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Meet the Artist – Marzena Ostromecka

This month we meet glass artist and Neuk member Marzena Ostromecka, whose playful work adorns our exhibition poster, and will be exhibited at this year’s Glass Biennale. Marzena chats to Elspeth about ‘coming out’ as an autistic artist, her drive to experiment, and the inspirational behind her latest piece.

Interview by Elspeth Wilson


Hi Marzena! It’s great to be able to speak with you about your art, especially as we are really excited about seeing it appear in the upcoming Neuk Collective exhibition! Does being part of a collective of neurodivergent artists impact your practice or your work at all?

First and foremost, I wanted to express my gratitude for inviting me to be your ‘Meet the Artist’ featured person. I am thrilled to be able to talk about my artist journey on the Neuk Collective platform.

Initially, I was excited about this opportunity, but I quickly experienced a wave of fear, doubt, and anxiety leading to my default freeze response. My expectations were high, and I wanted to present myself in the best possible light.

A photo of the artist at work in her studio. She is a young white woman wth short brown hair, wearing a green top and red apron. She is working on small glass sculptures.
Marzena in her studio. Photo credit Mike Smith

I saw this interview as my coming out as an autistic artist, which felt like a huge responsibility. I instantly felt overwhelmed. However, I reminded myself that I am part of a tribe, and decided to embrace honesty and vulnerability. Knowing I belong to a collective of neurodivergent artists gives me the courage to speak openly about myself without masking or pretending. A year ago, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable calling myself an artist. Just over two years ago I was also diagnosed autistic. This is all very new to me, but identifying as an autistic artist allows me to express my creativity with more self-compassion.

Could you tell us a bit more about your journey with developing your art? We know interactivity is really important to your work – how do you make this inclusive?

In 2018 I graduated from Edinburgh College of Art with an MFA in Glass. After two intense years of studying, experimenting and making I produced my creative child Play_Zone, an interactive glass instrument. At that time, my part-time job involved supporting autistic adults with learning disabilities, many of whom were non-verbal with strong sensory needs. I was inspired by the way they experienced the world and I wanted to make something they could enjoy interacting with.

The music interpreted as colour in glass was the starting point of my work but what really made it special was the interactive element that was designed to give autonomy and choice to the spectator. Play_Zone brought joy to many diverse audiences and validated my need to connect with the viewers through my art.

Inclusivity is of paramount importance to me. This is probably the main reason I didn’t feel comfortable calling myself an artist initially because much of the art world is seen as exclusive, precious, and fragile, targeting a niche audience. I didn’t want to exclude anyone from experiencing my work. I had no specific target audience and I wanted to connect through the universal language of play.


A woman sitting in front of a sculpture of 9 glass candlestick forms, all lit up in different colours. She is operating a kind of glass pad to change the colours. There is a purple panel with text reading: "I enjoy surrending some control of my work once it's completed and seeing it come to life through others' experiences". - Marzena Ostromecka

You work with glass a lot but you use other mediums too. Can you tell us a bit about your process as an artist using different media?

I pursued glass because I fell in love with the medium through designing stained glass windows but somewhere along the way I discovered that connecting and communicating with others was of far greater importance to me as a maker than making pretty things. Having said that, I love pretty things and I think in colours so this of course has an impact on the aesthetic aspects of my work but this alone is not enough. I stand by my values and my work reflects that.

While I appreciate the aesthetic properties of glass, I am not confined to traditional studio glass techniques. I like to explore innovative techniques such as 3D modelling and printing.

Sustainability is a core value of mine, leading me to repurpose and reimagine glass forms and materials from previous projects or to incorporate elements of found objects in my work. I embrace experimentation with various glass techniques, including glass casting, fusing, slumping, painting, and copper foiling. Additionally, I incorporate mixed media such as metal elements of copper and brass sheet and rods, manipulating and bonding them together to expand the creative possibilities of my work.

I am also interested in using electronics to enhance interactivity and audience participation. I enjoy surrendering some control of my work once it’s completed and seeing it come to life through others’ experiences.


