Had the pleasure to work with Essex-based visual artist and curator George Morl for my previous project “Queering Lockdown”. This online conversation furthered my understanding of how autistic people experience perception and language as a flux, as something fluid, rather than set in stone.
Francesco Ferranti: Can you please introduce yourself to the people who don’t know you?
George Morl: I’m a visual artist and curator, sometimes I use the term ‘avatar’; an individual or rather entity that assumes identities and personas to enter physical and virtual spaces to explore human connection and intimacy under modernising technology. I’m interested in the realms of validation, emotional reverence, belonging, and this concept of refuge which is something of particular importance in queer communities. Being both disabled and queer though this idea of belonging and refuge is only limited to certain individuals. The fluctuations of identity as an autistic person, as well as the premise of communication and language, mean ideas of spectrum and gender fluidity are something profound to me. I use they-he pronouns.
Francesco Ferranti: What did ignite your passion for art?
George Morl: I’ve always been interested in this idea of the ‘utopia and belonging’, and how the construction or existence of different identities can conflict with our ideas of these spaces. Because it is something idolised and fetishized specifically by the queer community, maybe as a place for liberation, intimacy, respect, expected or assumed care (because too often it isn’t), and how as individuals we often construct identities in order to be accepted into them rather than present our authentic selves. Being autistic I am used to social masking around other queer people, because autistic people are not socially accepted, in a similar way queer people may mask their queerness to prevent prejudice in a heteronormative society. Others may adapt or adjust their body image for emotional reasons, like increase muscles for self-worth and validation from others across dating apps and social media. Some may engage in casual intimacy as a means to manage emotions. I’m inspired by rooting into the reasons why we do this, whilst merging both imagination and evidence through artwork. We can only reach liberation when society removes barriers and we are all also liberated from ourselves.
Francesco Ferranti: What does Spectrum means to you?
George Morl: The Spectrum exists in three forms, gender, sexuality, and autism. As autistic people we tend to reject ‘societal norms’, and are more likely to locate and express ourselves in unique ways. Not feeling fully one being or gender, and processing my environment and language in a continuous flux. The way my body and mind exists and is in being, is in direct contrast to the wider queer community who are not autistic, and has meant that the way queer spaces are structured both physically and virtually are not understood or receptive to our needs. For me spectrum is existing.
Francesco Ferranti: The film work ‘Infinite Beings (Autistic Trans Matrix)’ (2020) you are showing in the exhibition highlights trans relatives erased stories following the logic of ternary programmes. Can you explain this creative process more in detail?
George Morl: ‘Infinite Beings (Autistic Trans Matrix)’ (2020) is my first short film, which is a video that traces one of my trans relative, whilst reflecting upon the evolution of language and communication as vehicles for identity as an autistic genderfluid person. I made this film in November 2020 as part of The Old Waterworks, The Agency Of Visible Women Residency. I follow the principle of ternary logic programmes, which feature a lot of in sci-fi fiction and reject binary logics. These ternary narratives centre multitudes of dialogues which merge at the finale. As an autistic individual, this is an approach I take to my work often with various layered narratives and concepts – in this case the outcome oscillating between both a series of poetical, visual, and narrative dialogues.
The video at the beginning explores the landscape of both Essex and wider East Anglia to locate and trace the emergence of the ‘Network’, from physical to present online modes and platforms, which now act as the main space for queer commune. This evolution is depicted in the video, evidencing Anglo Saxon burial culture, construction of Norman castles to defend nobles, discovery of ‘electricity’ in Colchester, invention of radio waves and development of radar, and the use and evolvement of medical language in Norwich. From migrations of refugees in the sci-fi book ‘War of the Worlds’ in Foulness, to queer telephone support exchanges in Colchester and establishment of gay pubs and dating apps, whilst considering how these ‘networks’ in 21st century social culture are now a polarised platform for intersectional queer voices due to structural power dynamics or language barriers.
In relation to this, queer dating apps such as Grindr use GPS for intimacy, but the immediacy of this and our visibility can expose disabled queers to prejudice. These platforms are designed without access designed within them and non-disabled queers have access to private space without worrying about access. These structures all maintain power dynamics in queer spaces. In contrast, games like PokemonGo , which use augmented reality, have familiar visual imagery with the ability to permeate the merging of both the fictional mobile interface whilst in public spaces, facilitating connections and offering an alternative space to meet others. These are mirrored by explorations in the way autistic people utilise contemporary virtual worlds to express their sexual and gender identity, or connect with each other, through video games, servers, or even social media accounts, often because the power dynamics and the structures of queer spaces, or the modes queer people connect and meet, often isolate intersectional voices due to language barriers and systemic erasure from a shared history.
These images are overlayed with a range of alternating audios from the video opening with breathing sounds recorded using scientific apparatuses, to poems about shared intimacy recited from smartphone voice notes. Spoken in various compositions, from notes, lists, sometimes incoherent, or fragmented speech, these echo the fluctuating dialogues that can be expressed by people with neurological conditions. The resulting dialogue is one of profound desire for connection, whilst also recognising that as individuals we do communicate, and are affectionate and sexual beings, in as much as wider queer culture erases this out of lack of true visibility and societal bias.
In the video I make reference to a relative Suzie Morl who was disabled and transgender, who passed away in 2012. Her death led to the foundation of the world’s first acknowledged trans memorial in Salford, Manchester, in Sackville Gardens. Alongside this, I recall my youth, accounts around gender identity, whilst tracing the pilgrimage that Suzie took from Essex to Manchester, as well as making references to feminist approaches in autism which finally recognised it as a spectrum.
Francesco Ferranti: What are your dreams and hopes for the future?
George Morl: It would be interesting to see if the somewhat sense of shared experience of isolation would mean wider society would take more of an approach to support others. Before restrictions and lockdowns, I was limited by access to queer spaces and platforms, power dynamics, lack of awareness of conditions by others. Queer people need to understand that responsibility of inclusion and tolerance, education, and awareness also falls on them as well. Without this, then power dynamics in queer centric spaces will not be dismantled. So, my hopes would be more action taken by the community as a whole to support each other. I use the analogy of ants which appears in the video ‘Infinite Beings‘ (2020) – they build support structures, they repel external threats, and provide essentials for those most in need in the nest.
Francesco Ferranti: Are you currently working on any new projects?
George Morl: At the moment I am researching into the politics of touch within queer history and spaces, whilst reassessing the queer archive in relation to disability. Specifically, I am considering composing a series of videos which educate and visualise how queer autistics have championed above others the ‘queer network’, and how we have utilised these realms for support and care. I’m also constructing a series of paintings which feature the experience of living in a body as opposed to observing one, the experience of autistic touch, navigating queer platforms, interfaces and portals which are aimed at supporting queer connections yet exclude intersectional minorities due to barriers.