew they reached the bottom, Lumen and I took the lift down to meet them.  On the way out, I may have done some begging to a couple of different invigilators to please let me back in the gallery to take a ride down the slide myself once I put my son in the care of my friend.  When I saw the three slide-riders, they were laughing and seemed energised.  I enthusiastically ran back in, and the begging paid off as I was let through.  Up the stairs, and the slide minders told me to slip my legs through a potato sack-like cloth appendage, cross my arms over my chest, grab the top of the slide and catapult myself down.  Heading south, my belly tickled and, unexpectedly, screams and laughter came from my mouth.

Whether you can call the pieces in this exhibition art or not I think is irrelevant.  Call them what you will if you desire a label, and while searching for that label, enjoy yourself and enjoy your children.  Keep an open mind.  Engage your senses and your curiosities.  Experiment and laugh.  And be grateful that artists like Carsten Höller exist.

The exhibition is open until 6 September.  For more information on the exhibition, click here.

To My Beautiful Lumen on Father’s Day

When my ex-husband Keith and I decided to divorce, I thought my chances of having a second child at my age were no more.  When I reminded myself that there are other ways to conceive a child besides the conventional way, within a marriage, with a husband, I thought about my life and how I hadn’t taken many traditional routes, hadn’t done things in orthodox ways, and didn’t altogether comprehend the lure of the mainstream.

When I became pregnant with my second son, Lumen, the thing I feared most was telling Keith.  We were still very good friends, trying our best to co-parent our son, Enlai, and I didn’t want to hurt him.  I expected him to be angry, to say I was irresponsible, mad, selfish.  I assumed he’d say that he would not be offering any help with my unborn child, and justifiably so.  This is precisely what happened when I informed Keith.  I was in tears; he stormed out of my flat.  The next morning he showed up at my flat with bags of groceries and said that I would need to look after myself if I was pregnant.

From the day Lumen was born, Keith has treated him as his own son.  He adores Lumen, and Lumen adores him.  My Lumen, my light, my love, the below is for you, from Keith, the man in your life who knows you best, who has been there for you from day one, who will do anything for you, who gives you a love so rich, so full.


To My Beautiful Lumen on Father's Day


A couple of years ago, prodded by my now ex-wife, I wrote a few words for my sweet and beautiful son Enlai on Father’s Day, something in retrospect I’m very glad I did.  It stands as a postcard in time and it comforts me to think that Enlai may peruse it, decades hence, and at such time it will give him some degree of solace, amusement and inspiration.  This Father’s Day, I would like to do the same for Enlai’s little brother, my sweet and beautiful Lumen, who will be three next month, otherwise known to me as The Luminator, Lumes, Fruit of the Lumes, The Supergeezer and sometimes, quite simply, Supergeeze.  I’m not Lumen’s biological father.  But I do very much consider myself Lumen’s spiritual father.  With the exception of his older brother Enlai, now seven, Lumen has spent more time with me than with any other male.  He’ll always have a warm place in my heart and in my life and I’ll always have his back.

Several months ago, when I was informed that Lumen was possibly autistic, it broke my heart.  I rode around London in the rain on my motorcycle for more than an hour, crying like a baby into my helmet.  I cried so much I got a sty on my eye.  My first thought was “What will become of this sweet and beautiful boy?”, “What will his life be like?”, “Will he be happy?”, “Will he feel loved?”.

About a week later, it hit me, like a two-by-four to the back of the head.  What a shallow and presumptuous tit was I.  I knew little about autism but what I had seen was alarming.  Over the years, I had seen several severely autistic children, and my heart went out to these children and their parents.  It must take great courage and strength to be such a child or the parent of such a child, I thought at the time.  How do they cope?  And I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to not know whether or not your son or daughter was happy, to never see him or her smile or giggle or experience him or her giving you a cuddle.

