The Stimming Pool
Co-Created Feature Film by The Neurocultures Collective & Steven Eastwood
The Neurocultures Project focused on how autism can transform established cinematic norms and create progressive images. Using a co-creation model, artist-filmmaker Steven Eastwood worked with a group of five autistic artists - the Neurocultures Collective - to co-create a feature length film, The Stimming Pool, and a multiscreen gallery installation, Stim Cinema. One shoot, two artworks.
Using a range of formats and platforms, including experimental workshops, Zoom, and group Mural visual collaboration sessions, the collective developed an outline for a documentary-fiction hybrid, a combination of observational non-fiction, sensory ethnography, and a twist on B-Movie body horror. The film reflects a number of the key concerns of the co-creative group, including masking, camouflage, testing and diagnosis, creatureliness, stimming, the pleasure found in repetition, and the circularity and movement of shapes.
The Stimming Pool (S16mm. 70:00. Completion TBC)
The Stimming Pool is a hybrid film that enters the possibilities of a world informed by autistic perspectives and perception.
Co-created by the Neurocultures Collective (Sam Chown-Ahern, Georgia Bradburn, Benjamin Brown, Robin Elliott-Knowles, Lucy Walker) and artist-filmmaker Steven Eastwood, the film’s drifting form is built around the concept of an autistic camera. The curiosity of this camera discovers a relay of subjects, including ROBIN Elliott-Knowles, a B-Movie film club host; SAM, a young woman taking part in a diagnostic eye tracking test, the SHAPESHIFTER, an office worker who is masking their autistic nature; and CHESS, an enigmatic dog spirit. These characters stray through the world, revealing environments often hostile to autistic experience - such as a hectic workplace and a crowded pub - and quiet spaces that offer respite from them. Sometimes the camera wanders off without any guide, finding an ancient woodland, an abandoned testing centre, even a fragment from an animated zombie film set in the American civil war…
Like a Russian doll of Where’s Wally scenes, the film invites the audience to take pleasure in exploring details in every part of the frame. Each of the characters exists in a separate world nested inside one other and often jumping up and down levels. But gradually we come to realise they have common experiences. Some are concealing their autism and dealing with the resulting feelings of isolation, while others thrive in the communities and support structures around them. All, however, have a shared objective: to find a place where they are free to move and stim, uninhibited by the tests and restrictions of normative society. This secret place is the Stimming Pool…
The Stimming Pool features a cast of autistic actors and non-actors, including neurodivergent performance artist Dre Spisto (Edinburgh Fringe 2023). Members of the Neurocultures Collective also appear, behind the scenes. It was shot on Super 16mm by cinematographer Greg Oke (Aftersun). The film takes direct inspiration from Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s concept of social (sur)realism, a method of bringing observational documentary into contact with fantastical, constructed elements. The Stimming Pool’s recurring patterns and Easter-egg-like details, hidden in the background, directly references PLAYTIME by Jacques Tati. It’s baton-passing structure riffs on SLACKER by Richard Linklater.
The project’s co-direction and apprenticeship structure offers opportunity, inclusion and visibility for neurodivergent creatives, who are often obliged to explain their identity to audiences rather than play a central part in how representations are formed. The film takes a progressive approach to film production, playing to the individual strengths and aspirations of Neurocultures Collective members, with every person contributing to the film’s authorship. This method of production seeks to create new vantage points into the complex ecologies of filmmaking to explore how currently inadequate models might evolve to empower neurodiverse artists, audiences, and communities.
The Stimming Pool will be completed in autumn 2023, with the plan to premiere in a film festival in early 2024, before further distribution.
