Episode 15 – Snails, Bristols and ADHD – Claudia Collins

Join Bristolian artist Claudia Collins and Australian artist Heather Matthew in this episode of Bricks Podcast as they embark on a journey through the labyrinth of ADHD and the artist’s path.

Expect unexpected twists and turns as they delve into the enchanting world of straying off course. Just like the trails left by curious snails, their conversation meanders through procrastination spirals and surprising revelations, weaving a tale as captivating as the paths they explore.

Grab your headphones and get ready to tag along with Claudia and Heather on this authentic adventure into thoughts and the unexpected journey we’re all on.

Episode by
Co-produced by
  • Rowan Bishop

    Podcast Producer (Freelance)


Heather Matthew: Hello, my name is Heather Matthew and I’m an artist from Australia. I am here at the wonderful sound art radio, the community radio station of Totnes and Darlington on the Darlington state because I am studying the MA arts and place. And it’s a great cohort of people from mostly the UK. But I there met this great artist called Claudia Collins from Bristol. And she’s done a lot of community based art. And when I saw her first time in our welcome week, she was all colourful, and I really kind of went, Oh, this is a person I want to get to know a bit better. So here we are in soundart radio studio, and I’m gonna be talking..

Claudia Collins: know, this interview goes Okay, hopefully Heather doesn’t ask me anything too awkward. I remember when I met her there. It was one of the first days on the course in Dartington. And I was I guess I was wandering down the hill. And I just been into this little shack thing where they were selling vegetables and stuff. It was for landworks Something on sighted arts and I came out and I saw her and her partner, Alex coming down the hill on their on their bikes. And I offered to take a photo for them, they were staying in a van on site. So Heather was wrapped up in a big, big coat and windblown hair and she had a shirt on that was like that artists, you know that all the squares. And one of the first days when we really got chatting, I remember saying to her like, I’ve been procrastinating so long with this podcast, and I really need to do it. And I don’t know what’s blocking me. Yeah, we were doing an introduction, actually to sound art radio. And we were working together. And we were wandering around the estate recording little sounds with a radio. And that’s How had I said, Come on, Claude.

Let’s get into the studio. And let me ask you the questions. I’ve done this before. I guess I should start listening to Heather because she’s going to be asking me some questions.

Heather Matthew: The where it leads you and I like this idea of the trial because of course snails are slow moving, but they also do leave a trail as well, you can follow a snail trail. So do you see this as a kind of haptic process of kind of..

Claudia Collins: and trails lead to trails, like one trail leads to another on my way to Great Yarmouth, to visit the giant snails, I had to pass through snailwell. And that’s why I play charity shop chance one of the games that I love to play just popping into a charity shop and seeing if I could find a snail. And these days I’m really thinking about it are the days that I find one. This is where I find this snailly mascot ‘how I love to slide along and see new places, tell me if I’m going too fast’ so the snail from the charity shop is lost his wheel, I think he’s got some Velcro on the bottom where it would have had wheels, it’s blue and green stripes like cord. It’s got like a little smiley face with sunshine cheeks and a big red shell with really delicately stitch spiral going through it. And it has got a leash which would have pulled it along, I think when it had the wheels. And I think now it doesn’t have the wheels that makes it speak or the more and the little label does, say baby play but.. ‘duh duh duh duh daddy di die ya duh duh duh da daaa, watch she jobbles!’ but I don’t think snails are just for babies. I sat on the parcel shelf for the rest of the journey up to Great Yarmouth and made these noises and I didn’t know but just the trails that lead to more trails. There was a butterfly in this trial as well as in this church searching for merch. And there was a peacock butterfly on the stained glass window. So I sort of let it come on my hand and I went to take it out. And as I let it go there was a lady outside I was chatting to and I took a picture of her dog and the butterfly and as I look back at the picture, there was a little snail at the side as well I did not notice so I don’t know the trails lead to more trails and more trails and more trail was..

Heather Matthew: ..this quite an obsession or not an obsession but a real focus on using the snail like as a motive and and seeing where it would take you, so tell me some of those amazing stories about the snail and the adventures that it’s taken you on.

Claudia Collins: So first of all, when I first met the snail, I’d heard of the saying in Japan it’s a lovely day for foxes wedding. And it’s something you would say when it’s rainy and sunny at the same time. And I became quite obsessed with that beautiful saying and so I did what every artist does, and I googled it and there were loads of other sayings in different countries for this weather phenomenon. And in Rio, they say a lovely day for a snail’s wedding. So I doodled a snail in a veil, and it spiralled from there.