But this has never been the case with Lumen.  He has always been and continues to be an extremely happy and affectionate child, taking delight and giggles in his own amusing observations, and, like a true mensch, he always gives deep and soulful hugs and pats on the back.  He is also a strikingly handsome young tyke and he has the fitness and physical dexterity of a young Hercules.  In fact his physical agility, especially at such a young age, is astonishing.  He’s more coordinated and physically adept than most adults I know.  In observing Lumen, a friend of mine, a former professional ballerina, said that, in her country (the former Soviet Union), Lumen would be snatched up at this age to be trained as a ballet dancer or professional athlete.  And, perhaps more to the point, Lumen has also always been brilliant company – affectionate, clever, funny and buoyant and yet exuding a Zen-like calm that Kane from “Kung Fu” would aspire to.  In fact, the older I get, the two people on the planet I get the biggest kick out of, and enjoy spending the most time with, are Lumen and Enlai.

There are, regrettably, a million and one ailments and afflictions that can befall a child.  Some will suffer, and even be overcome with, life threatening diseases and conditions, some, as they grow older, will struggle with depression, with their looks, their perception of their own intelligence and abilities, the way they perceive others perceive them, their lack of love, feelings of loneliness, sadness and alienation.  Some will succumb to madness or unhealthy and destructive addictions. Some will never be content or happy, no matter what positive things they have going on in their lives.  All is possible, for better or worse, in the nature-and-nurture lottery.

I immediately set about tucking into the available literature on autism.  I found it amazing that, even at this point in time in the so-called Information Age, what the medical community knows about autism, hard cold facts and not mere conjecture, would struggle to fill the back of a postage stamp.  Many of the methods of “treating” autism, devised, prescribed and implemented by doctors (many of whom with impeccable credentials) were shockingly barbaric and disgraceful.  Many of these methods have since been totally discredited, although, astonishingly, vestiges of some of these pernicious practices live on still.

There’s a saying that “The Harvard man acts like he owns the place and the Stanford man acts like he doesn’t give a goddamn who owns the place.”  In this respect, I am, most definitely, through and through, a Stanford man.  I had a very unusual mother, as eccentric as they come, who taught me, from a very young age, to question everything always and refuse to be spoon-fed and bamboozled by other people’s dogma and drivel.

At this point in time, autism is described as a spectrum, various individuals falling on to it at one place or another, from the very mild to the very severe.  As I devoured the literature on autism, I found the subject increasingly fascinating.  Autistic individuals, especially at the lighter end of the spectrum, often appeared to be possessed of some sort of super intelligence and soulfulness – they had unusual ways of looking at the world, and eccentric and uncanny abilities and talents, that lifted them head and shoulders above the hoi polloi.  Many individuals labelled autistic, some posthumously based on records, have been game-changers throughout history — Mozart, Einstein, Gandhi, Isaac Newton, Hitchcock, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Yeats, Bobby Fischer, Carl Jung, Auden, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen , Erik Satie, Franz Kafka, Nietzsche, George Bernard Shaw, Gustav Mahler, George Washington, Charles Schulz, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Thoreau, Mark Twain, Richard Strauss, Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Howard Hughes, Al Gore, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Keith Olbermann, Robin Williams, Henry Ford, Paddy Considine, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Jefferson, Glenn Gould, Darwin, Michelangelo, Orwell, Bruckner, Bartok, Benjamin Franklin, Bertrand Russell, Dan Aykroyd, Beethoven, Thomas Edison, Jim Henson, Hans Christian Anderson, Lewis Carroll, Herman Melville, Michael Palin, Andy Warhol…the list goes on and on.  I’ve always sensed the wisdom in Aristotle’s phrase that “There can be no great genius without a combination of madness.” And, the more I read, I even started to recognize certain autistic traits in others I know, highly functioning adults in all sorts of professions and walks of life. Looking back on it, I have no doubt that at the high school I went to in New York (Stuyvesant) which was chock full of brainiacs, all of whom were unusual and odd, at least half of the students were likely on the autism spectrum. I’m somewhat of an oddball myself, and if someone advised me that I, too, was also somewhere on the spectrum, I wouldn’t be surprised, nor, knowing what I know now, would I be alarmed.  I would in fact be well chuffed to be in the company of such a uniquely endowed, perceptive and talented group.