Directed by Steven Eastwood & the Neurocultures Collective
Produced by Chloe White, Whalebone Films
Behind-the-scenes photography by Rachel Manns
Neurocultures Multi-screen Gallery Exhibition, 2024
Stimming is the practice of physical repetition as a way of expressing and alleviating anxiety, or taking sensory pleasure in recurrence, and a common trait of autistic experience. STIM CINEMA is a forthcoming three screen video installation co-created by The Neurocultures Collective and Steven Eastwood. The artwork riffs on the activity of stimming by creating a series of loops across a large circular wall that focus on gestures and objects that roll and rock. These movements are then extrapolated as drawings spinning in zoetropes in a parallel space.
In STIM CINEMA a young woman sits in a clinical setting, taking part in an eye-tracking test - often used in the diagnosis of autism. The subject is shown a set of clips representing ‘neurotypical’ environments, such as a crowded city street, the shopping mall, and a gymnasium. We learn that these places by their nature involve repetitive, stim-like behaviour. The red dots generated by the eye test apparatus track the gaze of the subject, guiding the viewer into exploring every part of the image. On the left and right screens, the viewer is shown exploded views of these scenes, revealing hidden details and movements, and the delight to be had in observing stimming, repetitive movements.
However, unbeknownst to the off-screen facilitator of the eye tracking test, the test subject catches sight of a young woman wearing a distinctive green coat, hidden deep in the background of the clips. Her curiosity aroused, a connection of sorts emerges. This figure in the background is also navigating the challenges of the neurotypical world. She longs to move in the way that a blade of grass moves in the breeze, but is restrained by the conventions of societal spaces, such as her place of work and the busy pub she visits. Ultimately, she finds a liberating place where both she and the installation itself are free to stim and rock freely.
In a parallel gallery room are a set of zoetropes, sculptural objects that constitute the very first form of moving images, proto-GIFs. Rather than familiar sequences of galloping horses and juggling clowns, these zoetropes feature minute gestures glimpsed in the video installation: the back and forth of a person on a gym workout machine; a whipped ice cream being dispensed; the dancing movement of a blade of grass in the wind; the flick of a table tennis bat; a figure in a green coat rocking to themselves…
STIM CINEMA explores a protean form of cinema, revealing that pleasure in repetition is not only common to autistic experience but in the DNA of the moving image. This inclination, to see an action repeated, has been served by displays as far back as the zoetrope in the 1830s. Early experimental cinema also delighted in hypnotic circular imagery. The interest in looping remains prevalent today, in the fascination found in GIFs. This commonality, between stimming, GIFs, early cinema, and the avant-garde, is the starting point for a series of video loops describing a world in which stimming is a desirable state. STIM CINEMA encourages the viewer to consider our shared neurodivergence, and to discover stimming as a joyous perceptual and bodily possibility, one which challenges the very notion of normativity.
The installation is funded by the Film London FLAMIN scheme, Arts Council England and The Wellcome Trust. It is produced by Chloe White (Whalebone Films) and curated by Gilly Fox (Hayward Touring). The advisory group consists of Tim Corrigan (Project Art Works), Maggi Hurt (BFI), Damian Milton (The Participatory Autism Research Collective) and Collective member Sam Chown Ahern.
Partner touring venues include Nottingham Castle, Grundy Art Gallery Blackpool, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery Swansea.
The Neurocultures Collective
Georgia Bradburn is a film studies graduate of Queen Mary University of London. Her blog 'The Autistic Film Critic' seeks to expand traditional readings of film to incorporate a neurodiverse perspective. Her film practice explores how her experience of autism can be transferred to a visual medium. An early fascination with the films of David Lynch have encouraged her interest in experimental film, surrealism and horror, leading to the development of several short films which can be found on her blog. She is currently working on a semi-autobiographical installation film drawing on themes of metamorphosis, suburbia and adolescence. She is also a regular co-host on the Autism Through Cinema podcast.
Benjamin Brown is a film programmer/curator and a writer. His creative practice involves drawing, video, and photography. Ben has a BA degree in Filmmaking from Lancaster University and an MSc in Film Programming from Edinburgh. He runs a film club called Citizen Autistic. Ben's particular focus is on sensory ethnography, sleep, abandoned civic spaces, and stimming. He presented at the Autism Through Cinema conference, and featured as a special guest on the Autism Through Cinema podcast where he discussed Terry Gilliam's cult classic Brazil.
