Saturday, April 13, 2019

My proposal for the 1st annual ADHD (Time Blindness) Conference for ARTISTS!

Gilda Snowden once told me that if the average artist gets a Guggenheim after something like 10 attempts, we'd better get started. Below is the "Statement of Plans" which got me back into thinking seriously about what kind of art practice I'd want to commit to. So I'm happy to have gone through the process even though it was a long shot for not having made consistent artwork for the past few years, but alas I have 8 more applications to go, and I think it's really interesting to share a failed proposal.
Here's to vulnerability! cheers!

“The first annual Failure + ADHD conference”
is a project I am initiating as a form of alternative research that will bring together experts and artists in a format that, like in my artwork, holistically incorporates a clear message of appreciation and engagement into the structure of the event itself. The word “Failure” here is being used for its shock value, but it also makes sense to contrast the two terms where one is deceptively simple (You Lose) and the other, is a euphemism (I’m not trying to Lose, I just do).

I plan on developing the project over 2019 - 2021 and producing a new body of work that attempts to represent Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). I will partner with a professor at a local college or University in Los Angeles to share the logistics in putting on a conference that presents the latest research projects focusing on failure, but expressed in an accessible way where those with ADHD and similar disabilities can fully participate. Relying on existing networks I have made, new work and elements of the conference will draw from and be distributed to spaces that support artists from across Detroit, Glasgow and Los Angeles. This focus on how those with ADHD experience intense extremes, feelings of all-or-nothing and the reality of stopping altogether in the face of adversity, parallels economic extremes that we are seeing in wealth inequality in America and in the world. This is not a metaphor, but rather the activities that artists with ADHD take on, where often lives are made up of clever strategies for survival, they are a barometer for economic systems with particular demands of flexibility or failure placed on people not on situations.

But when work is reframed to empower and accept the limitations of those with ADHD, this reveals vigilance on the part of those with ADHD for alternatives that rely on external supports, many of which connect to the most critical and engaging radical movements of our time. This work follows my growing awareness that my coping strategies and the mental labor involved are often at the heart of my work with artist communities over the last 10 years and I am seeking support of the Guggenheim to not just produce new work, but to help me form a greater system that can continually support and challenge the work that I do for years to come.

There are two questions that I would like to present with these new works, which are controversial and personal: What is the relationship to ADHD and being an artist (using my own practice as a starting point)? And could ADHD symptoms illuminate and even confront Capitalism, where those with the disorder who fail to meet its demands find solidarity?

The lead researcher on ADHD is Dr. Russell Barkley. He says that the label itself is a misnomer and should be renamed either Time-Blindness or Intention Deficit Disorder. His research is fodder for philosophical questions that challenge our notions about free will, mental health, incentives, and how we identify/treat illness.

This conference that I envision is made up of two concurrent conferences under one roof titled: “Failure + ADHD”, where research and presentations on failure take place next to an unconventional conference that brings together artists with ADHD to share their experiences with one another, but the structures and format of the presentations would accommodate those with special needs. One example of this is that presentations would be more visual and hands-on, rely less on passive lecturing over long stretches of time, and also presenters would give the same presentation twice.

Even Dr. Barkley’s research is only presented as either a two-hour long video specifically for the parents of children with ADHD, or 1” thick books for adults, which are actually inaccessible to those who the information is about. This event would become a platform for those that successfully can express anything from professional development to taxes in the form of comic books, short films and other media, breaking through the barriers of attention and self-motivation that simply are not prioritized by people not affected by this handicap. Dr. Barkley uses the research and data to point out the stakes of these kinds of decisions: “We don’t say to someone in a wheelchair, after 30 days of successful use of the wheelchair ramp, it will be removed.”

I would also use the time to travel to other countries, locating and meeting people who may be able to speak of how ADHD is regarded and how it is handled in different cultures respectively, if there is a different name or treatment for it, or if the symptoms themselves throw up less of a stark contrast because one culture can accommodate it. Specifically, chrononormativity-- or the Eurocentric hegemony over our concept of time-- may be easier to challenge using models outside of hyper capitalist American culture.

The work by authors like
Johanna Hedva (Sick Woman Theory) depicting chronic illness as a form of intentional or unintentional protest,
Fred Moten (the Undercommons) advocating for informal self-organization from within oppressive institutions,
and Jeffrey Vallance (The 20 principles of infiltration) emphasizing sincerity and close proximity with what you want to critique, all provide very generous accounts of making space for alternative ways of being. Their work will be the grounding for an ADHD discussion group in Los Angeles.

This project will be a continuation of the organizing and artwork I’ve done for the past decade, all of which focused on analyzing and contesting inequality in it’s various iterations. Most similar to the conference is my international project  ”Over Over Over” (2014 - 2019), which is an independent model of artist exchange connecting artist-run spaces to radical thinkers from two post-industrial cities, Detroit and Glasgow. By facilitating art projects, public group discussions and exhibitions that interrogate what it means to be an artist creating and sustaining one's practice in these highly mythologized cities, it prioritizes reflection within a widening community and it is structured to be able to facilitate mutual support amongst participating artists without them needing to fund it or without having to represent as model citizens with strings attached.

I’ve made conceptual sculptures, installations and video work for solo exhibitions, some can be tied to ADHD, but all pertain to exploring something I struggle with. In a video piece, “Drum Driving”, I risk my safety in order to squeeze in time to make art at the same time that I am doing a long commute, it reminds audiences that sometimes making work can be a physical risk to artists and that sometimes the damage done through labor is damage done to the self.