My ex-wife and I sometimes play a game.  One of us mentions a category and then we say names and opine on autistic or not.  For instance – politics.  Reagan? No.  (Bill) Clinton? Yes, somewhat.  Nixon? Somewhat.  John F. Kennedy? Yes. Lyndon Baines Johnson? No.  Bush? No. Jimmy Carter? Probably.

There’s no question that Lumen was born into the right family, one which champions and celebrates creativity and individuality.  And Lumen most certainly hit the jackpot with his mother, Lisha, a woman who is above all, in equal part, a mother and an artist, and whose great passion in life is, in equal measure, being a mother and an artist.

As Lumen continues to head down the path of forging his own personality, his own destiny, we want him to be comfortable in his own skin and we will ensure that this always continues to be the case.  We’ll be going on this journey with him every step of the way and he can hold our hand, or venture forth, at any time he likes.  There’s no telling what will become of any one of us.  Hell, I don’t even know what I’m having for dinner tonight – that’s how far my ability to see into the future extends.  What I do know to a certitude, however, is that Lumen is a remarkable and extraordinary young boy, and I have no doubt that he will grow into a remarkable and extraordinary man, one who makes the world a better place.

Lumen’s name is Latin for light and that’s just what he is.  Like his older brother Enlai, who adores his little brother and is always looking out for him, Lumen is a delight and inspiration to us all. And we love him to bits.

Kiddos at An Exhibition (With a Wink to Mussorgsky)


Enlai and Jean-Michel Basquiat's Six Crimee, MOCA, Los Angeles

Enlai and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Six Crimee, MOCA, Los Angeles


When I stare at art, inhale it, listen to what it is trying to tell me — its yearnings; its desire to communicate a moment, a gesture, a history, a personal right or collective wrong, a colour which refuses to release it from captivity; its request to hold its hand for a time and then walk away, but to come back to it in the conscious or subconscious; its screams of everything erroneous and whispers of everything true; its need to punch me in the chest and kick me in my proverbial balls and occasionally apologise or guffaw; its insistence that I look at it with weary eyes that still seek; and its want, always its want — I feel alive. I feel fixed, as well as fixed to something so much greater than me – a beautiful monster that cradles me and makes me ask questions and release preconceived notions, makes me grateful for time and chances and senses, makes me empathetic to struggles and confinement and the human condition, makes me exult in the why and how and even the because, makes me ponder necessity. And contemplate filth and splendour and money and flesh.

My relationship with art is much deeper than appreciation. It is a reliance. While I don’t necessarily wish to pass this dependence on art to my sons Enlai and Lumen, I want them to be aware that art will not fail them. If humans disappoint them, if nature betrays them, if they are in need, there will always be art – there will be galleries, museums, books, graffiti, conversations, light, imagination. I have exposed both of them to art from a very young age. We have had some of our most profound minutes while viewing art together. The conversations I’ve had afterwards with my older son Enlai have lasted hours. Art created time for us.

And so we should create time for it.


Lumen and Pascale Marthine Tayou's Cotton Stick, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London

Lumen and Pascale Marthine Tayou’s Cotton Stick, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London


Enlai and Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass, LACMA, Los Angeles

Enlai and Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass, LACMA, Los Angeles


Lumen and Pauline Boudry's and Renate Lorenz's To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation, Carroll Fletcher, London

Lumen and Pauline Boudry’s and Renate Lorenz’s To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation, Carroll Fletcher, London


Enlai and Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, The Louvre, Paris

Enlai and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, The Louvre, Paris


Lumen and I and Anish Kapoor's work, Lisson Gallery, London

Lumen and I and Anish Kapoor’s work, Lisson Gallery, London


Enlai and Claes Oldenburg works, MOCA, Los Angeles

Enlai and Claes Oldenburg works, MOCA, Los Angeles


Lumen and Sou Fujimoto's Summer Pavilion, Serptentine Gallery, London

Lumen and Sou Fujimoto’s Summer Pavilion, Serpentine Gallery, London


Enlai inside Anthony McCall's work, Ambika P3, London

Enlai inside Anthony McCall’s work, Ambika P3, London


Lumen and Tony Oursler's work, Lisson Gallery, London

Lumen and Tony Oursler’s work, Lisson Gallery, London


Enlai helping me with my installation p(urge)atory for ZAAT Mostra de Artes Visuais e Sonora exhibition, Lisbon

