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Artists in Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience

Dr Kai Syng Tan in the Department of Social Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry

Dr Kai Syng Tan is an artist-in-residence at King’s. Working in collaboration with Philip Asherson, Professor of Molecular Psychiatry at King’s, Kai will be resident in the Department of Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry working on a new commission that weaves science and art together to explore mind-wandering and the boundaries between 'normal' and 'abnormal' behaviour.

We sat on a mat and had a chat and made maps!

We sat on a mat and had a chat and made maps! (hereafter #MagicCarpet) is a project that weaves science and visual art together to open a creative space instigating conversations about mind-wandering and the boundaries between normal/abnormal behaviour.

Mind-wandering refers to the engagement in self-generated thoughts unrelated to the external environment. While mind-wandering is a universal human experience, excessive spontaneous mind-wandering is a key feature of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 


Interdisciplinary exchanges and standoffs between Professor Philip Asherson and Dr Kai Syng Tan at the launch of King’s artists, October 2017. Photograph by Kate Anderson. 

ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental trait with a wide range of outcomes including very high achievement from some and severe impairments to others. The project seeks to raise awareness of ADHD, help society gain a better understanding of it and, more generally, how we understand wellness and illness, by using imaginative and challenging approaches that will also serve to open up new avenues of discussion and debate. The project aims to engineer a productive space for clinical and scientific communities to dialogue with the arts, and to invent new ways to communicate research on and around ADHD and the lines between creativity and pathology.

Some of the key questions the project poses are:

  • In what ways could a science-art collaborative exploration of mind-wandering open up spaces of ‘productive antagonisms to extend existing understanding of the boundaries between normal/abnormal behaviour, creativity and pathology?
  • How to visualise and make visible the invisible, including spontaneous thoughts and hidden disability and difference?
  • In what ways could visual art contribute to and complicate dominant discourses on wellbeing? What are the limitations and possibilities of thinking about and making ‘neurodiverse art’?


Scampering through the world the psychiatry 18.09 - 08.10.2017 by Dr Kai Syng Tan

At its heart of the project is a tapestry, designed by Kai, which will weave various research and narratives of and questions about mind-wandering together. Decorative yet grotesque, the tapestry bears shades of Perry, Bosch, Chagall, 'outsider' artist Henry Darger, concrete poetry and Hindu iconography, paying particular attention to how every line/mark/pixel/passing thought relates to the physical weave. The work ‘takes off’ when audiences are paired up with Philip, Kai, and other researchers and artists to sit on the tapestry and chat about mind-wandering. As words and language can be inadequate or challenging, participants capture their discussions, disagreements and discoveries in drawings that they co-create with the project team. These drawings will then be documented in a limited-edition publication alongside photographs, sketches and notes on mind-wandering and reflective texts.


Types of mind wandering and how they relate to the ADHD mind, by Professor Philip Asherson. 

As well as the tapestry, Kai will be wearing specially-designed badges reading ‘Mind-wanderer in action’ throughout her residency. Through the badges Kai will invite King’s students and staff to approach her to talk about the project. These people, and others they subsequently encounter, will receive badges too, thus infecting King’s with (conversations about) mind-wandering, ADHD and wellbeing.

The project will also invite King’s students to get involved with the documentation and evaluation process, sharing the project’s progress via film, social media and a website.


Mind wandering: worst enemy or best friend?

Date and time: Tuesday 24 October, 18:30 – 20:30

Venue: MRC Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP, foyer and Rooms A-B), King's College London, 16 De Crespigny Road, London SE5 8AF

Book your free ticket here

Does your mind wander? What do you see? What does it look like when it roams? Where do you go? How far do you go? How far is too far? Is mind wandering your best friend, worst enemy, or both?  

Mind wandering refers to the engagement in self-generated thoughts unrelated to the external environment. While a universal human experience, excessive mind wandering may be a key feature of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). At the same time, there are strong narratives in the arts for people to use and indeed actively generate spontaneous thoughts as part of the creative process. It is no wonder that comedian Rory Bremner, recently seen on the controversial BBC Horizon’s ADHD and Me, calls ADHD is his ‘worst enemy and best friend’. 