Two glass sculptures - one that looks like a lamp with an eye where the bulb would be, and another that looks like a mouth with a giant pink tongue. The text reads: "I find intriguing parallels between the experiences of autistic individuals and cats, and I am continuously inspired and amused by the unique ways cats navigate the world" - Marzena Ostromecka

Your series ‘Decatstracted’ has been selected for the British Glass Biennale this year which is very exciting (and the work will also be in the upcoming Neuk Collective exhibition)! Congratulations! What inspired this series and how has your experience been so far as you prepare for the Biennale?

This series of five sculptures was inspired by feline senses. I find intriguing parallels between the experiences of autistic individuals and cats, and I am continuously inspired and amused by the unique ways cats navigate the world.

This body of work is a tribute to my beloved cat Miya and a celebration of her sister Velcro’s fragile life. We lost Miya suddenly two years ago due to a heart condition, a loss that hit me hard and took time to process. A year later, Velcro was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. My role now, as a cat mum, is to keep her well and comfortable for as long as possible. This can be an all-consuming and upsetting experience, so channelling these emotions through art helps me process difficult feelings.


Five glass sculptures all playing on cat senses - a tongue, a nose, a tail, ears, and an eye.
Decatstructed

Despite all the grief, I had a lot of fun imagining and creating the ‘Decatstructed’ series. I surprised myself with the whimsical outcome. I aimed to embrace sensory and interactive elements in these pieces. They feature different textures, incorporate some mechanical movement, and one of my sculptures even includes real cat whiskers. I’m still developing the digital interactivity that will accompany the sculptures but at this point all I can say is that it involves the sounds of cats.

I was initially concerned about the fragility of my glass sculptures whilst on display and wanted to protect them from being touched and potentially damaged. However, I decided that providing an interactive experience for the viewer was more important to me as an artist. I trust the audience will be gentle with these delicate creatures and will approach them with curiosity and respect. I am excited to be sharing my work and hope the audience will find it amusing and fun.


9 glass sculptures, like tall candlesticks, all lit up in different colours
Play_Zone

You can see more of Marzena’s work on her website and social media:

Website: www.cooljazzcats.com

Instagram: @m.ostromecka


Photos of work courtesy and copyright of the artist. Portrait photos by Mike Smith.

Quiet Please: A Personal Exploration of Public Inclusivity

Earlier this year, artist Gaelle Chassery undertook a residency with Neuk Collective, looking into quiet spaces in public life. In this post, Gaelle shares her findings and her thoughts on the critical need for these spaces, exploring both the challenges and transformative possibilities they present for neurodivergent people and people with invisible disabilities.

Pictured above: Quiet Space designed by original Neuk Collective artist Robyn Benson for the ‘who can think, what can think’ exhibition at Te Tuhi, curated by Bruce E. Phillips. Photo courtesy of Te Tuhi, Aotearoa New Zealand. Photo by Sam Hartnett..


Quiet Please: A Personal Exploration of Public Inclusivity

I recently completed a Research and Development Residency with Neuk Collective/Door in the Wall on the topic of quiet spaces in public places. The aim was to see what is out there in terms of resting spaces and to gauge the level of realism and helpfulness that has gone into designing them.


As a person at the intersection of invisible disabilities, chronic illnesses and neurodiversity, the research process helped me normalise my experience and confirmed that there is a universal lack of accommodation and access for a vast amount of people with many different conditions. This prevents us from going out as often as we need or wish, specifically due to the absence of adequate resting spaces that would help pace our energy through the outing.

An arid landscape with sand and cacti, under a giant glass dome.
All photos are of the Eden Project, and courtesy of the artist

My own experience

For as long as I can remember, I have found access to culture in public spaces exhausting. Only by routinely overriding my capacities could I get through those outings, pushing myself to last through whole exhibits with nowhere quiet to sit and decompress—sometimes nowhere to sit at all. Sitting on stairs with a constant flux of people giving me odd looks, I felt like a frustrating embarrassment to whoever my companion was on the day. I was flooded by crowds while trying to surf the relentless barrage of sensory input, both internal and external. Totally drained and grumpy within minutes, I felt ashamed and guilty with how quickly I ceased to function and enjoy the experience, and how long it would take me to recover afterwards.