Enlai helping me with my installation p(urge)atory for ZAAT Mostra de Artes Visuais e Sonora exhibition, Lisbon


Enlai and Leon Golub's work, Serpentine Gallery, London

Enlai and Leon Golub’s work, Serpentine Gallery, London


Enlai and Lumen and Bill Woodrow's Elephant, Tate Britain, London

Enlai and Lumen and Bill Woodrow’s Elephant, Tate Britain, London


Enlai and Mark Rothko's Untitled (Black, Red over Black on Red), Centre Pompidou, Paris

Enlai and Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Black, Red over Black on Red), Centre Pompidou, Paris


Enlai and his mates and Damien Hirst's and Felix Gonzalez-Torres' works, Blain Southern, London

Enlai and his mates and Damien Hirst’s and Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ works, Blain Southern, London


Enlai and Lumen and Pezo von Ellrichshausen's Sensing Spaces installation, Royal Academy, London

Enlai and Lumen and Pezo von Ellrichshausen’s Sensing Spaces installation, Royal Academy, London


Enlai and Tim Etchells' Personal Statement, Vitrine Gallery, London

Enlai and Tim Etchells’ Personal Statement, Vitrine Gallery, London


Lumen and I and Mark Boulos' Red Green Blue, Lisson Gallery, London

Lumen and I and Mark Boulos’ Red Green Blue, Lisson Gallery, London


Enlai and The Wapping Project works, London

Enlai and The Wapping Project works, London


Lumen and Gina Osterloh's The Implied Body, Nothing to See Here, There Never Was, Francois Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles

Lumen and Gina Osterloh’s The Implied Body, Nothing to See Here, There Never Was, Francois Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles


Enlai and Jesús Rafael Soto's Penetrable in Neon Lime, LACMA, Los Angeles

Enlai and Jesús Rafael Soto’s Penetrable in Neon Lime, LACMA, Los Angeles


Enlai at Central Saint Martins MA Fine Art Degree Show, 2011, London

Enlai at Central Saint Martins MA Fine Art Degree Show, 2011, London


Lumen and I and Anish Kapoor's works, Lisson Gallery, London

Lumen and I and Anish Kapoor’s works, Lisson Gallery, London


Enlai and I and Doug Wheeler's RM 669, MOCA, Los Angeles

Enlai and I and Doug Wheeler’s RM 669, MOCA, Los Angeles


Lumen and Tatsuo Miyajima's works, Lisson Gallery, London

Lumen and Tatsuo Miyajima’s works, Lisson Gallery, London


Enlai and Mehmet Ali Uysal's work, Pi Artworks, London

Enlai and Mehmet Ali Uysal’s work, Pi Artworks, London


Lumen and I and Martin Creed's  Work No. 200 (Half the air in a given space), Hayward Gallery, London

Lumen and I and Martin Creed’s Work No. 200 (Half the air in a given space), Hayward Gallery, London


Enlai and Diébédo Francis Kéré's Sensing Spaces installation, Royal Academy, London

Enlai and Diébédo Francis Kéré’s Sensing Spaces installation, Royal Academy, London


Enlai and his mate and Martin Creed's Work No.732, Frieze Sculpture Park, London

Enlai and his mate and Martin Creed’s Work No.732, Frieze Sculpture Park, London


The Seven Year Itching-to-Explore-and-Know-and-Opine


My amazing Enlai, you are seven years old today.  Not long ago, you and I looked at several old photos of you.  We laughed at your funny antics, your silly faces, and I was reminded of how your pa has always said you like to “fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run”.  Somehow, my son, I believe you have learnt to fill your minute with at least seventy three seconds’ run.  Time seems to be sharing a secret with you.

