The Ableism of Networks, 2020–23
Wall work and poster
Viable media and dimensions
Commissioned by Te Tuhi, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Simon Yuill’s The Ableism of Networks consists of a large wall work and poster that address how the contemporary art system disables those who do not participate in social events or conform to neurotypical expectations of social performance. Art-world gatekeeping has long been the subject of debate among artists, critics and journalists whose anecdotes and reporting describe a nepotistic system that disproportionately excludes women, LGBTQI+ and non-white peoples. Yuill’s work highlights that this system also excludes those who are not able to participate in social rituals in which career-changing relationships are often forged—in particular, people who are disabled, neurodivergent or have chronic illness or mental health conditions. To expose this hidden ableism, Yuill has covered 80 square metres of wall space in bright blue paint, the same colour used for traffic signs. This serves as backdrop to the looping phrase “… Ableism of Networks of Ableism …” which encircles one corner of Te Tuhi’s largest gallery space. A poster accompanying the wall work contains a statement that further explains the issue, along with an essay discussing intergenerational perspectives of autism and the benefits of stimming as a form of creative practice and self-care. Stimming, which sometimes involves repetitive physical movements or making sounds, is commonly used by autistic people to think, be creative, experience the world or to regulate sensory information. There is a long and continuing history of stimming being deemed socially inappropriate and wrongly judged as a marker of low intelligence. The experiences of neurodivergent artists and art workers reveal that such discriminatory attitudes are still held in many sectors of the art community. Like the wider societal network of ableism, the contemporary art system is in need of change.