The artist - a young white woman with dark hair, glasses, and a smiley face, standing in front of an enormous cactus at the Eden Project.

All in all, being in places of culture offered small nuggets of joy without ever being a positive experience, and the memories it left are not comfortable to look back on. As a person with many special interests spanning a huge amount of topics and an irrepressible drive to learn and share about them, going out to indulge those passions has been a constant juggling of extremes, and I eventually gave it up altogether. I now look after myself in isolation and wait for the world to change while I try to enact that change from behind the scenes.

Looking at what’s out there

My worst visit was the Eden Project. Access was so complicated and on a scale so far beyond my capacities that the day started and ended with meltdowns. The restaurant was one of the most overwhelming spaces I have ever been in, the level of noise and commotion exceeding those of a busy airport. For such a huge place whose focal point is to emphasise our connection with nature, to not have a single quiet space away from the constant milling of visitors feels baffling and misguided. Of course if you like you can go and sit in the greenhouse, which is pleasant and quiet enough, if it wasn’t for the fact that it is hot as an oven and therefore not fit for recuperation beyond a few minutes.

The artist sitting on a bench, looking deep into a bush.

I see they now offer quiet times, but these are too early in the morning, which is not ideal for neurodivergent, ill and disabled people, as so much time is dedicated to preparing for outings that it can take a while to get where we need to. Having to get up at 6 in the morning to go to a place of leisure is doomed from the start in my book!

Recently I was told that if you ask for a chair at my local museum they will bring one to you… You then have to carry it around with you for the duration of your visit, or have someone carry it for you. This simple fact deselects me and countless others from the pool of potential visitors: how can they not understand that if I need a chair to sit on, I also need help carrying it. Considering that my local museum has just been through a £7 million refurbishment, the oversight stings even more.

Both my research and my personal experience bring me back to the fact that the people who design, manage and staff public spaces need to be educated through the most basic facts when it comes to inclusivity and accessibility. The general ignorance and complacency always takes me by surprise.

An ancient, gnarly olive tree

Please do better!

Sadly these days inclusivity and accessibility remain theoretical and tend to be offered in name only to tick a few politically correct boxes. Stories abound worldwide about people asking to be admitted to quiet spaces during concerts, only to be told that they do not look disabled/neurodivergent/distraught enough to be granted access. I love and live music with every cell of my being. And yet, with the exception of classical music, which offers an easy and regulating live experience, I have never been to a concert, because I know there is no accommodation for me there. The ingrained discrimination and lofty attitude that is found in most places of culture is thought to contribute to its mystique, when in fact it excludes many people whose minds are exquisitely wired to absorb it in a passionate, all-encompassing way, with a unique filter and often the capacity to be astounding creatives themselves. It feels like as neurodivergent artists, we are refused entry to our very heart-home, to those spaces that should be where we feel in full alignment with the world, and which do have the potential to give us profound healing if only it could meet our pace for a bit.

Tree leaves sillouetted against the glass panes of the greenhouse

Beneficial agents

As my research progressed I discovered that some places do a great job when it comes to providing quiet spaces and understanding neurodiverse needs. They regularly train their staff and improve their space so that more people can be included and have a positive experience. It’s so easy to focus on frustrating experiences because for a lot of us, they are repetitive and disheartening, but it’s truly encouraging to see increased awareness and the determination to improve access and inclusivity in a practical and compassionate way.

It can take a long time to trawl through websites to see if a quiet space is offered, what is there and when it is available. I think more emphasis should be put on signposting quiet spaces on websites and in venues, where access can be maddeningly cryptic. When potential visitors and their carers are planning a day out, they benefit hugely by getting a precise idea of what support is available and how to access it. Lists and photographs go a long way into making the day easier and reducing the anticipatory stress of going out. It’s lovely to find that some websites increasingly include all this information with clarity.

