Inspired by her personal experience with dyslexia, Alexandra Cantle has a multi-faceted art practice that seeks to raise awareness about the experience of living with language-based learning disabilities. Dyslexia is a condition in which the brain has trouble recognizing and processing certain symbols, affecting processing speed and verbal comprehension. A common misconception that Cantle attempts to dispel through her work is that dyslexics have below-average intelligence. Rather, many dyslexics are highly creative and excel at three-dimensional problem solving and hands-on learning.
Cantle is a trans-disciplinary artist, crossing between the fields of art, education, and social activism. She employs various materials and methodologies in the construction of her work, ranging the production of works-on-paper and screen-printed canvas bags to organizing conversation-based events. Her community engagement projects typically take the form of a workshop, their content varying based on the needs of the site. While at the Park Century School in Culver City, CA and Eagle Hill-Southport in Southport, CN she engaged middle-school students through group story telling exercises, and then had the students choose key phrases from the discussion to create stenciled text-drawings.
|See Alexandra Cantle’s art in person through Wednesday August 27 at the Ventura County Arts Council‘s Atrium Gallery as a part of their “Art Saves Lives” exhibit. And enjoy our on-camera interview with her.|
In working with Headstrong Nation, Cantle found that their emphasis on self-advocacy was a perfect match for her story-sharing workshop model. In place of a traditional craft project, Cantle passed a list of questions around the group that interrogated notions of self-valuation. She had culled this material from a yoga manual, but by re-contextualing it within the Headstrong workshop, Cantle prompted the participants to speak openly about their deep-seated feelings of shame, anger and self-doubt as related to their dyslexia. The group format also provided the opportunity for participants to forge significant relationships with one another based on empathetic responses to shared experience.
However, her studio practice is centered on conveying the feeling of living with dyslexia to a wider art audience. Instead of raising dyslexia awareness through purely factual information, her text-based artworks aim to simulate the cognitive delay and confusion that many dyslexics experience on a daily basis. Her project Drawing on Dyslexia consists of a series of canvas bags printed with the phrase “What you are looking at is what it is like for me every time I read written language” in jumbled script. She also produces large-scale versions of her workshops’ stenciled graphite phrases for gallery exhibitions, most recently seen in her solo exhibition, “Language as a Material,” at the Porch Gallery in Ojai, CA.
Cantle received her Masters of Fine Arts from Otis College of Art and Design’s Graduate Public Practice Program in 2013. Graduate school provided her with the studio time necessary to focus on the sensual qualities of the work, as she experimented with different kinds of ink and writing tools. What has resulted is a lushly textured body of works-on-paper whose spare compositions belie their emotionally fraught content. Many artists today utilize text as a material in their work, however Cantle’s interrogation of the process of reading contains a pointed social critique. Her focus on the negative psychological consequences of living with dyslexia nods to the societal privileging of written language-based intellect over other forms of knowledge. Her aim is to “shift the cycle between self-value and societal-value around literary-based knowledge.” As written language dominates our communication systems, one’s facility with reading and writing is a kind of commodity, and therefore open to judgment.
Fostering empathy—and ultimately, understanding—is the base of Cantle’s practice. It is through empathy, versus information, in which she sees the possibility for a cultural shift in how learning disabilities are viewed. Through her workshops and artworks Cantle slyly intimates the pitfalls of standardization in learning, reflecting her belief that intelligence, and how one acquires it, doesn’t come in only one form. Since the classroom is often where the roots of self-esteem and self-image develop, Cantle infiltrates this space in order to provide creative coping mechanisms for students who typically struggle in silence. Just as language is a built system, so is education: by calling attention to these constructions, Cantle not only reveals the existence of hierarchies in how knowledge is attained, but also opens up the possibility for rethinking how we can integrate a multiplicity of learning styles in the classroom and beyond.
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Patrick Clark picture editor
Mick Raskin production sound mixer
Jeremy Scott Olsen sound editor / mixer / original music
Dalton Gaudin director of photography
Amanda Katz writer / director / producer
Paula Minardi supervising producer
Jeremy Scott Olsen executive producer
Alexandra Cantle works in support of Headstrong Nation,
a non-profit dedicated to providing information,
advocacy, and new technologies for the dyslexic community
with great appreciation for our all-volunteer crew for their talent, dedication, professionalism and time
copyright 2014 by The Lamp Project
all rights reserved