Because of my disability, I often must rely on a network of intellectuals who can take in information in ways that I cannot in order to be a part of a larger discussion about art and labor. At the same time, I never take the usual art conventions for granted and I always find a way to challenge the usual passive consumption of art. For example, in a solo show at UCLA on the invitation of an art & activist student group, visitors were greeted with parts to walls laid out, but no instructions. In this free-for-all workshop-as-opening, curious students worked with each other to use power tools for the first time, but they quickly learned about the necessity of working together against the bureaucracy of their own school. The space they were given to put on art shows was not conducive to any kind of experimentation because it was first and foremost a historic building, specifically a public hallway. When the students were told that everything had to be moved out because it was “not art”, this added to the tone for a month of programming I had already put together to celebrate the local resources for activism.

The research for these workshops in my solo show titled “Amateur Strategies” included meeting with Willem Henri Lucas (A graphic design professor at UCLA that also attempted to put up unsanctioned exhibitions on campus), the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (an independent archive of where art meets activism), and The Best Friends Learning Gang workshop titled “Lock Picking & DIY Pepper spray (A communal alternative study group put on by local artists Dan Bustillo and Joey Cannizzaro). I also scoured UCLA’s own archives of a history of activism on campus, which revealed massive gaps, and encouraged them to submit ephemera of their own activity in the Occupy movement, Black Lives Matter, and demonstrations against the high cost of tuition. I was even able to break down the merits of the project so that the students were able to successfully bid for student government funds, which injected $2,000 into their programming budget. Little did we know at the time how prescient this would be, solidifying their commitment to activism, being strategic and somewhat sneaky, making time and space for self-care, working as if we lived in the early days of a better society, as Trump was elected president six months. The students re-used the walls for various protests.

The exhibitions that I put on of Detroit artists in Glasgow and Glasgow-based artist in Detroit did successfully raise over $30,000, but for the most part they were traditional presentations of work comparatively to my personal artwork. As much as I made efforts to have a wide representation of gender, race and class, I feel that the project is incomplete because even with having ADHD myself, I hadn’t tailored any of the presentation formats to account for neurodiversity.

About 4 - 5% of the population has ADHD and I am looking at a subsection of that have gone into the arts. I have already begun some preliminary research into artists with ADHD. When I took a poll of people to see if they can see signs of ADHD in their work, or if it contributes to their creative work in any way, the responses went against assumptions I had that people went into art because it was more forgiving and it could be more on one’s own terms. Often, the overwhelming self-management tasks overshadowed other beliefs such as the necessity for hyperfocus, or being an empath. Dr. Barkley says that those who do good work, do it despite having ADHD, not because of it, but YouTube channels such as “How to ADHD” devote a good amount of time to note aspects that seem like special powers, quirks worth appreciating, and both can be right.

Amongst the few respondents that have worked for years on being as self-aware as possible, they lamented the lack of research and useful resources for adults with ADHD, and that they have had to figure everything out on their own in a complex story of failure, devastation and self-moderation. I often work with other artists and pride myself on bringing them into a fold of a different way of thinking and working, helping others see the possibility of what I imagine work to be, and how work can be redefined to address salient local and cultural topics.

Creating better models for ADHD theories of the mind could very well help to diagnose people correctly, to get more precise and accurate assistance, to develop individualized plans, to achieve long term goals, but perhaps now that I’ve made a career out of mischievousness, camaraderie, infiltration and high expectations, I’m hooked and I can’t go back. As my best teachers have worked so hard to instill in me, I know the joy of mastery, I can tap into shared knowledge, I know when to trust and not trust my thoughts, I know that when I have the freedom to do something, I don’t take it for granted. This period of time is crucial to be able to fully embark upon alternative forms of research where the conference is just a starting point. I hope to work with your organization, as it would be a privilege to gain such a reputable position. It would mean that I would be able to work with some of the most influential people on research about ADHD, and raise awareness by exciting, experimental means, which probably would not be taken as seriously otherwise. I seek your help to broaden our collective imagination for meaningful work that otherwise is precarious. Thank you in advance for your consideration.


I was pretty frustrated when no ideas came to me when I decided I needed to apply even if I didn't feel like it. I started listing everything that would most likely make it a competitive application that also felt like insurmountable obstacles. But as I kept going, and the list felt more and more absurd to me, the whole thing turned out to be really cathartic even with my super sarcastic negativity. So I recommend vomitting out all of the "Shoulds" you can think of, kindof like a Fuck It list. Somehow, I brainstormed my way right through it.

Good luck everyone with their applications if you're working on one right now!

Also I actually have attempted this "Intention Deficit Disorder Conference for Artists", the first involved infiltrating another conference to present my idea. The second was suggested by a friend Christina, that it should start with a hike (exercise) as well as eating some kind of protein so we can get our heads sorted before launching into it. There's been two hikes so far and it's felt great, so if this interests you feel free to reach out. At the moment it takes place at 8 am starting at Ernest E. Debs Park every other Tuesday, Thursday, or possibly on a weekend, or possibly in the evening. We're feeling it out at the moment.

I'm excited to be working on little projects again, including Joey, Rachel and I embarking on a Psychomagic curriculum that first involved following the color violet for a day, and now we've perscribed ourselves a theatrical act, so I hope to have some kind of update on that project soon in the near future. Or, join us for that too!