This seems a momentous birthday because I was seven when my parents divorced.  I remember so many details from that period, details that may have seemed insignificant to others but were colossal to me.  And I have always been mindful of this when parenting you.  We are both sensitive souls, you and I, and it is important to me that this seventh year of your life is one which makes you feel warm, feel more love than you’ve ever felt.  I hope it is a year that you look back upon and preface any words of recollections with a smile.

Happy Birthday to you, my Enlai, whose mind is a rich repository of all things superheroes.  What you may not know is that you are my personal superhero and possess more power in that brain of yours than the powers of Doctor Strange, The Flash, and Martian Manhunter combined.

You, who questions absolutely everything, including why more people don’t say “Amn’t I” as opposed to “Aren’t I”, whether God exists, whether yellow is actually yellow, and whether 8pm is in fact a good time for a child to go to bed.

You, who every time has been given an opportunity to make a wish over the last year, whether when throwing a coin in a fountain or blowing on dandelions or birthday candles, has wished for your friend Vanessa to be well again and for your brother Lumen to lose all his allergies.

You, who I see being fragile when we are alone together.  When your eyes tell their stories.

You, whose teacher began your end-of-year report with “Enlai is a happy child” and conveyed that you are one who exemplifies empathy.

You, who says you don’t like to wear jeans because they feel too “crunchy”, eat a certain pizza because it’s too “creamish”, or doesn’t want to get involved in a situation because it feels too “crumbly”.

You, who laughs the most sincere and contagious laugh when you are playing practical jokes on people.  That fake poo joke we played on grandpa and grandma is one for the books.

You, who turns to paper and pen when you feel most passionate about something.  And whose writing and art show just how observant you are.

You, who favours walking next to your mates with your arm around them.

You, who have inherited the gift of the gab from your pa.  After I told you, “You don’t always have to talk.  Empty, quiet spaces are a good thing, and silence can be golden,” you responded, “No, silence is not golden, it’s more like metal or wood.”

You, who shares everything – your toys, your food, your opinions, your time.

You, who always asks the definitions of the words I use.  And remembers the definition and uses the word.

You, who has realised the power of your vivid imagination over the last year.  You have your dreamcatcher for any nightmares, an endless supply of paper for your ideas, and a mother you can rely on to hold you, to listen, to encourage.

You, whose sort-of-American-sort-of-British accent makes me laugh.

You, who are so patient with and so protective of your little brother.  He is so lucky to have you in his life.

You, who likes to assert your newly-found attitude by saying, “I don’t care.”  I know you do, and in your seventh year, I wish for you an understanding of why you always should.

You, who overheard a conversation when a man used the word stupid.  You proceeded to dictate said conversation to me, stating, “I won’t say the word because you’ll get upset with me.  I’ll spell it: S-T-O-O-P-I-D.”  I felt it necessary to correct you, and you thought I was pulling a quick one on you, replying, “Oh, I’m not falling for that one.  A man knows how to spell his bad words.”

You, who has a nurturing nature which I hope will always stay with you.

Despite the fact that it is your birthday, my love, I am the one who has received the gift.

The Phosphorescence of a Two-Year-Old



You turn two today, my beautiful Lumen.  A couple of those 365-day spans have passed, and I am the most fortunate mother for having spent every single one of these days with you.

You, who only requires water to splash in, music to dance to, and open spaces to run in.

You, with your lengthy lashes, gentle eyes, nose that you’re proud to show me lately that you know how to pick, and that diastema smile and infectious laugh that accompanies it.  You, with your hair that is on its way to matching Dylan’s on the Blonde on Blonde album cover.  You, with your bear cub hands.

You, who jumps as if all the world were a trampoline, and runs as if receiving the silver medal was not an option.  You, who will attempt to climb walls, sofas, chairs, stairs, and over ledges, and when you succeed, almost always land on your feet.

You, who can’t stop giggling when you, your big brother Enlai and I wrestle and tickle in the bed.

You, whose favourite songs are Jay-Z’s “Dust Your Shoulder Off”, Aloe Blacc’s “I Need a Dollar”, the Alphabet Song, and Wheels on the Bus.  You, who likes to sing in your buggy as we walk the streets of London.

