Doncopolitan will be hosting a small exhibition of the work of local artist, Imogen Carline, to celebrate International Women’s Day, 2018. The exhibition will open at Doncopolitan HQ, 83 Copley Road, Doncaster DN1 2QP on March 22nd. Rachel caught up with the artists brother, James, to find out more about the artist in question.
I’ve been told you’re the closest person to Imogen. Can you explain to me your relationship and why I’m interviewing you – and not the artists?
Besides my Mum and Dad who take care of her every day I’d say that I’m the closest person to her, yes. Being her Brother I’ve known her not only for her whole life but as far back as I can remember as well, so she’s always been a major part of my life. Imogen has Autism, and subsequently is non-verbal, which is a shame because I think she’d love to talk about her work, but I’ll try my best to shed some light as to what the significance of the pieces are.
When did Imogen start making art? I think Imogen has always had a very visual mind. She has a photographic memory and has a relentless drive to observe and understand things around her. She used to spend hours watching VHS tapes and rewinding the same ten second segments back over and over again when she was younger. It was like these moments had a great significance to her.
I think it’s when Imogen first started using a computer when she was about nine that she began to express herself using visuals. She would get a camera and take pictures of these segments of programs that she watched, print them out and then arrange them near her. We thought it was random at first but she’d get upset if we moved any of them, and she’d rearrange them into exactly the same order she had them in before. Since then she’s added different skill sets to these expressions.
How have you seen Imogen’s work develop over the years?
I’d say that ultimately her work has gotten more specific as time has gone on. When she was younger the printouts were just photographs of what she was observing at the time, but since then we’ve seen her go through multiple ‘phases.’ Her themes largely revolve around the children’s T.V. shows that she watches – but as I said before she has a photographic memory, so she never forgets anything that she watches. New information doesn’t replace old information, she simply adds to an ever increasing wealth of source material over time.
So we have art that’s a representation of a kids show that aired this year followed by a piece about a show from 1986 and all points in between. Her mediums have frequently changed – first printing, then pencil, felt tip, back to printing again etc. But last year Print was the primary form of production for her. She began to print tiny images and arrange them into collages, like semantic fields almost. Then one day not too long ago, just after this exhibition was first talked about actually, she just woke up and refused to go on the computer, and she hasn’t touched it since. She only paints and draws now.
Where do you think Imogen would like to go with her art?
The future of Imogen’s art is difficult to predict. Due to her limited verbal communication it’s hard for us to discuss what she would want to do in the future, so we primarily deal in the present. I think that’s exciting though, the unpredictable and spontaneous nature of her work is what makes it so intriguing. You think you understand what she’s doing and then she will completely change her ideas overnight. It’s obvious that she puts a lot of thought into her art but again, she finds it difficult to share those thoughts with us.
Imogen has ‘Classic Kanner Autism’ as apposed to High-functioning Autism or Asperger’s. She doesn’t function ‘like Sheldon Cooper’ from The Big Bang Theory, nor is she a Savant like in Rain Man. Imogen’s autism is defined by her difficulty with communication skills, her delayed development in many areas and her OCD.
She does have a particularly severe case, and subsequently she needs to be cared for at all times. She needs to see tasks through until the end, so if we buy her a bottle of paint, she has to continue to paint until all of it is gone. Her language is limited, so most of our communication is done through physical objects and almost exclusively in the present tense.
Can you explain, as the closest person to Imogen, how she might experience the world?
Imogen’s world is small. It doesn’t extend very far outside of the personal, and is dictated almost entirely by the adults surrounding her, which is a shame for both her and us. She does get to experience aspects of the world through watching shows and content on YouTube, but this appears to be largely abstract for her, and is incorporated into her personal space. Like the outside is reaching in rather than the inside reaching out.
Again it’s impossible to say for certain what her view of the world is, or her view of me, or anybody for that matter. I think though, that the idea of ‘Her World’ is what is being expressed through her art work.
She can’t tell us how she views things, or how she feels about things so she paints and prints. I don’t think that’s the sole reason she does this, though. Some of the artwork can be taken to have very strong commentary about the state of the reproduction and alteration of already existing material on the internet. Imogen often gathers together official pictures of a show’s characters and surrounds them with things like re-branded knockoffs and fan art.
Interestingly Imogen’s lack of communication skills leads her work to be a Postmodern and Poststructural dream. There’s a wealth of meaning to be extracted from each piece about the state of media in the 21st century, and the meaning is entirely down to us as an audience to make that extraction, seeing as Imogen is unable to communicate the ideas with us literally.
You’re a really creative family, your dad’s a musician, your mum a teacher of art. Do you think you’ve nurtured Imogen’s creativity and maybe if you hadn’t she would feel more frustrated and isolated in her own world?
I think it’s possible that she has absorbed the environment that we live in and that has allowed her to express herself, but what is truly amazing is that we’ve never once suggested to her that she should be doing this, all of her work has been her own idea. I think that isolation is definitely an issue that she would face were it not for these forms of expression, and so for her to find this method of expression is incredible.
I imagine the concept of people seeing her work would be strange to her at first, but honestly, Imogen is a natural performer, she loves attention and always takes part in performances at her school as well as doing bits of dancing and acting at home. In that way I think she’ll love her work to be on display, and that definitely makes it a positive experience. Imogen going to college to study art would do wonders for her, it will give her so many opportunities as well as providing exposure for a talent she so clearly possesses. I do sincerely hope that that becomes a reality, because it has all the potential to happen.
About James Carline
James is currently studying English Literature and Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University – which is overseen by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. He writes poetry primarily and reads regularly around Manchester. He also plays guitar, sings, and write songs.