Wide view of the Eden Project, showing the huge geodesic domes that hold the collection.

Although we are routinely infantilised, disability and neurodivergence do not equal lack of maturity. Maturity for us often means knowing exactly what our needs, capabilities and limitations are, and having the courage to ask for help with those. We need the wider society to be brave too and meet us halfway in facing our realities so that we get a chance to fully participate in the world.

Further reading

Have a look at this wonderful website which offers a lot of information and relatable content about people needing and creating resting spaces in public places:

https://www.cloudspotting.live/archive

Giant bee sculpture, in a hillside of flowers, in front of a blue cloudy sky.

Find out more about Gaelle:

Website: https://www.gaellechassery.com/
Instagram: @gaellechassery_soothing_art


Do quiet spaces in public venues make a difference for you? Why or why not?

Tag us on Instagram – @neukcollective – or twitter – @NeukCollective – to join the conversation

Meet the artist – Funmi Lijadu

A stylishly-dressed young woman standing in front of 2 collages on a pink wall. She is smiling and gesturing

This month we meet Funmi Lijadu – Neuk Collective member, writer, and collage artist with an interest in social issues, identity and surrealism.

Profile by Elspeth Wilson


Hi Funmi! Could you tell us a bit more about your work and what you do?  

I make collage art that often reflects social issues and explores identity. I make animations, and collages on paper primarily. I love dealing with a wide range of themes in my work and enjoy the experimentation that collage allows through cutting and pasting and more digital methods as well. In both 2018 and 2021, I was commissioned by Tate Collective for Black History Month to respond to the work of artists in their collection.


Pull quote reading "My collages often deal with exploring better realities for groups without power" - Funmi Lijadu. It is accompanied by a collage of a young black woman holding a child in the pose of a Madonna and Child. There is writing collaged over it, listing various names of the virgin.

Collage with a young black woman looking cool and taking a selfiein front of an astronaut and phallic-looking rocket. The background is space, but with collaged eyes on it.

You’ve talked about world-building through your art and the combination of visual culture and social change – do you see your collages as a way to creating different possible futures?

I think collage can be used to create different futures in that the process involves extracting, uplifting, and putting things into place. By using images out of context and building a new environment for them you can communicate complicated ideas in interesting ways. My collages often deal with exploring better realities for groups without power.

You recently ran a workshop on collage for Neuk Collective. Can you tell us about what drew you to Neuk in the first place?

I really enjoyed running the art workshop for Neuk! What drew me to Neuk is the conversations that I had about how disability and access need to be prioritised in the art world. Unfortunately, there is much, much more to be done, but I think Neuk is starting very important conversations. 

Collage with  the head and neck of a young black woman (the artist), in the centre of the canvas, eyes shut as though sleeping. She is surrounded by torn images of roses, and on one side, a red brick wall.

Does being part of a collective of neurodivergent artists impact your practice or your work at all?

I find myself inspired by the way other people work, hearing about their hopes for the future and coming up with ideas together.

All images courtesy and copyright of the artist.


You can see more of Funmi’s work on her website and social media:

Website: funmilijadu.com/aboutme

Instagram: @artbyfunmi


Profile written by Elspeth Wilson

Meet the Artist – Elspeth Wilson

We meet Elspeth Wilson – writer, poet, and Neuk Collective member – to talk embodiment, appreciating pop culture, and finding community with other artists.


Hi Elspeth! Could you say a little bit about who you are and what you do?

I’m a writer and poet who writes across non-fiction, fiction and poetry. I’m super interested in hybridity and blurring the lines between different genres. I often find myself coming back to the question of how we live in our bodies and I hope my work can widen the possible answers to that question. I’m really interested in how we make our bodies homes too!

