Interview: Root Experience's Simon Magnus on Hidden Project and The Hubbub


Simon Magnus, artistic director of arts charity Root Experience gives us an insight into Hidden Project, which explores people’s experiences of living with a hidden condition, ahead of The Hubbub an interactive art installation showcasing the project and Hidden Project Conversation Day.

What inspired Hidden Project, and what are your aims with the project?

The idea for the Hidden Project, originally came to me around four years ago and it’s been refined, grown, nurtured and changed, both in my head and in conversations with my friends and collaborators over all of that time.

I am severely dyslexic and I have worked hard to creatively explore and ‘own’ my dyslexia. In working on myself, I realised just how much energy I have put in over the years, in trying to conceal it.

I was so full of shame about it, and hated being forced into telling people; often people I barely knew. The journey to better understanding is an interesting one for me and has been very valuable on both a personal and professional level. My feelings around my condition have stopped me from doing things I could so easily have done, with a little better understanding or a small adjustment here or there.

Hidden Project came from my wanting help people to better understand themselves and their own hidden conditions in a creative way, just as I have had the privilege of doing.

I wanted to remove barriers of funding and class, and welcome a diverse group of people, who might not ordinarily have access to this sort of creative workshopping, to explore with me and the Root Experience team.

My idea was that the artistic outputs from the Hidden Project workshops would be built, by both the participants and our brilliant designers into an interactive, multi-sensory Hubbub, where the wider community can come and immerse themselves in the experience of living with a hidden condition. Not so much the mechanical problems of the conditions themselves, (although that matters), but to help communities, employers and venues to understand how our actions and reactions and simple, small adjustments can affect and support (and alienate) these people.

How did you select the eight artists to take part in Hidden Project?

We have been working on various projects in Brighton and Hove for nearly ten years now, so we put a call out via our website, social media and through some local charities, working with relevant groups, asking people who are living with a hidden condition and who were interested in creatively exploring their situations, to come and play with us, over a period of eight weeks.

We had lots of applications, so applied a first come, first served basis; and ended up with a diverse group of people from all walks of life, living with all sorts of conditions from ME to autism.

Can you tell us a bit about the process of creating Hidden Project?

The exhibition has been put together from the creative outputs of a series of workshops, where we worked with eight participant artists, over eight weeks, exploring what it is to feel invisible. Each of our artists live with a hidden condition, hence the name; Hidden Project, but we weren’t thinking about the conditions themselves. We worked with Hidden Project’s designers and facilitators to help the artists to develop and extend their ideas creatively.

We also worked with focus groups of people who work with individuals in Sussex, who are living with hidden conditions, so the outputs are not limited to our eight artists.

We are coming up to The Hubbub now, and I really would urge people to come, to bring their kids and their grannies and to share and contribute to this amazing, challenging, provocative experience.

Has anything unexpected come out of the project?

Yes! It’s been a departure for me, as I am more used to directing creative projects and being part of the work myself. With Hidden Project and the Hubbub, it’s been much more about supporting our artists to produce something that truly reflects their experience – not mine, and to honour and respect and further respond to that in our exhibition.

It was also interesting to see how quickly our creative group became a ‘tribe’. We didn’t discuss or explore their actual conditions or share that within the group. Our connections were simply based upon a collective experience of being ‘invisible’. We made a beautiful, safe space of compassion to reflect and create in, despite not understanding the details of each other’s needs.

How will The Hubbub differ from a more conventional art installation?

The Hubbub is a very long way from a conventional art installation. For a start, it is multi-sensory and interactive, including a conversation garden; a quiet, safe den; visual storytelling; interactive sculpture; you (yes – you get to add and embroider, embellish and extend the work) as well as audio soundscapes, video installations and conventional art.

How will the input of members of the public be recorded during The Hubbub?

There will be multiple, creative ways to interact with, and add to The Hubbub with each element inviting an audience response or reaction.

We are also producing an Invisible Disability Advocacy Toolkit; informed by the event and audience participation and reaction to the event, so everyone can contribute to that.

Our discussion tables are there to deepen knowledge and encourage exploratory conversation.

Brighton University will also be observing, supporting, and recording elements of The Hubbub and will be responding academically to the event itself and everyone’s creative responses.

Could you tell us more about the format of Hidden Project Conversation Day, and who will be on the panel of experts?

The Hidden Project Conversation day will be a day of networking, talking and action. A panel of Experts including Owen Calvert Lyons and Raquel Meseguer will talk about their new work that is exploring Chronic Pain Through Performance: Someone Should Start Laughing and the R&D of their new Unlimited funded work 'A Crash Course in Cloudspotting', which we will This is an audio visual installation that invites audiences to partake in the subversive act of lying down.

The day will look at models that are working and how we can help the Arts to embrace these changes. How can we support Artists living with invisible illness and invisible disabilities and also produce work that reflects back to audiences the world we live in and educate them through entertaining them.

What is the next step for Hidden Project?

The Hubbub, including outputs from the exhibition itself, will become a touring experience, that will grow and change on the road, as it tours the country, sharing the experience of living in the UK with a hidden condition.

To hear more about Root Experience’s next steps and future plans follow us on Facebook or sign up to our mailing list.

The Hubbub is at Brighton Dome on Sat 8 and Sun 9 July; Hidden Project Conversation Day is at Brighton Dome on Wed 5 July.