Heather Matthew: A snail in a veil I like that, Tell me some of those adventures because you know it’s the snail has actually taken you on some travel.

Claudia Collins: I can’t help it. I am obsessed. I need to learn snail in every language every country that I go to. And last week on the lemonade stand that I was working in in Bath I met a man that was Arabic speaking, had been to the UK for a while and couldn’t quite remember the word for snail, and I knew that I knew it. And after I pressed some lemons, added some water and shook it over ice, it came back to me halzun. We chatted for a bit about speaking many languages. Losing words aren’t used often and about dreaming in your non native tongue. A little later another customer an American Girl reach for a lemonade exposing a snail tattoo. Yeah, definitely. So for my degree show for my final project in my BA I drew the snail symbol the what’s the maths word for that snail the golden ratio. And I followed what I thought was going to be cafes, and it turned out to be pubs, art involves alcohol sometimes. And I left some stamped address envelopes, just blank postcards and in places that I visited. And I invited people to draw snail and then post them back to me. So initially, a lot of the work I did was around. And it’s not just about me being obsessed with snails, it’s about inviting other people to be obsessed with snails. When I was a waitress in a hotel at the highlands, I would leave a waitress pad and a biro or my tables. And I’d invite the guests to draw a snail. I collected hundreds over summer and they all had a story. One day, one of the locals ran over to tell me she said I saw a snail in the road and the bus was coming in and I flagged the bus down and stopped it. And I took a picture for you and I moved the snail back onto the path. And I love the way that there’s just this connection. And another one which was Oh, I did summer camps in San Jose. And one day I asked this family where they were from noticing their American accent. And they said California dug deeper, got to San Jose and I said, Well, you don’t know the Harker school do and they said, Yeah, I go there. And the teenager knew Eric who was one of my good friends. So he drew him a snail and I posted it to him. So just this idea of opening up everyone to snail, is I don’t know, I’m addicted.

Heather Matthew: I mean, you could explore something bigger. And people people don’t feel threatened that they have to understand the big story. They can come at it from whatever level that they’re at, or that they feel comfortable approaching it from so whether it’s the kid going, Ah, I’m gonna draw snails and not just these snails, they’re going to be purple snails they’re gonna, everything is acceptable, you know. And I think people have this very fixed idea of what an artist is, and certainly not that I blame the schools. But I do think that that school art isn’t embedded necessarily into the curriculum. It’s like an addition. It’s the extra curriculum activity you do. And again, even within that, depending on what the teacher brings to you, you might only be offered drawing, painting and maybe a tiny bit of sculpturing soap or something. You know, there’s a there’s a whole gambit of art, the art world that is around but perhaps you haven’t been exposed to like a walking practice or, or a collage practice or things that…

Claudia Collins: ..A walking practice. A group of snails is called a walk. And I guess I quite often do walking stuff. There’s a thing called street wisdom with this guy called David Pearl and he gives you like these provocations of what to find when you’re walking. And I quite often use that as a platform. I found recently when I go out, I start walking and then I kind of let the street tell me where to go next. Being in red roof. That was really exciting and seeing all the parallels I could find with Filwood and Knowle West, seeing things through a different way and I think walking quite often does that. Like like this now you’re slowing down. I started something called Brislexic, at first I just thought it was my dialect. I’m quite bristolian. And then I thought, actually, maybe I’m dyslexic, but turns out I’m both so bristolian and dyslexic, which is how Brislexic got born, and it’s a way of celebrating that and not just thinking of the negative stuff that comes with having a difference. And being in that education system where it’s a lot harder to access these, these doors.

Heather Matthew: It’s really a way of turning around thinking by saying, diversity is good. I mean, we know that from agriculture. I mean, we don’t want a monoculture that that, that gets rid of the snails because, you know, snails have an important part in ecology and in, in, in the chain of life really know that. I mean, just picking up on what you said about you know, you’re so far out the box, you’re around the corner and down the road. Do you do you see artists as like Wayshowers as, as forward thinkers, as, you know, intuitive leaders in many ways…

Claudia Collins: funny, because I see artists as that. But I’m not quite there seeing myself as that. So there’s that disconnect of I want to call myself an artist, but I don’t know if I could ever possibly call myself a way leader. A bit like if you’re a cyclist, anyone who cycles as a cyclist, but artists is just such an interesting word to use. Very loaded. Yeah. And I guess it was cycling that kind of made me an artist during the lockdown. When I started up the grapergram riding around Bristol dressed as a bunch of grapes on a bright green bike delivering wine, singing good songs badly.