You, who is fascinated by Elmo, Peppa Pig, and Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom.

You, who could swing on the swings for forever, plus or minus a few minutes.

You, who enjoys destructing every tower Enlai and I build for you and then running out of the room before we can catch you.

You, who has no flaps left in your flap books because you’ve enthusiastically torn them all out, and who doesn’t like to read books in their page order.

You, who are so independent already, and cheeky to boot.

You, who has been through so much in your short life with allergies and anaphylactic reactions but remains the epitome of resilience, the embodiment of the little fella that keeps on keeping on.

You, who comes to me for cuddles, and who I never want to let go when you do.

At only two, you seem to possess a bendable light, a light that shines around corners and softens rough edges.  Without being aware of it, you offer to those who are living in faint light to lather themselves in your beams.  And to those basking in borrowed light, you remind them of their own lustre.  You are my sweet, sweet Lumen.  Happy Birthday, my love.


A Father and Daughter

Art in all its forms.  Visual arts, film, music, food.  Passions we share, my dad and I.  When we speak, the conversation will curve, and we will begin discussing philosophy and sensibility.  It bends again, and we become political commentators.  After a time, we loop back to colour, texture and lyrics.  Another turn and we are talking about our similar sensitive souls and then laughing at our love of sweets.

A few years ago, my dad sat me down to discuss his will.  It’s not a conversation any daughter is keen to have with her father, but I listened.  He mentioned a few assets, he mentioned my siblings, and he mentioned that he does not want to live past the moment when he is not meant to live and that he is relying on his family to recognise this moment.

I remember telling him that I was only interested in the art he has created and in particular one piece, a drawing of a nude woman sitting next to a window smoking a cigarette.

And now I realise that while I am still interested in his art — which is a vast collection because he is one of the most prolific artists I know, an artist who confronts life by creating — I am more interested in the here, the now, the conversations.

These conversations fill me, they carry me, they make me laugh when nothing else can, they make me trust myself, they make me hungry for life, they make me want to scream with written words, to pour my everything into creating, to understand, to love, to remember this and forget that, to hold on no matter how jarring the ride, to ask how the fuck did I get so lucky to have a dad like mine.

In honour of my dad and all the dads of the world this Father’s Day, here are some art pieces created by dads, depicting dads, exploring the relationship between a dad and his child(ren).

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, photograph taken by her father Guillermo Kahlo, 1919

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, John Singer Sargent, 1882, oil on canvas

Lucian Freud with his daughter Bella

Lucian Freud with his daughter Bella, photograph by Bruce Barnard


Ella, Gerhard Richter, 2001, oil on canvas

Photograph of her father

Photograph of her father after Pinpin Co used a 0.38mm gel ink pen to draw on his face

Portrait of a Man with Three Sons, Barthel Bruyn the Elder, 1530, oil on canvas

Portrait of a Man with Three Sons, Barthel Bruyn the Elder, 1530, oil on canvas

Unexpected Return

Unexpected Return, Ilya Repin, 1884-88, oil on canvas

Grandfather and grandson at Manzanar Relocation Center

Grandfather and grandson at Manzanar Relocation Center, photograh by Dorothea Lange, 1942

Maya with her Doll

Maya with her Doll, Pablo Picasso, 1938, oil on canvas

Portrait of Lorenzo Pagans, Spanish tenor, and Auguste Degas, the artist's father

Portrait of Lorenzo Pagans, Spanish tenor, and Auguste Degas, the artist’s father, Edgar Degas, 1869, oil on linen





Lasering in on Lorraine Avanessian

I’ve had the good fortune to know Lorraine Avanessian since our sons could not even sit up on their own, with dribble running down their chins as they cut their first teeth, and often a bit smelly.  Babies poo a lot.  We met at story time at a local library, and here we are, seven years and two additional sons later.

