Please join us for a mass tweet from In Actual Fact on Monday 17th February 8.30-10.00pm when Channel 4 broadcasts Benefits Street: The Last Word, followed by ‘Benefits Britain: The Debate’.
Head to In Actual Fact for carefully sourced, instantly tweetable anti-austerity facts and select from the full menu of facts to tweet.
In the past few weeks, the battle for TV ratings in the poverty porn genre has heated up. In Actual Fact has been mass tweeting throughout, answering back against austerity propaganda and anti-claimant rhetoric. The numbers of people discovering and using the site have increased week on week, creating a grass roots counter propaganda message that challenges corporate media stereotypes & disinformation.
Channel 4’s provocatively named Benefits Street series was originally scheduled to culminate on Monday 10th February. But so loud was the outcry at the first episode, with demands to remove the series from our screens, that Channel 4 decided to extend the series, in the process maximising profits from increased viewing figures.
So, the following week, on Monday 17th February, the hastily made Benefits Street: The Last Word says it will look at the experience of benefits from the perspective of the street’s residents, some of whom were moved into safe houses at the end of the first programme so vile were the death threats. Immediately after, they will host an hour-long debate on issues raised by the programme. (They don’t say whether this will include broadcaster responsibility, or the conflict of interest between ratings and fair portrayal, or whether informed consent can ever be given by programme subjects who must relinquish the representation of their lives to a production team answering to commercial pressures in an edit suite. This debate show remains under the control of the broadcaster and editorial control rests a right-wing dominated corporate media.)
In a brief gap between programmes, Channel 5 joined the fray, dropping into the schedules its own The Big Benefits Row on Monday 3 February. Just to clarify their agenda, they announced some of their anti-benefits panel members: Katie Hopkins, known for hate-filled rants, and Edwina Currie, an advocate for shutting down food banks and, um, Peter Stringfellow (because he gets a pension). But then something strange happened in that hour. In reply to the fact-free, anti-benefits prejudices, the studio opposition – Jack Monroe, Annabel Giles, Owen Jones, Deidre Kelly (White Dee from ‘Benefits Street‘)* – began answering back. And so did the audience (good words from Mik Scarlett, who injected the only disability-related discussion into the evening). Even the chair began to challenge the anti-benefits assertions and pepper his talk with counter facts. Twitter was a torrent, so thick and fast it was a blur. Slowed down, though, and it became clear that fact and experience based tweets from In Actual Fact and others, evidencing the reality of benefits, were holding their own.
Anyway, so successful was Channel 5’s Row in the ratings war that they’ve decided to treat us to The Big British Immigration Row. Channel 4, wearing their cynicism on their sleeves, have scheduled their final programme to compete. So on Monday 17th February it will be a head-to-head knock down, drag out fight between the propaganda of anti-benefits and anti-immigration and… the actual facts.
In partnership with Ros Wynne Jones, who writes the Real Britain column in the Daily Mirror, supporting and reporting on the grassroots struggle against austerity throughout the Coalition government, we will be mass tweeting on Monday 17 February. You can join us in a full 90 minutes of counter propaganda social media civil disobedience! We’ll be tweeting with the #BenefitsBritain hashtag (whilst also adding our immigration-themed tweets to the ‘Immigration Row’ twitter feed).
You may ask yourself, in the vileness of programmes like this, is there any point? When it often feels like two opposing factions shouting in the dark, neither listening to the other, where’s the value? Yet I’ve realised it matters. It’s vital we show there are people who oppose the austerity agenda, in large and increasing numbers; underrepresented in the mainstream media, social media is the place to do it. And I’ve realised over the six months of In Actual Fact that the value goes beyond the twitter feed on the night. These fact-based tweets are retweeted for days, propagating out across other people’s feeds to reach broader and broader constituencies, people who don’t yet know this stuff but might be willing to hear it.
But it’s hard. Watching these programmes takes a toll. Of course it’s possible to tweet from In Actual Fact without putting ourselves through the programme at all. For The Big Benefits Row, I skyped a friend, sharing the outrage and laughing a lot. For Channel 4’s finale, I will twitter party with In Actual Fact’s interns, devising strategy whilst drinking beer and lightening the load. I don’t want to be dragged into the circus, but we must keep getting facts on the record. As the weeks of Channel 4’s further descent into tabloid hell have gone by, we have been winning the argument. So please come along and make sure that The Last Word on Benefits Street is ours.
Where: In Actual Fact
When: 20:30 - 22:00 GMT 17/02/2014
* Our own Sue Marsh was scheduled to appear but then there was, apparently, an issue of fire risk when three or more wheelchair users are gathered…
New year, new project!
I can’t say much yet, but it depends on money, vast quantities of clay, sweeping vistas of space, fantastic people mobilising, and keeping my nerve. The only bit that’s certain at the moment is the date of the election.