I started out writing nature writing – ever since I was a child, I’ve loved spending time outdoors, exploring, playing and getting to know the world around me. I try to keep that sense of curiosity and playfulness in my work, but I also am very aware that writing about ‘nature’ in an era of climate crisis has a duty to confront that and even to problematise what we think of as ‘nature’. For instance, I’m fascinated in the distinctions we draw between animals we consider ‘wildlife’ and those we consider ‘livestock’. I hope my work can help pick apart some of the euphemistic language we use around other beings and consider different possible futures; I truly believe art – particularly art created by marginalised people – has a crucial role to play in climate justice.

Since I started writing, I’ve written more and more fiction and poetry but both are still very much imbued with a strong sense of nature and place. I’m currently working on my second novel and my debut novel, These Mortal Bodies, is coming out with Simon and Schuster in 2025 which I’m really excited about (as well as a little nervous!).


Pull quote saying: I thoroughly reject the idea of there being things we should and shouldn’t write about or things that are ‘worthy’ of art and poetry and things that are not - Elspeth Wilson

You write about pop culture in your work a lot. Can you say a bit more about that?

Elspeth’s debut poetry collection, Too Hot to Sleep (2023, published by Written Off Publishing)

Absolutely. Pop culture, particularly teen dramas and The Sims, are at the heart of my poetry pamphlet, Too Hot to Sleep. When I was at school, there was definitely an idea of what poetry could be about and it was quite limited and limiting – it made me feel like poetry wasn’t for me. But in my early twenties, writing about games and TV shows that I loved became incredibly important to me – it felt fun and exciting but also cathartic

and like a reclamation. It was a bit like unmasking something – here were these things that I was so invested in, that I loved, that helped me to discover myself and I was able to re-examine all those aspects through writing.

It was also about shedding shame – often as neurodivergent people we can have a special interest in a piece of pop culture or love a certain world so much and find it supportive of our mental health. That’s something I wanted to celebrate; poetry is often about articulating emotions and experiences that can feel hard to describe in any other medium. In poems like ‘In Sims, I WooHoo with a Girl’ I wanted to communicate how euphoric and validating pop culture can be. Although my more recent projects don’t focus as much on pop culture having that kind of poppy, irreverent vibe at the heart of my work will always be so important to me. I thoroughly reject the idea of there being things we should and shouldn’t write about or things that are ‘worthy’ of art and poetry and things that are not.


Pull quote reading: Neuk’s work and being part of the collective has shown me a practical, hopeful vision for what a different art world could be like. - Elspeth Wilson

What drew you to Neuk Collective?

Community is probably the short answer! I’d been feeling quite lonely for a while in the art world because opportunities often felt inaccessible and a lot of things were centred in London. I’d made some really close friends through writing pre-Covid but in lockdown I moved away from where I’d been living previously, and was looking to connect with other artists across a range of mediums as I expanded my practice. I was also just really keen for any information about accessibility and neurodiversity in the arts so when I saw Neuk’s initial research project on neurodivergent artists and their experiences I thought yes! I previously worked as a mixed methods researcher and this kind of research felt so sorely missing – I knew I’d found a special space.

What impact has being part of the collective had for you?

Being part of the collective has been hugely important for me in terms of community and confidence. It’s enabled me to develop new skills through paid work and make new connections with lots of really interesting people. Perhaps one of the most important things for me is how Neuk has showcased best practice for

working with neurodivergent artists – or any artists really! Neuk pays fairly and on time, supports the development of its members and is really transparent and open. Whilst these things should be expected, they are all too infrequently provided in the art world, and it can become easy to settle for far less than ideal working conditions, especially when opportunities feel so few and far between. This is especially difficult for neurodivergent artists as in such a precarious world our needs are often (wilfully) overlooked, and it can feel difficult to ask for accommodations when even the most basic things like fair, on time payment are not being provided. Neuk’s work and being part of the collective has shown me a practical, hopeful vision for what a different art world could be like


You can see more of Elspeth’s work on her website and social media:

Website: www.elspethwilson.co.uk

Instagram: @elspethwrites

Twitter: @elspethwriter


Photos courtesy and copyright of the artist.