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Stimming, or self-stimulation, is the practice of physical repetition as a way of taking sensory pleasure in recurrence, or of expressing and alleviating anxiety, and a common trait of autistic experience.


Co-created by The Neurocultures Collective - Sam Chown Ahern, Georgia Bradburn, Benjamin Brown, Robin Elliott-Knowles, Lucy Walker - and artist-filmmaker Steven Eastwood, STIM CINEMA takes the action of stimming as its starting point, connecting delight in repetition to the birth of cinema and to contemporary fascination with GIFS. The artwork invites the audience to take pleasure in discovering hidden repetitive movements, reminding us all of the joy we share in seeing actions rock and loop, and revealing that such stimulation is not only common to autistic experience but in the DNA of the moving image.

The exhibition begins with zoetropes - early moving image devices - which introduce the concept of the stim or repeated action. This commonality, between stimming, early cinema, and the avant-garde, is the founding principle for the STIM CINEMA three screen installation in the next room. This 18-minute loop explores the hidden and ever-stimming details of the everyday world, via a protagonist taking part in an eye tracking test, often used in diagnosing autism. Her visual curiosity introduces us to the wealth of information in the background of the sequences she is watching. Through her perception we discover a further character concealed in the frame, who we learn is masking in neurotypical settings, and whose bodily movements are restricted in some spaces and released in others.


The third room considers the co-creation process involved in making STIM CINEMA, a project that evolved over two years of conversation and collaboration with five emerging autistic artists who make up the Neurocultures Collective. Visual thinking mind maps, props and ephemera from the film, as well as original artworks and GIF clips, offer further insight into the project.



The exhibition encourages the viewer to consider our shared neurodiversity, and to discover stimming as a joyous perceptual and bodily possibility, one which challenges the very notion of normativity and is in fact a desirable state.


The project has been co-created by members of The Neurocultures Collective through years of co-development with artist-filmmaker Steven Eastwood and curator Gilly Fox. The collaboration offered opportunity, inclusion and visibility for neurodivergent creatives, who are often obliged to explain their identity to audiences rather than play a central part in how representations are formed. The collaboration takes a progressive approach to moving image production, playing to the individual strengths and aspirations of the group. This method of production seeks to create new ways of working and to explore how currently inadequate models might evolve to empower neurodiverse artists, audiences, and communities.  


The Neurocultures Collective was formed through participation in the Autism through Cinema research project, funded by Wellcome Trust, and led by Steven Eastwood and Janet Harbord.



Stimming is a term that is used to describe ‘self-stimulating behaviour’ and can include hand-flapping, rocking, spinning, and other repetitive body movements. Traditionally, clinicians thought these behaviours to be dysfunctional and as barriers to learning. Historically, many autistic people have learned to restrain their stimming in the attempt to mask in neurotypical settings. The accounts of autistic people however suggest that such movements are meaningful and can be used to regain control over a situation by way of engaging in a predictable action. Stimming is often used to reduce unwanted stress, but it is also used to gain sensory feedback, or for enjoyment.

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