I’m really happy to be working with CoQuo PR again after their brilliance on Bedding Out, delighted today to welcome Production Assistant Jess Thomas, and hoping it won’t be too long now until I’m able to invite you to join in.
A last blast before I crash for a while. Bedding Out at Edinburgh was a good one: 30 hours of continuous performance, six bedside conversations and an active twitter feed. We talked of the Work Capability Assessment, the social model, performance protest, strength through activism, shaping public opinion, creating our own press, next generation politics, the interconnectedness of systems and people. Audio extracts and twitter conversations will be added to the RGP website soon.
But most of all, we talked of the things we can do to turn the tide on the benefits and cuts onslaught. We can:
Counter propaganda with In Actual Fact: Tweet occasionally, daily, multiple times each day. Submit facts to the website and tell everyone you know about it and get them to tweet too.
Get informed with these resources (scroll to Campaigns & Resources).
Get support for your own benefits survival (scroll to Advice & Support).
Campaign with WOW – signing the petition is just the first crucial stage, which will enable their larger campaign to unfold. Sign, get 10 others to sign, ask them each to get 10 more…
Protest with DPAC’s Reclaiming our Futures, 29 August to 4 September, nationwide and on social media.
Unite through the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, joining campaigns for a national anti-austerity movement.
Today’s the day for another website launch.
As Government and press propaganda about the cuts and benefit claimants continues to skew public opinion towards division and hatred¹ , we urgently need to answer back with the actual facts.
Misrepresentation of official statistics is being use for political gain and justification for a reinvented, cut-back benefits system² that is leading to profound distress and multiple deaths.³
But it is time for us to start shaping public opinion for ourselves, until governments and would-be-governments have no choice but to address the damage they are doing.
And that’s where our new project, created with the invaluable help of CoQuo, comes in. Today, we launch In Actual Fact.
In Actual Fact is a collection of actual facts that seek to combat the rhetoric of governments and the press. Each fact is short, memorable and instantly tweetable, providing bite-sized information for users to call on when answering back. All facts are carefully sourced and we invite you to submit additional facts for us to continue expanding the facility.
This is a resource to use and build upon - intuitive one-click activism that is engaging, widely accessible and with the potential to make an impact. Tweet occasionally, tweet daily or tweet multiple times each day. Make In Actual Fact your browser’s home page so that it reminds you. Tell everyone you know about the site and get them to tweet too.
Let’s start spreading actual facts and skew public opinion back towards truth.
Bedding Out in Edinburgh
Hurray, today's the day for the launch of the seriously brilliant, new-look Roaring Girl Productions website, created by the ever-talented CoQuo:
In the process of designing the new site, we sifted through all the existing materials and I realised I've done more than I'd ever known over the past 13 years of RGP. There's some great material on there and it feels kind of good!
This new site makes it much easier to find archived material and also introduces lots of new materials. All our films and other productions are now available to watch online, free of charge, and with audio description, captions and BSL. We'd welcome your feedback.
With Bedding Out in Edinburgh just abound the corner, here are a few Bedding Out-themed highlights:
Archived Conversations and audio soundbites, with transcripts and BSL.
I’ve recently been editing the thousands of tweets from April’s Bedding Out, reformatting them for a web archive. The range and depth of the conversations has amazed me, from invitations to MPs to shouting out at Esther McVey, media hatred and countering lies, wearing expressions to witch trials, marathon sleepovers and celebratory brownies, falling through gaps and dying whilst found ‘fit for work’, WCA tips and collective answering back, and much more. It’s an amazing resource of compassion, rage, humour, strategy and eloquence, all in 140 characters. And they’ll be uploaded any day now…
The #beddingout twitter feed will be active again for Edinburgh, so please join the conversation. This week, I was so sorry to lose the wonderful Dawn Willis @Quinonostante as tweetmeister this time around and I want to wish the very best to her son Matt for the speediest recovery. I’m also very pleased to welcome Laura @Ambir, from WOW Petition, stepping into the breech and tweeting from the heart of #beddingout in Edinburgh. Getting exciting now...
Bedding Out in Edinburgh
Friday 9th August 10.00am – Saturday 10th 4.00pm
Hunt & Darton Cafe, 17-21 St Mary’s Street, EH1 1SU
Conversations around the bed Fri 1pm, 5pm, Saturday 10am, 2pm, with BSL interpreter and notetaker
Conversation on Twitter Fri 9pm, Sat noon
My bed will shortly be wending its way to Edinburgh, where I’m hoping to bludge a comfy mattress for a 30-hour version of my Bedding Out performance at the Fringe.
