Rebecca Foy and her three sons, Edward (aged 9), William (aged 11) and Alex (aged 16), sat around a table in Turner Contemporary café. Each of the boys had a different tale to share about their respective experiences at Turner Contemporary. Rebecca provided a birds-eye view of the different flights that each had taken since the start of their story in September 2012.
“He’s not a great talker our Edward… he does things through the physical expression rather than through speaking a lot […]: we make up for him!” said Rebecca. As we spoke, Edward was silent, shuffling his feet under the table: he was telling his story. I asked him what dance he was doing; it’s all sorts of things,” he said, quietly. Edward first became involved with Turner Contemporary because of his love of dance. He had started ballet separately in early 2012. The opportunity to partake in an interpretative dance workshop at the opening of the Carl Andre exhibition 6 months later challenged and furthered his interests. “Two years ago, when you first started dancing, you cried when you went into the studio,” Rebecca reminded Edward. “I think […] he gained confidence doing the Carl Andre,” she said. A talented, committed and increasingly confident dancer, his ballet has gone from strength to strength: “He’s just won a scholarship with the British Ballet Organisation up in London!” Rebecca said proudly.
William is a keen mathematician and physicist: “usually, I just see art ‘Oh well, that’s a painting,’” he said. Having spent a dutiful 2 hours (an approximation by Rebecca) at Christmas talking to one of the gallery’s guides discussing Juan Munoz’s ‘Conversation Piece III’, he has re-orientated his perspective. Now, art for William is something different: “It’s sculptures, it’s metal, it’s planks of wood that are strangely arranged so people think it’s art”. His new definition went on: “Oh yeah – and the massive alien plant thing […] that looked like neurons actually – it looked really strange, it was made of blue wool.” Laughter spurted round the table at his creative appraisal of Maria Nepomuceno’s work. It was, however, fitting as testament to William’s newfound inclination to think creatively about art, entwining his interpretation with the ‘neurons’ of his learned physics brain. As Rebecca pointed out, on-hand interaction and knowledge via gallery guides like this is a rarity in leading art galleries. As a result, art, maths and physics are no longer mutually exclusive for William.
Alex’s story demanded focus for much of our table talk. Unlike William, art has always been central to Alex’s life. He can play the violin, the French horn and the oboe: “I can play them, I don’t play them now,” Alex said. This isn’t out of choice: Alex suffers with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a neurological condition that means his muscles are prone to waste. He had to give up the violin and his condition left him on crutches meaning that ‘art’, which was on the top floor of his school, was inaccessible to him. His confidence was spiralling, Rebecca explained; “He felt totally inadequate, they’d put him on a two and a half day a week timetable: life was pretty…” “Yeah, not good…” said Alex. “Alex was really quite depressed”, said Rebecca. It was October 2013, half term was approaching and Rebecca had seen an advert for ‘Life in techniCOLOUR’ at Turner Contemporary: “So, we said to Alex, ‘Do you fancy this?’ and he was like ‘ugh’.” Alex has come a long way from where he was that half term. After some cajoling, he attended ‘Life in techniCOLOUR’ and Rebecca remembered his experience: “You came home full of tales of film directors, and journalists, and all sorts of stuff – as well as art!”
Alex was measured and confident as he regaled us with stories from ‘Life in techniCOLOUR’. There was a memorable trip to Canterbury Cathedral to meet the glaziers: Alex, still visibly enchanted by a mixture of glass and minute gold particles, told us how “the light comes out in such a way that it’s pink and it’s amazing!” ‘Life in techniCOLOUR’ enabled Alex’s hands and mind to be creative again. Arranging colour swatches with a fashion designer saw him find his confidence: “I was one of the best at those […] because I got my first ones, first time – which was great.” As a result of the experience, Alex is now thinking about pursuing a career in journalism. The workshop saw him become inspired by journalists and partake in a session on interview techniques. Not least, his perception of colour has changed and he is determined to observe and see more incisively: “Colour is far, far more than people think it is…” Life has become less monochrome, more Technicolor: he recently found the confidence to revive his music, partaking in (and winning!) his school’s X-Factor competition. Rebecca traced back Alex’s progress to ‘Life in techniCOLOUR’: “There was a big confidence building exercise…”
When I asked the Foys to describe the way in which they saw Turner Contemporary in three words, or a single phrase, it was met with a number of responses: “All sorts of things”, Edward piped up. That Edward should describe the gallery in the same way he had described his silent, under-table shuffle seemed an apt reflection of its influence on his dancing. William echoed his sentiment; “it’s everything put into one building.” Our conversation had been characterised by a striking number of references to various artworks that the Foys had seen and learnt about at Turner Contemporary. Rebecca spoke of the Horniman Walrus that had stuck in her mind as a means of encouraging the boys to understand that everyone around them had different experiences of the world and therefore, different levels of knowledge. Alex responded to the conceivably foolish overstuffing of the walrus with real consideration towards the Victorians: “They hadn’t seen a living walrus – fair enough!” Rebecca affirmed that Turner Contemporary was a portal to new opportunities and experiences, encouraging new ways of seeing: “It is education […] (it is) challenging how you think”, she said. After much debate, the Foys concluded on their three words: “education, challenge, inspiration”.
This conversation was conducted and written by Moya Stirrup. To read more of Moya’s conversations for Turner Contemporary, click here.
Moya is an avid conversation conservationist. In April 2013, she initiated a project to capture Margate in conversation. To read her ever expanding archive of distinct voices, each bound by their ties to the town, click here.