BOM launches new autism-friendly building and virtual reality commission

After a seven month transformation, BOM is set to re-open on Thursday 4 October 2018 with an autism-friendly gallery and café in the heart of Birmingham City Centre. Visitors to the centre for art, technology and science will find the virtual reality experience Beholder as its central exhibition.

BOM has undergone a major refurbishment to install a new mezzanine floor, heating, improved lighting and sound design across two floors. The BOM Café has also been transformed, and features a quiet lever-pull espresso machine invented by Birmingham-based company Fracino, as well as subtle design choices which aim to improve sound and lighting.

Karen Newman, Director of BOM, explains:

“At BOM we regularly engage the autistic community through our education programmes, and over the coming years we’ll be working more closely with neuro diverse artists. So it was key that we took some steps to ensure our gallery and cafe is better suited to everyone. We’ll be using electric milk frothers to warm milk, rather than the high pitched squealing of milk steamed in the usual way in coffee shops. Cork coasters, wooden science lab tables and pads on the bottoms of tables and chairs and a no music policy during day times are just some of the little choices we’ve made to make the BOM Café a nicer experience.”

The refurbishment works have been made possible through the financial support of Big Lottery Fund, and delivered in consultation with the autistic community.

The first exhibition at the newly opened BOM is Beholder, a virtual reality experience by world-leading United Visual Artists (UVA) that explores beauty from autistic perspectives. BOM has been working with UVA over the last year to commission the artwork, which premieres at V&A Museum’s Digital Design Weekend in London from 22 – 23 September 2018, then travels to BOM for exhibition between 4 October to 8 December 2018.

The stunning VR experience centres around the wonder of everyday phenomena as seen through the eyes of an autistic child, Oliver. Oliver is the son of Matt Clark, founder and director of UVA, who has worked with his team at UVA to create the artwork. 

Beholder explores our ability to process very detailed information at the expense of altering our perception of time and space – which is often intensified within the autistic spectrum. 

Matt Clark of United Visual Artists comments:

“This artwork explores — and in many ways celebrates — the alternative ways in which neurodivergent individuals perceive the world we live in. Following a research-based process with my autistic son Oliver, UVA have created a Virtual Reality experience informed by the stimuli which seem to captivate the attention of an autistic mind.” 

Set in a natural environment, Beholder studies the movement of a flock of tree sparrows, revealing their flying patterns and other layers of information, while our perception of time and space is transformed. It continues UVA’s investigations into experiences that transcend the physical, and question the relativity of experience.

UVA have benefitted from wider autistic input during the production of the work. Particularly, through conversations with autistic artist Sonja Zelic, who has helped by translating her views into the VR experience. A separate audio work by Sonja Zelic will also be on show at BOM.

Alongside Beholder, BOM launches a number of new programmes aimed at neuro diverse audiences.  This includes regular new meet ups for the autistic community and call outs for neuro diverse artists.

For the wider programme of events, see BOM’s website www.bom.org.uk

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