Annie Crawford is a UK based Artist working predominately with sculpture, painting, and print. Her
art practice is focused on her neurodivergence, particularly the challenges she faces with
communication. Annie is Autistic and has Selective Mutism and because of that she is non-verbal.
She finds her voice through art and aims to make a powerful statement about her experiences.
Annie’s work is centred around the concept of 'Pre-Speech', which is the internal formation of letters and words before they become recognisable external speech. She’s developed a series of abstract forms that represent words in their unformed state. Annie often feels as though she’s mentally
forming words, but can’t verbally express them, so in some ways, her work reflects that experience.
These abstract forms are influenced by the shape of neurons particularly at the sight of synaptic
transmission as this where thoughts and signals to perform actions – such as speaking – are
processed. The majority of her references in the development of this work come from linguistics and
neurolinguistics. For example, ‘The Connectome Project’ which builds a ‘network map’ for the
anatomical and functional connectivity of the healthy human brain and forms a body of research for
neural differences such as Dyslexia and Autism. The imagery from this study has also hugely
influenced the colour choice for her sculptures. She uses bright colours (often graduated) to suggest
energy, that might be the energy that a single neuron uses to communicate one word. Annie’s
practice aims to make something intangible (the formation of Pre-Speech) into a tangible
For this exhibition Annie’s piece “Pre-Speech Pentominoes Puzzle (2020)” explores the units that
structure speech. A pentomino is a polyomino of order 5, that is, a polygon in the plane made of 5
equal-sized squares, connected edge-to-edge. There are 12 different free pentominoes. Each one is
a schematic for a letter. Annie has developed her abstract shapes into the schematics for
pentominoes, forming a puzzle – like a soma cube. The work is interactive and encourages
participants to consider the structure of Pre-Speech as they attempt to fit the separate units
together. Research in linguistics has provided considerable evidence that there are fundamental
cognitive units that structure language. Spoken words are constructed from an inventory of
phonological units which have no independent meaning but can be (relatively freely) combined and
organised in the construction of word forms. Annie’s pentominoes puzzle has the same basic
construction, its individual units only making sense when organised into its cube form. The separate
units that make up the cube were constructed from wood, sanded down and then spray painted.