Autism: A Visual Journal

Submitted by Ann Vincenti-Michelman

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Client: Autism Speaks

Location: Boston, MA, United States

Completion date: 2008

Project Team

Artist

Ann Vincenti-Michelman

Other

Kate O'Neill

Autism Speaks

Overview

Coping with the reality of my daughter’s autism diagnosis I constructed a visual record of our daily struggle. For 10 years I created one assemblage 3.5” x 4.75”. These collages are ordered in a grid 5’h x100’w. The 3,650 pieces chronicle loses shared. The “visual diary” engages understanding of autism’s impact. Autism: A Visual Journey invites viewers to experience the fragmentation characterized by the disorder. With Autism Speaks as my partner, our goal is to find a dedicated public space to display this work for April's “Light it up Blue” campaign which focuses attention on autism each year.

Goals

The wood blocks emerge organically from the wall a mosaic design is apparent. At intimate range the content of each panel comes into focus. The work conveys the experience it chronicles and cannot be compressed into a simple statement—10 years of isolation trying to make sense of the present moment. Days and years stretch behind and ahead of the viewer like pages of a book; each is a distinct work and together they tell one story. Piecing together the collages as the artist lived the decade following her daughter’s diagnosis. Finding many constructions mysteries like the artist’s daughter the viewer is unable to recognize the individuals in photographs, comprehend the significance of phrases, or identify artifacts. Struck by its beauty, the breadth of Autism: A Visual Journey invites repeated visits to explore particular panels or individual assemblages.
Unifying the collage/assemblages is a wooden block tightly wrapped with off-white muslin each written with the date the collage was completed. Brass nails secure the collages to the fabric-wrapped blocks.

Process

Fragments of family treasures, touchstones, images reworked from the artist’s past affixed to dated muslin-wrapped wood blocks create a gridded timeline. Each collage is a unique work— a thought at a moment in a day searching for meaning in the present. All “visual diary entries” focusing meticulously on disparate shards of a family’s shattered life. In the viewer’s peripheral vision, unfathomable images lie behind, and more ahead. The first a sketched on a medical flyer as the artist waited for her daughter’s diagnosis. The next shows biology gone awry. Similar to the impairments of autism thousands of ideas invite complex interpretations. Gridded panels bring order to chaos side by side creating organic time. Moving through the tumultuous years the work was created. The design is a colorful mosaic. Like a visual book intimate engagement encourages interpretation the panels bear. Heartbreaking imagery family traditions absent to the next generation. Toys, coins, photographs, maps, dictionaries, children’s books all abstractions inaccessible to a child with a language handicap—loss of imaginary play, domestic security. Universal humanity portrayed through letters, miniatures, Shakespeare, clocks. The viewer is drawn into profound pictorial conversation one the artist’s daughter will never understand.

Additional Information

Knowing that personal stories contribute to educating the public about autism and inspiring people to support research and social service initiatives, we look forward to partnering with a public space to showcase this work of art next April. The month begins with April 2nd, UN's World Autism Awareness Day, followed by Autism Speaks' “Light it Up Blue” campaign. “I’ve become passionate about autism— for all the children that suffer. It is my fervent hope the art will bring attention to the work that still needs to be done.” -Ann Vincenti-Michelman, artist & mother.