Where Salisbury and the livestream became a connecting of disabled people and building of strategy, Edinburgh is set to be a different beast. This time we’ll be soaking in the upbeat feel of the festival to reach people new to the debate. Rick and Jane of WOW Petition will be joining me at the bedside, to spread the word about the impact of cuts and propaganda on disabled people in order to mobilise allies and collect petition signatures along the way.
The fantastic Dawn Willis, tweetmeister, will be joining the project again to coordinate the twitter feed and I hope those who joined in before on twitter will continue to be part of #beddingout.
Three conversations will happen around the bed and two more will run on twitter. I’m just now doing the final edit of twitter conversations from last time, wrestling thousands of tweets into the Bedding Out archive on the RGP website. The range, depth, inspiration, rage and hope contained in the conversations is electric and I’m hoping for that same energy in Edinburgh.
I’ll be bedding out at the Hunt & Darton Café. In this fully functioning installation café that blends art with the everyday, Bedding Out will offer an escape from festival frenzy for a slower paced, more contemplative, chill zone in which I hope to build a sense of cool and determined possibility. Meanwhile, Black Triangle are linking up with Bedding Out, plotting a performance spin-off, a little less chilled but just as filled with possibility…
It would be great to meet some of you in Edinburgh and via twitter, so please join us if you can and let’s take the conversation and campaign even further.
Bedding Out in Edinburgh
Friday 9th August 10.00am – Saturday 10th 4.00pm
Venue details, conversations schedule and access
I’ve been at the Bristol Records Office recently, trawling through the archives of The Guild of the Brave Poor Things. One of a network of membership groups for disabled people, the Bristol Guild was founded in 1896 and became the first to have its own purpose built headquarters. Bringing together disabled people in a social space, the Guild lay on entertainment, companionship, training, sales of works and apprenticeships.
Membership was pretty exacting: you needed the right impairment (physical or sensory, visible), and enough of it but not too much. It helped a lot to be male. Most of all though, you needed the right moral character, exhibiting the ‘Guild spirit’ and signing up to its ideals. Above all, the Guild set out to prevent disabled people from being a burden on society.
As I read the reams of closely written copperplate from almost 120 years ago, the sort of disabled person you needed to be and the drive towards work for independence, wellbeing and morality, feels so very contemporary. I can hear the Coalition mantra echoing through the century: ‘Strivers not Shirkers’. Now, as then, the aim is that disabled people should overcome and inspire all the way to economic self-sufficiency. Then, as now, employers were not always keen to be a part of the solution.
And yet there’s one critical difference. Then – for all the charitable and tragic overtones – there is a feeling of liberation unfurling. Against a backdrop of poverty, inaccessibility and social exclusion, and long before the welfare state was formed, lives were being transformed. The Guild of the Brave Poor Things was not a self-help group, but certainly it was a place where group identity had a chance to form.
The Bristol Guild (eventually renamed The Guild of the Handicapped) continued right up to 1987 when the building was sold and it re-registered as a charitable trust. The same year, oblivious that the Guild had ever existed, a small group of disabled people held our inaugural meeting for what would become Avon Coalition of Disabled People. We gathered through the generosity of Community Service Volunteers, in the middle of their busy lobby, since Bristol then had not a single public building that was accessible. CSV is just 200 yards up the road from the Guild.
Arriving at the converted church that is Salisbury Arts Centre, my home for the 48 hours of Bedding Out, the altar stage looked breathtakingly beautiful. Plotted and planned as it was, I was not prepared for the theatre of it: a wall of white drapes behind the bed picking up on the white of the bedding and echoing the large canvas sails suspended above; the red of the bed throw picking up in colour the stained glass that rose high above the drapes; the black of the stage adding drama and the wooden frame of the bed, warmth. Above me, my view from the bed, black rafters criss-crossed the underbelly of the roof.
I measured the hours in fractions: 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, and on to the final 48th, interrupting them with conversations around the bed and with the world beyond through twitter. And in between I rested, recovering from one conversation and preparing myself for the next.
Behind the scenes, the crew was a hive of activity, managing a livestream and a twitter feed, preparing live captioning and BSL interpretation for the next conversation, and PAing for me, all with a steady calm that carried me through the 48 hours. Through a livestream watched in 18 countries, a continuous twitter feed comprising thousands of messages interconnecting, and extra twitter conversations laid on to cope with demand, there was a sense of something extraordinary unfolding.
If the conversations in the arts centre and via social media were visibly active, in the long hours between, where I looked to be sleeping, plenty of work was taking place. People have commented on how vulnerable I was making myself, revealing my private self through the performance, but the vulnerability was more in receiving such a weight of expectation, despair and urgent hope in such a public forum. For me, the 48 hours, in and between the conversations, shaped and formed my thinking about how we might understand the attack on whole swathes of our society, about how we might bear witness to the isolated pain of individuals whilst turning it towards ever-more collective resistance.