Like many mothers, Lorraine had a career pre-children.  I am often surprised when fellow moms are in the midst of a conversation about sleepless nights, tantrums, and never-ending laundry, when something about their former occupation crops up.  I remember asking Lorraine something about my son’s teeth, and she responded in a way that wasn’t typical of a mom.  She responded as someone who knew teeth.  I mean really knew teeth.  It is then that I found out she had worked in the dental field for the last 20 years.

Having taken time out to raise her two sons, Lorraine is now back in the saddle, albeit a different saddle.  After spending several years in the world of dentistry, Lorraine has expanded her passion for aesthetics.  Always fascinated by skin, she decided to embark on a “skin journey” by enrolling in various skin health and management and laser treatment courses.  She is now a certified laser lady, or as my son likes to say, “She could be in Star Wars like Anakin and Darth Vader.”  Well, sort of.

I asked Lorraine if I could interview her to find out what exactly she does and why she does it.  Below is an excerpt from this interview.

From enamel, dentine and pulp cavity to unwanted hair, thread veins and stretch marks – what made you decide to transition from a career in the dental field to one in laser treatments and cosmetic dermatology?  I have always been fascinated with skin, and like most people, battled with a problematic complexion in my younger years.  Having already a clinical background and plenty of experience with people in a medical environment, it was a natural step to learn about skin health and treatments.

We all have heard about laser treatments, but what exactly are they?  Laser treatments are just part of what I do.  Whether laser or IPL (intense pulse light), it is basically a light that applies heat energy at different intensities and different depths.  This allows the clinician to target specific areas of the body.  Therefore it is possible to reduce or eliminate hair follicles, spider veins or pigmentation.  It can also cause heating of the deeper layers of the skin resulting in tightening and skin rejuvenation.  All of these treatments are virtually pain-free and non-invasive.

I assume it’s not a one size fits all practice?  Not at all.  Each treatment is tailored to the individual client because we are all different, and some clients are not suitable for certain treatments.

Is there a consultation first or do patients receive treatment during the first visit?  A full detailed consultation will always be carried out first.  Otherwise the correct treatment cannot be carried out efficiently and safely.  This involves obtaining as much information as possible about the client’s lifestyle, medical history, diet, current skin care regime, previous treatments, past and present skin issues, and most importantly, the client’s expectations of the outcome of the proposed treatment.  By the end of the consultation, the client should have a clear understanding of how the skin works in relationship to the treatment.

Are there any guidelines patients have to follow before starting treatment?  When dealing with skin rejuvenation, a good daily skin care regime must be established first.  A change in diet, reduction in alcohol intake, stopping or moderating smoking, and protecting the skin from UV rays and pollution with the use of antioxidants will make a huge difference to the skin for starters.  And any rejuvenation treatment following this will produce much better results.

What sort of skin issues benefit from laser or IPL treatment?  There is a wide variety of treatments, including permanent reduction of unwanted hair, thread veins, rosacea, ageing skin and pigmentation.  As well as laser and IPL, my Sharplight Ominmax system also provides infrared and radio frequency, and these applications provide treatments for skin laxity, cellulite and stretch marks with great results.

Thus far, what have the majority of patients come to you for?  Hair reduction is a very common treatment among both men and women, as well as skin tightening, but the majority of clients are interested in improving the health of their skin.

Why would a patient come to you rather than opting for Botox, fillers or cosmetic surgery?  People are more aware now of the side effects and complications that these invasive treatments can produce.  The treatments that I provide work with the natural potential of the skin to repair and rejuvenate itself, resulting in a more harmonious and natural looking outcome.

About how long could a patient expect to see results after treatment?  It depends on each client and how unhealthy or sun damaged the skin is.  Treatment is carried out over a course of several visits but even after completion it carries on improving.

Will patients look like Samantha a la Sex in the City after her “freshening” peel when they leave your office?  I can’t remember what she looked like, was it good or bad?  In any case, I hope she applied her sun factor 50 soon after.  Strongly recommended!

As it’s becoming more popular for male clients to enjoy skin treatments these days, Lorraine Avanessian is offering a Father’s Day treat at a promotional rate of £65 (normal price £95) for a skin assessment consultation which includes a city recovery facial – perfect for the city dwelling man.