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Jon Adams goes to Stoke Mandeville for an International Paralympic committee Shooting event / 25 October 2010

black and white line drawing of a neucleus

Drawing of a neucleus by Jon Adams

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There is a certain stigma attached to the word ‘gun’. The words say more about others misunderstandings and attitudes - and as a person with a hidden disability we all know what that is like.

Shooting is certainly not just about killing anything. – do people put that connotation on archery for example? Its interesting to me that people don’t look below the surface on the skills level – they just assume guns hurt people which like anything (including words) in the wrong hands can cause harm. People hurt people.

I am not of the ‘hunting shooting fishing brigade’, I just know and appreciate the level of skill and dedication of training it takes to hold still enough to put a pellet through a 1mm target centre at 10 meters so I was pleased to be asked to attend the IPC Shooting World Cup which Accentuate had helped to sponsor.

I found myself at Stoke Mandeville ahead of time. The shooting had started and I was asked if I would like to sit in and observe. As it was indoors ‘competition order’ was ‘decided’ using air weapons which meant the only sounds were the slight crack and instantaneous ‘clang’ of the pellet hitting the metal backstop. (I immediately felt I had to gather and started to record snippets of the sound)

The targets were all digitally monitored and displayed on the big screen (very high tech) which slightly distorted the appreciation of how small they were in reality. Each shot showed as a circle superimposed and layered on top or each previous one building quite complex patterns.

This immediately triggered ideas for artwork and I soon found I had some sketches in my pocket that I would take from this to complete later. As more guests were arriving we were shown up to the balcony for a wider panoramic view and conversations.

Then after all had arrived we had a some welcoming words and were split into several different teams to be toured round the ‘ins and outs’ of competitive shooting – and then there were the rules… As a person with Aspergers I like rules – what appeals to me is not just the feeling of ‘safety within a boundary’ – but when you know the rules - you know where you can push and break them.

This is also the stage where ‘disability’ sports and ‘disability’ arts come apart in a disconformity that also unites the two as opposite ends of a spectrum. I will explain: with the arts the ‘social model’ is key. But by necessity with sports have a ‘medical model’ focus. What I found interesting was that every stage, person and item is subject to rules and proofs – some multiply so as we were guided round backstage this became very apparent.

Not only does the gun have to ‘conform’ to sizes, weights, shapes and lengths and power but so does the clothing in minute details. Centimetres, millimetres and grams count and ‘overlaps’ can make a difference.

And then there is the ‘person’ – and this is where it’s diametrically opposite to how we as ‘neu artists’ in the disability cultural scene think. You have to ‘prove’ a physical disability and conform to a rule book several centimetres thick of ‘what is wrong with you’. It’s all prescriptive and defined in detail. Interestingly despite all the rules regulations and definitions it still come s down to someone’s subjective judgement whether you are a ‘category S1 or S2! In the end.
I personally wouldn’t qualify to shoot as a disabled person – I never thought I would hear myself say this but I am not disabled enough and was told “I would have to compete against ‘normal’ shooters” when I expressed an interest.

Everything we think of and hold dear in this ‘Nueuworld’ of deaf and disabled artistry with regards to the ‘person and their work that counts not being defined by “what’s wrong with you” rapidly went out the window.

But more shockingly I agree It has to be like that. It’s this difference between arts and ‘paralympic sports’ that provides us with a commonality to work together. When you scratch beneath the surface you find we are all just people who try to the utmost of our being to do and be the best and to overcome the barriers others or ‘nature’ sets in front of us. Sometimes the opposites do attract.

The tour was over all too quickly and after more conversations over lunch it was time to leave. This day left me deep in thought and somewhat determined to see what could be cross pollinated from the sports to the arts.

There is certainly a need for discernable leadership and self-dedication that’s common to both. You can’t drift even as a member of a team as the responsibility for ‘competing’ - taking part in a ‘team’ effort is down to you.

To be the best or make a change takes time; effort sometimes above and beyond the ‘norm’ and can feel like endlessly swimming against the tide. But lasting change or recognition for your leadership as a prize has to be worth it. But it can only be done in a measured and comparative way and with ‘quality of substance’ discernibly underpinning throughout.

Looking back I learnt some valuable lessons. Not only was the event quality it was high quality, both in the presentation it gave to us and in the way it seemed to be run. This was a totally fascinating hour and the lessons learnt and revelations will feed into my ‘look about’ map and film. More on which another time.