In the weight of people’s stories, what I heard was the impact that public vilification can have: the bewilderment at injustice, the injustice of extreme misrepresentation, the pain of losing our fragile security, the ever-present fear of backlash. But entwined within each story was profound compassion, dignity, contribution, and resilience despite all; every story encapsulated the humanity that most of us would choose to live amongst. These are not stories of skivers and scroungers, nor do they carry the victim label that equally endangers. Beyond the bed, I am left with the question of how we interweave pain and resolve more publicly, and in a way that reflects its complexity, in order to turn it towards change.
As we oppose the specific details of benefits changes, such as the points system used to assess PIP claimants, we need to site them in the context of the values that underpin and are used to justify those changes. Driving them all are the values of individualism and of some social groups as worth less. These values applied to disabled people are being applied to others too. If disabled people were the first, we were never going to be the last. Now it is unemployed people, poor people, single parents, immigrants, the under-25s; next it is to be people deemed to be earning too little. In a process of divide and rule, there is an ever-greater need for collective action between us all.
In the run up to Bedding Out, I noticed the government’s increasing references to public opinion: a majority population supports these changes to benefits and other public services, believing benefit fraud to be out of control and public spending to be a primary cause of the economic crisis. Yet public opinion, as it stands, has been skewed and tainted by selective use and misrepresentation of official statistics for political gain.¹ Alongside government briefings, most newspapers continue to engage in a propaganda offensive associated with a doubling in hate crime.² The Coalition uses these falsehoods to justify a reinvented and cut-back benefits system that is leading to multiple deaths.
When government sets such store by public opinion, holding it as the barometer of its re-electability, when public opinion is so central to winning the argument, then it is essential that we become the ones to shape it. If public opinion, with such devastating consequences, is being formed through invented statistics and fabulations of what we are, then we need to counter it at every turn with true facts and true stories.
We need to identify who in the press (predominantly Guardian journalists) are doing the sustained investigative reporting and supply them with our stories. We need to use our own media (“tweet it, blog it talk it, live it”) in every way that each of us can in order to realise the furthest reach of our influence.
New research reveals a more complex division in public opinion than most polls suggest: once people know someone affected by the cuts, they are more likely to be swayed against the Coalition’s policies.³ To shift public opinion, we need to become known. We need to reach out to the ‘good, kind and compassionate’ people who would be horrified if they only knew, or who feel disquiet but do not speak out; we need to communicate to them facts about benefits and stories of our lives as they really are and to show why it matters so much to speak out. We need to tell stories of what it is to be ‘us’, what it is to be a claimant, what social security really is and what it does, how it is really spent and the breadth of its benefits. We need to counter the values that permit labelling of some social groups as less, that foster division and scapegoating. We need to become the ones informing and shaping public opinion, mobilising it and building collective momentum. We need to create an unequivocal cry of “Not in my name,” that leaves politicians of all parties realising they have no choice but to heed us.
And we need to extend beyond simple opposition to ask the big questions: what kind of society we want to be and how do we get there? We need to devise working alternatives to the current onslaught, to find out what a humane and inclusive social security system would look like and how it would be implemented and sustained.
So here’s what, for now, is emerging from 48 hours of Bedding Out:
• We are hearing multiple stories of people connected, of people feeling represented and changing how they manage their public/private selves, of people integrating their health needs better and finding their ‘fear of the brown envelope’ diminished. We are hearing of people inspired to speak out as they would not have done before, countering propaganda through words and text, through art and direct action. These are stories of crisis and stories of resilience, solutions, mobilising and collective resistance.
• We are amassing a bank of true facts and stories. These will be uploaded to our website and distributed via other sites and social media in easily tweetable, easily memorable bite-sized facts and stories, in tweets, blogs, links, photographs and videos, for people to call to help them in answering back.
• We will re-present the twitter feed, which is filled with interesting and wide-ranging conversation and commentary, so that it becomes a permanent, practical resource with conversation threads clear, searchable and grouped thematically.
• There have been repeated calls for a national Bedding Out guerrilla action, for a big splash visible representation of who and what we are, that will incorporate people in public spaces and people from their beds, and there are people beginning to work towards this.
• There is interest in creating a project less visible, a peer support network in which we help each other with form-filling and tribunal-survival, building individuals’ resilience for both personal survival and opposition.
If you’re interested in any of these projects, please get in touch and I’ll pass your details on to the relevant person.
This week, I was asked do I really think we have a hope in hell of turning the tide, or is this just a “valiant protest” so we can say we “fought the good fight until the end”? And even as premonitions are not my thing (and perhaps not the Coalition’s either, given the state of economic recovery), what I know is this: if we don’t fight back, failure is certain. And if we do fight back, then we stand a chance. If we contest every last one of the Coalition's and press lies, if we bite back against policy and ideology that treats whole swathes of society as less, then we stand a chance.