I guess that was shaking the system. We couldn’t visit others, but we could have deliveries. I wasn’t a delivery driver.

Heather Matthew: Embracing the very neurodiversity traits or, you know, qualities, skills, of seeing the world in a different way. It gives permission for other people to say, Well, yeah, I do that. Maybe that’s something that I could develop further. I mean, I think people are nervous about what other people think of them.

Claudia Collins: That’s exactly how Brexit was born. So I had an opportunity to have some free coaching, free creative coaching with an amazing coach Mel. And one of our final sessions. I’d done the Bristol to Bristol project where I’d gone and visited Bristol and Tennessee and Virginia and I had an opportunity to write about it for a museum blog. And I just couldn’t. And I realised I was it came up that I was just scared of my voice and scared of my voice particularly in writing. I guess it’s all art and as all not. So my coaching with Mel, I’m going to Mel’s house for tea later. And when I was working at the museum, I turned my job in the gift shop into a art piece like I would talk to anyone and everyone that would talk to me about Tennessee and Virginia, and facts about our Bristol and that’s where I met Ann, she was buying a fridge magnet for her daughter Katie who lived in Bristol, Tennessee, and I asked if it wasn’t too weird if I could have her address. So we wrote to each other and then when I visited over the autumn, Katie showed me round we had cocktails on the rooftop of the Bristol hotel and eat dinner and drink Budweiser in the Jiffy Lube, it’s all connected and it all comes back and sort of flows away and then comes back again and then goes away. And I’ve just met Glenda my Airbnb host. She found out that her dad who worked in the services had a daughter that she didn’t know about in Penzance. And I just went to her house for dinner, Mo I met her chicken Lucky who was coming in and out of the cat flap and her two cats and I was doing a residency in Cornwall and I was transported back to Bristol and Virginia again I don’t know comes and it goes ebbs and flows and it’s back. There are mistakes but we know what you mean and the content is far more important than the mistakes that are silencing you. And I kind of thought I was over it, I’ll start this social enterprise we’re celebrate our have this belief about everybody, but a belief that I don’t have about myself fully, which is I think why this podcast was so hard to get off the mark because I want to share this message but I also want to feel this message for myself too.

Hmm, that’s the big one is integrating art with life. I mean, all of life is art..

like integration, but also incubation and thinking about voice and not quite being ready to say it out loud until it’s ready to come out. And I’ve put the pro into procrastination with this podcast for so long. And I’m so grateful to Georgia at Bricks and Rowan for being so patient with me. Taking this into this dreamscape and going round in circles and back and up and down again. It’s all there. It’s just when it comes out.

Heather Matthew: If I’m congruent with with how I’m feeling and what I do, and everything that I do in my life, then that will come across. So it will be easier to say I’m an artist because you know, you’re following the, the authentic path. That’s you that’s true to you. It’s no it’s no good as a bit like saying, you know, I want to save the snails save the snails, but then go into frogs and eating them. As a way…