Robin Knowles is an associate artist of the Project Artworks collective. Robin graduated in summer 2021 from a Fine Art Degree in Sussex. His art practice largely involves painting, drawing, and creating graphic-novel like illustrations, all considering key themes of intersectionality, colonialism and post-colonialism, and transgenderism. Robin is also the curator of the B-Movie Fan Club, a monthly screening at Hastings Electric Palace cinema running for more than 10 years, sharing lost/cult horror films with a dedicated audience.
Sam Chown-Ahern is a visual artist who works with drawing, illustration, bookworks, photography and sound. Sam is a graduate of Wimbledon School of Art. Recent group shows include Barbican Young Visual Arts 2020. Sam has been an active member of the Autism Youth Council and co-presented the Channel 4 documentary 'Are You Autistic?' Sam also featured as a special guest on an episode of the Autism Through Cinema podcast where she discussed Steven Spielberg's 1982 sci-fi classic ET: The Extra Terrestrial.
Lucy Walker is a member of the Project Artworks Collective. She has established a practice working with textiles, costume, model and puppet making, drawing, and small set building. She works with a number of alter egos, some of which she uses to create performative gallery interventions. Her work often involves re-scripting and expanding the worlds of popular culture TV characters and storylines. One such alter ego is Lister Cat, riffing on the character Lister in Red Dwarf.
Steven Eastwood's research as an artist-filmmaker and professor of Film Practice focuses on ethics and the complexity of encounter between filmmaker and subject. His second feature film, Island (2018), had its international premiere at Rotterdam Film Festival in 2018 and was released in UK cinemas. His first feature film Buried Land (2010) premiered at Tribeca film festival. Recent solo and group exhibitions include Fabrica Brighton, La Ferme du Buisson Paris, and Blackwood Toronto. His documentary Those Who Are Jesus (2001) was nominated for a Grierson Award.
Kate Adams and Tim Corrigan, Project Art Works. Charity Project Art Works is a world leader in championing the arts practices of neurodivergent artists and developing co-creation models. The charity was nominated for the 2020 Turner Prize, shared the 2019 Jarman Award, and recently took part in Documenta 15, Kassel, Germany 2023
Chloe White is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, photographer and director of Whalebone Films. Her films are intimate, considered portraits, focusing mainly on the female experience. Her clients and partners include the Guardian, Topic, Nowness, BBC, Channel 4, Oxfam, Save the Children and the BFI and she has had films screen at festivals internationally including at Camden International Film Festival, Open City, and Sheffield Doc Fest. Chloe lectures on the MA Ethnographic and Documentary Film at University College London, and has also given talks and workshops at the London College of Communication, the BFI, Frontline Club, and the Roundhouse. She is a fellow of the Macdowell Colony and BFI Doc/Next.
Gilly Fox is a curator based in London, UK. Trained in Fine Art practice and History of Artists Film, she has been assistant curator at Hayward Gallery Touring since 2013. Prior to this, she curated an international series of live-art and time-based media events staged in alternative venues in London, New York, and Lisbon, was Exhibition Organiser for Aperture Foundation's international touring programme and in 2016-17 she was visual art programmer for 'Nordic Matters' and in 2017 she curated the Pavilion of Humanity, a collateral event of the Venice Bienelle. She lectures on fine art, curating and photography courses across the UK.
Dr Damian Milton acted as project consultant. He is a member of the Transforming Educational Practice in Autism research project at Birmingham University, and part-time Lecturer in Intellectual and Developmental Disability at the Tizzard Centre, University of Kent. Milton is an autism scholar whose focus is the meaningful participation of autistic people in the research process. He has unique access to groups and individuals within the autistic community and is Chair of the Participatory Autism Research Collective (PARC).