Government has huge resources which we can only dream of, yet over the past three years I have been in awe of the strengths that have emerged amongst disability activists: skills and strategies, new alliances, deep compassion and hard won experience, complex organisation and resilience. And, strange as it may seem to call this a strength, to call it something the Coalition could only dream of, I see how raw desperation drives us. The reality is that our community, and individuals within it, are fighting for our lives, and that makes us, united, the most formidable of oppositions.
Bedding Out has been funded by Arts Council England.
¹ Conservative claims about benefits are not just spin, they're making it up
² Hate crimes against disabled people soar to a record level http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/hate-crimes-against-disabled-people-soar-to-a-record-level-7858841.html
³ Dear politicians, exploiting divisions over cuts could come back to bite you
On the eve of Bedding Out, there’s mounting excitement in the twittersphere and my stomach is looping the loop. Will the work do something? (Will my body do what’s needed?) Will people join in and make the project work?
I am back at the eve of my Fourth Plinth performance in Trafalgar Square. Then, it was the uncertainty of performance that proved its power. Then, it created a starting point, a moment, where the onlooker was confronted with questions and a place where other campaigners and activists could gather and use the opening it provided.
I remember then, as anxiety created its own momentum, stopping it from running out of control depended on my returning to the why: the absolute essence of what I am doing. It was there that clarity lay, and the guts to see it through.
So here’s is the why of Bedding Out:
- It is the peddling of myths about disabled people and those in poverty that bear no relation to our lives as they really are. It is the notion of us, in and out of paid work, as feckless and shiftless, fraudster and scrounger, as workshy and morally bankrupt that ignores the many influences of a person’s capacity to work and sets us aside as ‘other’.
- It’s the use of those myths to justify cuts and introduce a system of benefits that ensure those who most need support are most likely to fall through the gaps.
- It’s the way those myths link to soaring hate crime, distress and even suicide, and yet are exploited for political gain. It is the way we must edit ourselves to stay safe.
- It’s the lie that austerity is caused by us when it comes out of inequality, and it’s the way that inequality only magnifies with government policies like these.
- It’s the way disabled people were the first, virtually unreported for the first two years, but we were never going to be the last. Now it’s unemployed people, poor people, single parents, immigrants, the under-25s; next it is to be people deemed to be earning too little.
- It’s the way that even as the poor are punished by income cuts, the rich are rewarded with income tax cuts and corporations with tax evasion condoned.
- It’s the way that good people are swayed by lies, or distracted by their own struggles, or silenced from speaking out for fear they could be next, or intimidated by increasingly aggressive suppression of protest.
- It’s the way that government policy, and the absence of opposition, threatens our futures, the way that it confines and divides and degrades us all. It’s the way that it punishes non-conformity, says we are motivated only by greed, unravels 30 years of disability progress, undoes democracy. It’s the knowing that there are better ways of working and contributing and living alongside each other if only we care to look.
- And it is the way some of us have banded together – in Disability People Against the Cuts, Spartacus, Black Triangle and more – in a sustained campaign of answering back. It’s about the awe I feel at the strengths that have emerged: the skills and strategies, alliances formed, deep compassion and resilience, and at new ways of campaigning from home and sofa and bed.
- It’s about the possibilities of all the different individuals and groups joining forces to create an opposition. It’s the way that a gathering momentum could yet create a collective and unequivocal cry of ‘Not in my name,’ until politicians of all parties realise they have no choice but to heed us. Which is also about hope and becoming part of a much bigger decision to shape a future that is so much better.
So that’s why. In Bedding Out, I am portraying a human story in its broader political context. It’s about combining with all the other voices to create a very different story of what it is to be us and to feed into the debate about what kind of society we want to be.
In the words of John Lennon, adapted, let’s start a revolution from my bed.
10-12 April, starts 2.00pm
At Salisbury Arts Centre and on the World Wide Web
Follow @RGPLizCrow and use the #beddingout hashtag to take part throughout the 48 hours. Join our Twitter-based Bedside Conversation on Thu 11 Apr at noon.
Anyone not on Twitter can text us: 07784 899514 and we can upload what they say to Twitter. Typing ‘MySecret’ before the message ensures that their message will be tweeted anonymously.
Members of the public gather round the bed to talk about the work, it’s background and its politics.