Claudia Collins: … Don’t tell her I ate a snail, don’t tell her I ate a snail. I couldn’t say at the time, but I ate a snail when I turned 30. It was in a French restaurant. It was my Saturn Return a dark time I ate one I didn’t like it. It kind of felt like an exploration of my shadow self. I won’t eat one again. The garlic sauce was nice. I think that connects to the worry about sharing my voice. I don’t want to say the wrong thing, especially around neurodiversity. Everyone thinks different and feels differently. Saying she is autistic or she has autism can mean different things to different people. I guess eating snails and loving snails and snails being present is kind of the same is connected in some way is just how is connected and why. And all the experiences come together to form what our thoughts are whether we use in person first language or snail first. Yeah, I don’t know where that’s going. But we’re just saying what we know. And we’re learning from it. So anything that opens up those conversations and if it could be done through us now rather than going straight into the nitty gritty stuff then. I was working at Bristol Museum at the time and in M shed. And the exhibition that was on was music. Another exhibition that was on was tattoos. So that really framed the whole experience. I spent all my days just talking to everyone about Bristol and this trip that I was going into in Tennessee and yeah the shop I worked in kindly gave me some souvenirs and I just became really obsessed with gathering the souvenirs to swap a like for like one so a Bristol fridge magnet from the UK for one from the US and I went on a walk just I don’t really know where I was going. It was before I went just around the shops and I in Bristol in Bristol UK in Bristol UK and I just started asking people like would you give me something from your shop that I could take and swap when I go to Bristol Virginia and I ended up with like something from the student uni shop a magnet, I ended up with a bottle of gin from psycho pomp gin. There was a lovely shop called Bristol trade and paste they gave me this gorgeous felted pigeon and who became quite a mascot of the trip. So it all the work was created through conversations with people. So one of my colleagues at the shop said oh, I can just see you now with the little vintage suitcase walking around Bristol swapping your trinkets so vintage suitcase became the carrier for it. And when I arrived at the residency Bryn from LA she was a sculpture artist. She designed a little front for Bristol to Bristol. I hired a car a Chrysler as big as a whale about to set sail and I drove to Bristol, Tennessee and I stayed with Glenda on Pearl Street. Which street names are also my fascination. Like I love just playing with them. And my dad grew up in Bedminster and he grew up on Ruby street. So all of the streets and Bedminster are named after these precious gems and I so I visited the Pearl Street in Bedminster before I went and it was magic. I actually my dad didn’t grow up on Ruby Street. My dad grew up on the nursery. His sister Auntie Barb and Uncle Dave lived on Ruby street. So I’m on Pearl Street and I see the road name the nursery. And that’s where my dad grew up. So I phoned my dad to say dad, which house was yours and I sort of stood outside it. So this Pearl Street place that I was staying in Bristol took me to near the house where my dad grew up. Yeah, and I was drawn to Glanders house because it was like a 1950s basement where it like it was just really designed like how I imagined America to be there was like a porch… legacy like history, all of the things have come before like, Could I be a legacy? Could my leg be the legacy of all the artworks that I’ve done? I’ve got both Bristols tattooed on my leg. I want to make my legs project based, although at the museum and hale in Cornwall last month, I think I shocked the tour guide when I was talking about the history of Bristol and I pulled up my dress to show him the the crane at the top of my leg. I guess history is challenging. What turned out to be both. So what happened was I started it in Bristol, UK. A tattoo. Yeah. So there’s an artist on Gloucester Road, Ben Boston, who loves Bristol and he loves Bristol scroll. So it’s from the buses. It’s Bristol written beautifully in italic on the buses. So on the Bristol buses, yeah, green buses. double deckers. Yeah. So I’ve got that tattooed on my leg. And I just wanted the tattoo to be part of the art from the people that I met and I was quite loose with what they designed. I just said, I really liked Queen Square, which is a place in Bristol. So I said, I’d like Queen Square. I’d like the cranes outside of M Shed because that’s where I work. And a flower. So the flower of Bristol, UK is the Nonesuch, yeah, it’s like quite a Christmasy looking flower. I’ll show you my leg in a minute. And a balloon, of course, because Bristol is really famous for hot air balloons. So yeah, I got this design on my leg. And actually Ben said, Why don’t I weave the Union Jack into it because Queen Square fame famous Grand Bristol has got the way it’s patterned is like the Union Jack. If all I don’t know about having the Union Jack on my leg like that feels quite big. So I’ve been thinking lots about flags at the moment. Anyway, I’ll carry on explaining. And a tattoo kind of tells a story. But I also use objects to tell stories and all of my work like having a physical thing to be the part of the discussion. Like the snail from snailwell, which was picked up on one of my journeys, I’ve got loads of merch from the tattoo shops, little trinkets which, to me are more than just what that is, and having something in your hand and knowing about it. I listened to a really beautiful podcast recently in Cornwall. And it was talking about some artists that used they’d created these objects to create like a new narrative, but also to remember the past and there’s something about holding something in your hand and talking about an experience that sort of leads the way I guess is why our houses are full of trinkets and collections. And I just find that fascinating is it opens up so many conversations and ideas and other ways to trail off and I guess we’re coming to the end of this as well. That’s that’s the thing, isn’t it, these opportunities are happening less and less because the world does feel really busy. But it’s that time where you’re enjoying that conversation but you can’t do the dishes at the same time you are on this landline and you’re you’re just being..

Heather Matthew: and just being is the pause when you’re watching a snail cross the path in front of you. It’s just being and even taking away the word just because that word just also kind of makes it smaller but but the act of being is vast..

Claudia Collins: Snail being

Heather Matthew: Snail being and it doesn’t have to be tied up with the grand dollar sign.

Claudia Collins: I hope that when okay, did I go off on all those trails like I hope it made sense. So grateful to Heather for asking me all those amazing questions to hopefully have focus and to Rowan in putting it together in a dreamscape and for Bricks for letting me take my time.