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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  I personally think there is beauty, there is historical reference or, at the very least, there is an intriguing story, to fragmented art pieces.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.


Happy Mother’s Day to the Originators

I was an artist before I was a mother.  And in this pre-materfamilia time, minutes were more friendly for creating.  They were mine, and mine only.  They were quiet.  They weren’t tangled up with asks and wants and needs and toys.  They never hungered.  As an artist who is now also a mother, nearly every single minute is shared.  Even when my two sons sleep, they are slumbering in my psyche.

Since giving birth, my art practice has changed.  There is a force that goes hand in hand with motherhood, a vigour that has seeped into and often times bombarded my subsistence as an artist.  It has been both harmonious and hostile.

I look at art through two, sometimes three pairs of eyes now.  And while I was teaching art to children, I viewed art through eyes aplenty.  I see things I may not have previously considered, and I appreciate the sincerity, the unfiltered, inexperienced, non-formulaic art pieces my sons and students have created.  I relish in the fact that my sons have been exposed to more art in their young lives than I’ve seen in the last three decades.

I haven’t had the opportunity to create as much as I would like, but it’s all there, brewing.  Those hushed, lone minutes will return.

This US Mother’s Day, I pay tribute to all the mothers who are artists. and I salute the following artists who have chosen motherhood as a theme in their works.


Shira Richter, Push, photograph


 Amanda Jane Crouse, ceramic figures


 Louay Kayali, Mother and Child,  1973, oil on wood


 Alison Saar, study for Sea of Nectar, 2008, wood, ceiling tin, bronze and tar


 Masud Alam Liton, All About My Mother, photograph


 Catherine Haley Epstein, Wore & Piece – Ne Me Quitte Pas


 Sofia Kapnissi, Statues-II, acrylic


 Gertrude Kasebier, Lollipops, 1910, photograph


 Roshanak Ofstad, My Future Is in Your Eyes, photograph


 Montserrat Gudiol Corominas, Motherhood, 1964, oil on panel


Miriam Schaer, from the series Baby (Not) On Board, 2010-2013, red thread, baby clothing

Happy UK Mother’s Day – Body of a Motheress

Flaps of fabric at the mercy of a relentless wind or the invariable fluttering of ample bird wings. That’s what I heard when I listened to my son Enlai’s heartbeat for the first time while eight weeks pregnant.

I imagined his tiny heart beating inside the echo chamber that was my womb, thinking about how for a time my body would be host to two heartbeats, each beating at its own rate. Eventually, my frame would accommodate two of every organ, four eyes, eight limbs, and countless veins, arteries and capillaries.

The woman-to-mother metamorphosis, with panoptic physical changes, made me observe and appreciate my own form as I never had before. My wonder and respect for the female body’s capabilities has grown as I have grown, from being barely pregnant to a mother of a six-year-old and a 20-month old – its ability to conceive, to house and nurture, to deliver, to feed, to care for, to soothe.

I realised that I and my fellow pregnant women were all too oft required to surrender our bodies during pregnancy, not only to our unborn child, but also to doctors, midwives and nurses, to passersby on the streets. While visiting my midwives during the last trimester, I remember on several occasions having my legs open to their easternmost and westernmost points with my knees north, allowing latexed hands inform as to whether all was okay. As I walked along streets, into shops or onto public transport, strangers would touch my belly. My bump was no longer mine; it seemed to belong to anyone who found it fascinating. I never minded; I was touched by the touch.

While pregnant with my second son Lumen, I was more attuned to my body’s adjustments. I knew I was pregnant before an early predictor test could tell me I was. When I began bleeding in my first trimester and assumed I miscarried, my body was hinting to me to go slow, to perhaps listen to more of Miles’ Kind of Blue, less of his Bitches Brew. I learned that I developed a subchorionic haematoma, which the outer fetal membrane eventually reabsorbed. It is at this same time that a friend told me she had miscarried and another friend divulged that her son and daughter were conceived via a donor.