Free entry. Duration 40 minutes. Book at Salisbury Arts Centre website: uk.patronbase.com/_SAC/Productions or phone: 01722 321744
Or watch online at www.roaring-girl.com (with BSL interpretation and live subtitles)
Wed 10 Apr 2.00pm (GMT+1) and 6.00pm
Thu 11 Apr noon (via Twitter) and 3.15pm
Fri 12 Apr 10.15am
In my recent interview about Bedding Out for BBC Ouch!* , I was asked “So is this a sort of John and Yoko for PIP [Personal Independence Payment] or more a sort of Tracey Emin-related activity?”
When I began to dream up Bedding Out, I kept bumping into John and Yoko and Tracey and began to wonder how many other have made art based on the bed. Quite a few, it turns out, though not many actually inhabit their beds or convey a sense of their bed as occupied.
This week, though, actor Tilda Swinton has hit the headlines, sleeping in a glass box in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, in a reprise of her 1995 performance The Maybe. You only have to read the comments sections in the press to know that this is the marmite of the art world, and whilst I can’t abide marmite, I find something deeply tender in this sleeping form made public, this voluntary act of vulnerability. Asleep in the gallery for several six-and-a-half-hour stints* over the year, the audience can linger as long as they choose in the privilege of the gaze.
Even as the act of sleeping is so familiar, perhaps because we all know it so well, or maybe because we are never conscious in the experience of it, The Maybe can touch profoundly. How often are we invited into such close proximity to a stranger captured in the act of sleeping, to be able to look in our own time, to respond and contemplate?
In The Maybe, Tilda Swinton makes public the familiar, private intimacy of sleep. Both of our performances are the private made public, but for very different reasons. In Bedding Out, I shift focus beyond the figure in the bed and onto the bed-life, making public its careful concealment. For me, it is a revealing of that side of my self that wins neither friends nor accolades, and which I learned so early to keep so carefully out of the public gaze.
When I performed last autumn’s version of Bedding Out, I found that the more people were willing to slow their pace to mine, the more took from the work. When people refer to the bed, they invariably speak of being born, of sleeping and dreaming, of the disruption of short-term illness, of having sex, giving birth, of dying. They speak of being in bed in terms of occasion and event, but rarely do they speak of the sustained bed-life as integral to life. The bed-life that I convey is beyond the experience of most; it requires time and stillness to imagine.
In Tracey Emin’s installation My Bed, chaos and crisis lie tangled in the sheets showing the aftermath of the artist’s nervous breakdown. The artist is as present in that empty bed as if she were there in the gallery. In contrast, even as I occupy my bed throughout the 48 hours of performance, I am scarcely there. In the thrashing of bed sheets and the detritus of empty booze bottles, fag ends, stained sheets and worn underwear, Tracey’s bed is all activity, whilst mine is a process of silence and of making myself absent from activity and interaction. Where Tracey’s bed is often seen as confession, mine is a reveal of life hidden from view.
“But what will you do for all those hours in the bed?” I am repeatedly asked, as though to do nothing is unthinkable. For me, the bed is that still, quiet place where I piece myself together again. For the hours of performance, mostly I will zone out, sleep, keep silence, try to disconnect even from myself. The more I can disengage,, the more this bed-life serves its function in making me well-er and connecting me back in to the peopled world. So I will observe the opposite of the public me that works so hard to appear energetic and busy and doing.
Ron Muerk’s sculpture In Bed is typically approached with a sense of awe, as audiences gaze at his three-times life-sized figure in her bed. Where the ordinariness of the human body is made strange through sheer scale, I see mine more as a peeling away of mystery. Like Tracey’s bed, I’m portraying life as I know it, as messy fact not neat and comfortable fable. Life has loose ends and complexity and I like the honesty of making them visible.
I feel close in spirit to Ron’s In Bed, mirroring the sculpted woman’s deep contemplation. Just as, within my bed, I turn my own gaze inwards, we cannot know another’s inner existence. Neither can we know their internal living of, and with, impairment, most of all when it cannot be seen. Some things cannot be measured from the outside. If it cannot be seen, then it can only be known through my account of it. To have a possibility of knowing, you must trust me in my telling of my self, my needs, the messy complication of my life. Just as every time I venture out, it is by a leap of faith in those around me, it is a faith that needs returning.
In a photograph of a lone audience member alongside that outsized bed, the focus of the work shifts to the onlooker. It is in relation to people that the figure in the bed gains her impact. In bringing audiences to my bedside conversations about the work, its backdrop and its politics, in connecting to them through social media, I hope for that same shift, where the onlooker becomes an anchor for Bedding Out in the wider world.
Of the four historical pieces of art based on the bed, and the oldest of the four, John & Yoko’s Bed-In is the most immediately recalled, the most often emulated, and the most overtly outwards-looking. Theirs was a bed-in for peace, whilst I am bedding out for justice; it is the other side of the same coin.
Theirs was a riotously active week of activism - wide awake, making phone calls, giving newspaper and broadcast interviews, making banners, bicycle on the bed, making music. With Bedding Out, I am looking to another kind of activism, exploring whether it can be done from a place of stillness.
