When I was about seven I was taken on a school trip to the Tate Gallery in London. I have a clear memory of being led up a spiral staircase and sitting with my classmates on the floor of large, light studio. The person at the centre of the circle introduced himself as an artist. I was awestruck! Up until that moment it hadn’t occurred to me that there were living people who were artists, that it was a job people actually did, and that therefore it might be a possibility for me.
Seven-year-old me flashed through my mind this afternoon around the time when I was leading a huge group of children and adults in a rousing rendition of “Oh bears why are you so non-conformist when you poo?” as we moved around the fifth floor of Tate Modern’s brand new building.
I’m not sure this is what I’d have imagined my life as an artist would look like, but I’m almost certain that the younger me would have fully approved. The children in the room certainly seemed to.
Over the last three days we’ve transformed Level Five of Tate Modern into Biscuit Land, and over a thousand disabled and non-disabled children, young people and adults from across the country have joined us for a very biscuity adventure, full of creative activities, discussions, performances – and songs about bears.
I’ve no idea how to begin to express the emotions I’m feeling right now – the extreme exhaustion, the intense elation and the deep pride that keep overwhelming me as I write.
The only way I can begin to understand the many experiences of the last few days is moment-by-moment, or crumb-by-crumb. So here’s a glimpse into our adventure in Biscuit Land.
Playing ball in the indoor garden with a child from Livity SEN School, bathed in green and blue light as the sun streamed through the coloured windows.
Gleefully whizzing across the space with a student from Turney School to the giant Jammy Dodger stage so he could dance at the heart of the biscuit.
Welcoming children I’ve watched grow up at Oasis Play, and witnessing their wonder as Amber, our amazing live illustrator, brought their ideas to life in front of their eyes.
Watching new friendships take root in the social space skilfully hosted by Ruth, the first other person with Tourettes I ever met. My friendship with her has enriched my life in many ways, and I hope that for many others the seeds of strong and lasting friendships were planted in Biscuit Land this weekend.
Tate’s spaces echoing with the sound of hundreds of people shouting ‘Biscuit’ at the top of voice during one of the most impressive Echolalic Waves to date.
Seeing spontaneous games evolving – a pillow fight in our autumnal bedroom, balancing games on a foam roll, and a network of dens and tunnels criss-crossing the room with London’s giant skyline as the backdrop.
Being poised at the centre of our Jammy-Dodger stage, hand in hand with my co-performer Chopin as we led the audience in a rousing rendition of ‘Biscuit, Biscuit, Biscuit, Bear’, complete with BSL and the lyrics on a gorgeous banner made by my mum, as thousands of bubbles flew out across the room.
Sitting with Chopin eating the most delicious chips ever as we took a break in Tate’s canteen after the performance.
Saying thank you to our incredible team and dancing to Stomzy’s Shut Up at full blast as we packed up this evening at the end of an amazing weekend.
Thank you so much to everyone who made this weekend possible: to the amazing Tate Exchange and Schools and Teachers team, to our friends at Daytrippers who supported the event, to everyone who worked, volunteered, came to speak or got roped in one way or another, and finally to everyone who came and shared in the laugher, the creativity and the biscuits.
As a child, meeting an actual artist and feeling welcome in a gallery made a hugely positive impression on me. I hope that for some of the children who adventured in Biscuit Land this weekend their experiences will be as memorable and positive.