Join the team in a lively, informal evening of interdisciplinary productive antagonisms, and even a spot of drawing of your own mind wandering. The intention of the evening is to open up and complicate understandings of how the mind works, with particular attention paid to ADHD, and more generally, the boundaries between wellness and illness and how the arts can complicate and contribute to this discourse. There will be zones of contact and zones of conflict, and the evening will be mind opening.


Project team

Dr Kai Syng Tan is an artist, curator and researcher. She is currently Visiting Fellow at University College London’s Institute of Advanced Studies, Peer Review College Member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Director of RUN! RUN! RUN! International Body for Research. She completed her PhD at UCL Slade School of Fine Art as a UCL scholar.

Kai’s specialism lies in interdisciplinary practice-related research exploring the body and mind in motion (such as via running) as a creative and critical toolkit to engage with self, others, the city and non-logocentric modes of thinking. Known for her ‘eclectic style and cheeky attitude' (Sydney Morning Herald), critics describe her as ‘not only a talented artist but also a great scholar’ (Cinema South Festival) and ‘leader in the study of running’ (Professor Gregg Whelan, ANTI Festival). She ‘rejoices in communication’ (Culturebase), her work has been covered in the Guardian, BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking, Fuji TV (Japan), and a Live Art Developmental Agency (LADA) study guide.

Her 20-year international portfolio includes exhibitions, performances and texts that have been featured at Documenta, Biennale of Sydney, transmediale at MOMA, ZKM and ICA. Recognition includes San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Award, Artangel Open 100 and AHRC/BBC New Generation Thinkers finalist. She was Visual Director and Communications Director for the 8th ASEAN Para Games 2015, and her works are collected by Museum of London, Wellcome Trust and Fukuoka Art Museum.

Find out more about Kai and her work on her website, RUN! RUN! RUN! International Body for Research. More information can also be found on Kai’s UCL IAS Visiting Fellow profile, and her Twitter.

Professor Philip Asherson is Professor of Molecular Psychiatry at the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s. Philip earned his medical degree from The Royal London Hospital and his doctoral degree from the University of Wales. He was an MRC Clinical Research Fellow in the Department of Psychological Medicine & Institute of Medical Genetics at the University of Wales, College of Medicine in Cardiff.

He moved to the IoPPN at King’s in 1996 and has since worked closely with Professor Jonna Kuntsi to develop a program of research on clinical, quantitative and molecular genetics, cognitive-neuroscience and clinical aspects of ADHD. In his own work, he has focused particularly on adults with ADHD. Current research projects include investigations of the neural basis of mind-wandering in ADHD, clinical trials of prisoners with ADHD, and the impact of ADHD on learning in King’s university students. He is the author and co-author of more than 300 articles and book chapters on ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disorders and traits.

More information about Philip and his research can be found on the UK Adult ADHD Network and ADHD Genetics Group webpages as well as his research portal on the King’s website.

Additional partners

#MagicCarpet is a 2017 Unlimited commission. Unlimited is an arts commissioning programme that celebrates ambitious work by disabled artists. Unlimited is funded by Arts Council England (ACE), and delivered by Shape Arts and Artsadmin.

Alessandra Cianetti, Art Production Manager of #MagicCarpet.

David Kelly-Mancaux Erkembode, social media, publicity and curator 

Professor Andrew Stahl, Professor of Fine Art atSlade School of Fine Art, Submit To Love Studios of Headway East London and UK Adult ADHD Network (UKAAN) are #MagicCarpet workshop participants.

Philip Tan (Philbeatand Michael Tebinka (Ohsoweirdwill create a legacy film.

Flanders Tapestry will weave the tapestry for the project.

About King’s Artists

King’s artist-in-residence programme supports opportunities for artists to work and collaborate with faculties across the university. The programme establishes artist residencies that inspire collaboration with students and staff across disciplines to embrace creativity and take risks, developing new thinking and creative outputs.

During the 17/18 academic year, Cultural Programming at King’s is supporting five new residencies, three within Arts & Sciences and two in the Health Faculties, with a fourth residency within the Arts & Sciences receiving support directly from the Faculty of Natural & Mathematical Sciences. Outcomes from these six residencies will be showcased in the upcoming academic year and beyond, within the public facing programme across King’s.

More information about the programme and artists-in-residence at King’s can be found on the King’s Artists webpage.

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