In the face of a benefits onslaught which threatens many with poverty and disenfranchisement and with a propagandist campaign that has doubled disability hate crime, urgency seems to call for loud and direct action. Yet as we confront a system that requires us to parade our hidden, most carefully concealed selves to justify the state’s support, I wonder whether it is possible to thread another, contrasting colour into the weave of activism.
* Show number 95
* I’d call six-and-a-half-hours amateur next to my 48, except that I get to take loo breaks.
Towards the end of last week, I was asked to do an interview this Thursday for regional television news, who are doing a series of reports next week on DLA/PIP, bedroom tax, council tax, etc. I’m under the duvet as I write this, my words slurring, sentences resisting the keyboard; not the best week. I pushed the interview as late in the week as possible, trusting that adrenalin would kick in enough that I can deceive the onlooker.
And there is the ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ at the core of Bedding Out. When adrenalin serves me well and I can muster enough coherence to explain PIP – if I can set it within the complicated context of ESA, ILF and local authority cuts to services, of broken promises and political manoeuvring, if I can even hint at the terror it strikes, if I can be that coherent – then I’m going to look and sound as healthy as the healthiest of viewers and those healthy viewers may well be left doubting my claim. And if I present as ill as I am, then there will be no possibility of my bringing coherence to the discussion.
The job – in interviews, protests, grassroots research, art-activism - is to reach the general public, again and again, until they discover their own outrage at what is being done in their name. And in the impossible trade off between stereotypes, I opt every time for the line of best coherence, knowing all the while that that lies about how it really is to be me, about how it is to be so many of us. Whichever way I act risks undermining our claims for support.
As the week unfolds through emails, I realise that my assigned role in this interview will be to provide the ‘human angle’ on the benefits onslaught. It feels a risky game in which my ability to convince the viewer that I am ‘deserving’ will reflect on the validity of every other claimant and every other disabled person. This is a medium that relies on symbol and soundbite, on two-dimensional versions of who we really are. It is a style of reporting that almost guarantees I will be seen as either ‘saint or scrounger’ (to echo a current programme title), but almost never that more complicated, contextualised, living whole.
So what if, instead, I used my own story in context, as a way into the bigger picture and its impact on all of us? What if, for once, we tried a different kind of reporting? It’s not that the producer didn’t get what I was saying, more that she didn’t want the story I was offering, and I couldn’t give her the story she wanted. It’s funny because I just might have been able to speak quite persuasively. In turning to the work of others, I can see how, in the right circumstances, it is entirely possible to do. Penny Pepper and Laurence Clark’s recent interviews on ILF and DLA/PIP have the context and complexity of real life woven right through, and they speak volumes more than the usual individualised ‘human interest’ or distanced analysis. They have succeeded in converting the story that most of the press wants to tell into the story that most needs to be told.
In the end I realise that, this week, this ‘not best’ week, I haven’t the brain capacity to do such gymnastics. In a week where these 600 words take five days to compose, to be asked one question but answer another takes a dexterity beyond me. So the producer and I agreed to differ (for now) and part ways. I don’t know whether this counts as failure or whether a little bit of me is proud for allowing myself, for once, to be as ill as I truly am.
Just four weeks to go now until my Bedding Out performance gets underway and the nerves are definitely kicking in.
Last week, thanks to the wonders of Skype, I directed the technical fit of the installation from my bed, and technology is looming large in this project in ways I never predicted when it started out.
Last autumn, at a previous version of the work, several people got in touch, really excited that it was making them more visible, but unable to attend in person because of their own bed-lives. This time, Bedding Out is using social media in a big way to bring absent people into the performance.
First of all, the 48 hours of the performance will be livestreamed throughout (such a great idea when I thought of it, but never having felt an urge to be in the Big Brother house, my trepidation is increasing by the day!)
As part of the performance, I hold a series of Bedside Conversations, with people gathered round the bed to talk about the work, its background and its politics. Previous conversations ranged far and wide across benefits, newspaper propaganda, hate crime, art as activism, and much more, with people going surprisingly deep and trustingly into the issues. This time, the conversations will be livestreamed with audio, British Sign Language interpretation and live captioning.
The second social media element is the #beddingout twitter feed that is already well underway. I’m working with the wonderfully creative Dawn Willis as ‘tweetmeister’, using twitter not just to publicise the work but to bring people into the bigger conversation and encourage them to make the project their own. One of the Bedside Conversations this time will be solely twitter-based, with over 50 people already signed up to take part. The twitter feed will continue in the lead up to the performance and throughout the 48 hours, feeding into the other Bedside Conversations and displayed live in the arts centre alongside the performance.
