Low Residency: Jessica Thom

Our day of collaborative making inspired by the art and activism of Jessica Thom was incredibly fun, thought provoking and inspiring.

In regards to the artist Jessica, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a better speaker, someone who worked so hard to engage her audience and make the room a friendly, open and accessible place for questions and discussion. It seems there are many ways to understand Jess, as an artist, activist, speaker, comedian, actor but I was particularly inspired by the way she addressed her audience. Perhaps this is because the nature of my other work at the Museum involves a lot of public speaking. As the low residency continued and we had other artists talking about their work, due to how amazing Jess was, I couldn’t help but compare and contrast the way artists and teachers engage their audiences. For some it comes more naturally and for others less so but in an academic art environment it is still interesting to see how varied peoples’ skills are when it comes to communication. Jess even audio transcribed parts of her talk, just to ensure that everybody could be included. This to me contrasted starkly with our talk the following day where we were all told to sit at the back of the auditorium, not even questioning whether that would then start to affect people who have issues with sight for example. She reminded me how it is all too easy to live in a world where we are not so aware of the concept of accessibility, even if it is unconscious and a response to how accessibility operates in greater society.

It was also the first time that I had been asked to make work in response to a disability, as i’m sure it was for most of us. It seemed, throughout Jess’ talk, quite clear that her tourettes was a gateway to an instant creative visual language. I had recently been learning a bit about Freud and dream theory. He was apparently to have considered dreams as something like ‘the royal road to our unconscious’ – and I wondered if Jess’ verbal tics acted in a similar way perhaps? She spoke of her tics as not being things she would normally say but clearly have an imprint of her on them. It is her and it isn’t her, but it is her?

When we were put into our groups for collaborative making, we scrolled through her website’s database of tics where there were thousands of possibilities for a response. We fell upon the phrase ‘I hate owls overacting’ – I just thought of it to be an incredibly funny image and statement. I also thought it was important not to use a verbal tic with swearing as Jess said that only 10% of people with tourettes do actually swear, so it is a misconception to think of the two hand in hand.

When it came to the actual making, I was reflecting on what I learned from and about the low residency last year and to me, the success of collaborative making was not the final outcome of the work but working well in a group, getting to know each other better, understanding the idea of a group dynamic when it comes to make and also enjoying the process as well as taking it as an opportunity to learn from others. I was very lucky to be in a group where all of this was achieved. Ben from the 1st year of this course was already adept at 3D scanning and brought his scanner along, and the rest of my group were equally keen to learn a bit more about it. This then drove our work and Ben almost held an informal workshop in which he would do the scanning, we were the subjects, and then we each got to learn how to edit the scans on photoshop. It was an incredibly fun learning experience and I was very pleased with our outcome as it just reflected the playful nature of our working approach as a group.

A fantastic start to the low residency!


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