This is a woman’s body, when she decides she would like to have a baby, until the time her body says to her she can no longer have a baby – her blood speaks to her like the hands of a clock speak to the rest of the world, her fallopian tubes may reveal to her that her uterus will have to welcome the eggs of another woman, her abdomen may hint at loss of life, her skin may become discoloured, stretched, freckled, moled or swathed in bumps, her hormones may wreak havoc, her breasts may swell to the size of watermelons and then become saggy apricots, her hair may become as full as the girl’s in the shampoo ad and then fall out en masse. Her hairline might change altogether. She may be confronted with haemorrhoids, spider veins, or varicose veins. She may get a tingling in her breasts when it is time to feed her baby or a throbbing and fever when the baby wasn’t hungry. She may suffer pelvic organ prolapse, she may urinate without knowing she has. She may welcome prominent biceps from carrying this, and back pain from carrying that. Her foot size may increase. She may have new curves, loss in muscle tone and changes in fat deposits. And when her body wants to say to her that she can no longer bear her own children, she may cry, she may scream, she may be grateful for what her body has already given her or mourn what it could not.

Contemplating the body of a mother, I embarked on a project which entailed photographing mothers’ body parts. The initial concept was to document a change in identity when a woman becomes a mother, highlighting the forgotten, whether they are body parts consigned to oblivion by a partner or the woman herself when she became a mother. I gave them the option of telling me which part of their body they’d like me to photograph or allowing me to choose.

As projects do, this one evolved. While some moms offered their Caesarean section scars and the stretch marks on their breasts, bum and bellies, others asked if there was a way I could photograph their insides – “My insides are ripped apart when I see my child hurting. How do you photograph this?”

Throughout my sessions with these moms, I was reminded of Robert Frank’s words – the eye should learn to listen before it looks. My eyes listened. Just as my heart listened when I heard my son’s heartbeat. And when the eyes and heart listen, stories unfold. Stories of life lived and given. Given and lived.


My Breasts Are Better Than Kate Upton’s

With the amount of breastfeeding news stories in the media, what else could there be to say about the topic? Compare my mom boobs to a model’s jubblies? Maybe. Add that to a few other observations about the sweet suckledom, a subject which seems to invite the most opinionated, some of whom shock the bra straps right off me.

The first person – an elderly gentleman – to provide a mouthful on my own mammary glands proclaimed, “Oh, this is most inappropriate. You should cease this nonsense immediately.” I was in an embassy, and I began to breastfeed my 12-week-old son in what I thought was a discreet manner. Mind you, I never used a nursing cover – an apron-like garment that conceals the feed. I assumed that if I wasn’t keen to eat under a blanket during meal time due to a feeling of suffocation, my son probably wouldn’t be either. This gentleman – or not-so-gentle man – made me cry with his unsolicited comments. Due to still-settling hormones, and what felt like a betrayal by the breast is best campaign, I wept, tears falling on my feeding son’s cheeks. I said nothing to the man, but I wanted to say, “I make milk. The boob juice feeds my child, best stuff on the planet for him right now. It’s a bit of a superpower I have. What do your man-boobs do?”

The second time I was the recipient of comments of the anti-boobs-au-lait-in-public variety, I was having dinner at a local pizza joint with a friend, my five-year-old and my five-month-old. There were two other diners – a man and a woman – across the room from us. My friend asked if I heard the comments the man just made: “Oh that breastfeeding is putting me off my food. It’s outrageous.” I’m happy I hadn’t. What I found odd is that this man’s back was to me. The woman he was dining with felt obligated to inform him that there was a semi-visible breast in the vicinity. The man kept turning around, and it was after the fourth or fifth time doing so that my friend was tempted to say something. I finished feeding my son, we got the bill and we left.

There were other times when observations voiced were kinder, more innocent. When I fed my son Lumen in the playground, a handful of my older son’s friends felt compelled to gather around me as if I was Santa redistributing gifts that the naughty kids never received. Some giggled, others asked why I was doing this, and one young boy asked, “Does it hurt?” I answered honestly, saying that there were times when it was painful. He then asked, “Then why don’t you stop?” I responded, “There’s a little thing called sacrifice that mothers do for their children. And of course the meta-analyses of scientific studies of this milk that’s coming out of my breast and into Lumen’s mouth right now prove that his immunity is being boosted and that feeding anything else to him right now is more likely to make him ill.” The bemused little youngster ran away. One young girl, part curious, part frightened of cannibalism, shouted, “He’s eating her. Aaahhh. Run away before he starts eating us.” Read the rest of this entry »