This is such an experiment, something that makes my heart soar and my stomach lurch in equal measure. It’s a prayer to the tech gods and a fervent hope that people do pitch in and make the work do something.
I’m beginning to hear from individuals and groups internationally making plans like these:
• To pitch in to the twitter feed: to give their response to the work, talk about the issues raised and join in the twitter Bedside Conversation
• To stream the work at their event or conference
• To watch the performance in a disabled people’s organisation, campaigning group, student seminar, etc: to tweet it, blog it, and keep the conversation going
• To use the work as a trigger to produce their own art-activism.
So here’s how you can join in:
Via the web: You can watch Bedding Out throughout its 48 hours at www.roaring-girl.com.
Bedside Conversations (duration 40 minutes) will be live streamed with audio, BSL interpretation and live subtitles: Wed 10 Apr 2.00pm and 6.00pm, Thu 11 Apr noon (via twitter) and 3.15pm, Fri 12 Apr 10.15am.
On Twitter (@RGPLIzCrow #beddingout):
You can follow the work – and join in! Tweets will include live updates on the performance, audience reactions and Bedside Conversations, as well as responses to individual tweets. Tweets will be fed into conversations and there will be an all-twitter conversation on the Thursday at noon.
Anyone not on twitter can text us: 07784 899514 (outside the UK take away the 0 and add +44) and we can upload what they say to twitter. Typing ‘MySecret’ before the text, means we will tweet messages anonymously.
@RGPLizCrow #beddingout 07784 899514
My latest project is barrelling its way towards the start line. This week, the brilliant CoQuo, my production team have been at Salisbury Arts Centre putting the finishing touches to my Bedding Out installation that forms part of the People Like You exhibition showing work by Gini, Sue Austion and me, and which launches tonight (8 March). At the beginning of April, I will be moving body and soul into the exhibition space for 48 hours, but more on that soon…
Bedding Out comes out of my performance at last autumn’s SPILL Festival of Performance in which I took to my bed in a gallery for three consecutive days in response to the current welfare benefits overhaul. It was one of eight DAO Diverse Perspectives commissions (thank you DAO!).
The work looks at the way I live a life in two very separate parts. There’s a public self that tries to be outgoing and happening and changing the world, and most people assume because that’s what they see of me, that’s how I am in the rest of my life. But then there’s the private self, which wins no friends or accolades, in which I spend most of my time at home, a lot of time lying down and quite a lot in bed.
This is the self that I have become very expert in concealing. And whilst that has kind of worked for the past 30 years, in the face of benefits changes, it no longer does. Instead, this new system demands that I reverse myself, parading the private me to justify support.
In the performance I take this private self and make it public, performing my bed-life. Since the public me is so carefully constructed, this is a kind of un-performing of my self. I want to make visible a twilight existence shared by thousands of us. But even more, I want to show that what so many people see as contradiction - what they call fraud - is just the complexity of real life.
As part of last autumn’s performance, members of the public gathered around my bed for Bedside Conversations, talking about the work, its backdrop, its politics. Reflections from the Bed is short audio-visual slideshow (with captions) that tells more about the work and why it feels so necessary.
Sometime soon I’m going to embark on a project as light as air, if only for myself, for the sake of my own grey hairs and deepening frown. It will be a project to make me laugh (and maybe other people too), something not even the tiniest bit hardcore.
“No more Nazis," I tell myself.
It’s just there are still so many Nazis and art is a great way to greet them head on.
There are activists who think that art is a diversion from the single-mindedness of a campaign. But activism succeeds or fails on its ability to communicate, which is what art does best. Some of the best direct action, whether or not its participants call themselves artists, has been pure theatre (the bus blockades created images that communicated the issues in an instant), and music (such as Johnny Crescendo’s Choices and Rights) has provided anthems that have united a movement.
Art can encapsulate ideas, asking questions and presenting viewpoints not seen elsewhere. It can give glimpses into other people’s lives and broaden our view of the world. Artists are good at raising difficult questions, and exploring creative alternatives.
Art can make an emotional connection to audiences and go on working long after the piece is officially over. We can only make change for the things we know about; for me, the most exciting art brings to light lives on the margins and compels the onlooker to become a part of creating change.
Someone asked me recently how I would want them to approach my work. Mostly I hope people don’t get caught up in what they’re ‘supposed’ to think or say or understand! Relatively direct in its meaning, my work is also there for the audience to take from it whatever is useful to them and this will be different for different people. It might be a keyhole to another life, their own experience made visible, or a way for them to make links to parts of their lives they’d never connected before.
I hope it raises questions for audiences, gets them talking, making connections with each other, maybe shifting how they behave or motivating them to take a stand. In the end, I put the work out there, hoping that it will give something of value to other people and that, in their own lives and campaigns, they will use it.