DaDaFest International 2010: Objects of Curiosity and Desire
DaDaFest – the UK’s leading and biggest deaf and disability arts festival celebrates its tenth year in 2010. In celebration, disabled and non disabled artists from all over the world will perform and exhibit at DaDaFest International 2010, a two week extravaganza of artistic wonder which showcases and celebrates the best in disability and deaf arts.
DaDaFest International 2010 has taken the theme of ‘Objects of Curiosity and Desire’, which presents art from a unique cultural perspective, challenging and entertaining audiences. What is it that makes people stop and look, what do they find so fascinating, are deaf and disabled people seen as objects of curiosity and desire?
DaDaFest International 2010 ‘Object of Curiosity and Desire’ 12th November until 3rd December 2010 – across Liverpool
Highlights of the festival include:
- The UK premiere of Heidi Latsky’s GIMP – the New York dance sensation of four disabled and four non disabled dancers combine to create a beautiful dance performance.
- Tanya Raabe creating a live portrait of disability actor and writer Nabil Shaban
- Stelarc, the artist known for having an ear transplanted into his arm in conversation with Liz Carr
- Work from Yinka Shonibare MBE, the artist whose work recently graced Trafalgar Squares Fourth Plinth.
- Old rivals from The Last Choir Standing – The Belfast Open Arts Choir, Sense of Sound and DaDaSings.
- Acclaimed playwright Kaite O’Reilly will be unveiling a sneak preview of her work for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
- David Toole and Lucy Hind perform in Extra-Ordinary .
- Krip-Hop Nation – Leroy Moore and his group of disability Hip Hop artists from the USA and beyond will be performing and holding workshops.
- Mat Fraser – the star of Channel 4’s castaways will be featuring in numerous performances throughout the festival.
Garry Robson, Artistic Director for DaDaFest International 2010 said: “This year we wanted to take DaDaFest to a whole new realm of creativity, we have secured some truly fantastic artists from all over the world. DaDaFest is here to present the work of deaf and disabled artists, whose work is on a par with mainstream artists.
Disabled and deaf people are not simply passive consumers of a tragic destiny but active participants in all areas of life, with a unique and valuable cultural perspective that we plan to share during DaDaFest International 2010.”
For ticket information visit www.dadafest2010.co.uk
Check the full listings for events that are British Sign Language Interpreted and Audio Described.
A few Objects of Curiosity and Desire
Susan Bennett caught the work of Tom Shakespeare, Tanya Raabe and Simon McKeown at The Bluecoat
There was plenty of opportunity to explore the human body, its quirks and fascinations in this joint exhibition at the Bluecoat in Liverpool on the first Saturday of Dadafest International 2010 – and not all of it was formally exhibited!
It was a myriad of shapes and colours, Men in Black sunglasses, scarves, Nepalese hats, boots and multi- coloured fingerless gloves for there was a bite in the air that day. I found myself alone in the top gallery where three large pictures by Tom Shakespeare leapt off the wall, Harry Potter fashion, and started to speak to me. And their thoughts shocked.
From the ‘The Nightmare’ which awakens all those half forgotten dreams which play out our subconscious fears, the ‘Dead Christ’ that challenges you to think in whose image of man are humans cast, to the ‘Vulnerability of Embodiment’ – a purple Pope framed by two side of meat, hung slaughter house fashion above his head, they will all speak to you. Go and see….
In the Hub below are a series of cuboid lightboxes created by Tanaye Raabe called ‘Evolve’. But they can also be revolved - and I watched with interest as party of Chinese people tentatively, and then enthusiastically spun the combinations.
And behind this sits several monitors showing curious little animations of sexless grey/white bodies. ‘Motion Disabled’ by Simon McKeown is described as ‘integrating motion capture and 3D animation, highlighting the intricacies and uniqueness of individuals’ physicality.’
As I had just come from a two hour yoga session where I had been bent over backwards, upside down, and stretched through a demanding series of exercises, these little creatures fascinated me. You could see every articulation of their joints and how a weakness in one area is compensated by distortions in other parts of the body.
As the little Motion Man floated above a white landscape walking with crutches or propelling a wheelchair, striding across a room or scratching his back it was incongruous to see real people around me doing exactly the same. Did they really know what they doing to themselves? I wonder…
The Grimstones - Hatched
By Susan Bennett
‘The Grimstones – Hatched’ celebrates the wonder of books, the acceptance of difference, family love and the simple pleasures of life. It tells the story of Velvetta Grimstone who spends her days crumpled over her deceased husband’s grave. Her grief over her loss and her dreams to have more children have seeped into the life of her daughter Martha who makes a spell to mend her mother’s broken heart.
As the delicate tracery of puppet strings flashed and gleamed, artfully manipulated by the two puppeteers, Gertrude Grimstone (Asphyxia) and her assistant August (Paula Dowse), I marvelled at how they avoided crossed wires in handing one frame of strings to the other.
As they glided between sets and narratives, I realised this was a performance of duality. From the presenters who were puppeteers, narrators, signers and stage managers and moved seamlessly from role to role, to the holding of your own credulity between imagination and reality.
The children loved it, craning their necks and standing up to see the little puppets as they wobbled their way through the tale. You could feel the empathy as everyone strained closer and closer to the stage. Together we were held in the fragility of fantasy by the mastery of the performance.
Open Arts Inclusive Choir
By Susan Bennett
As I picked at my sandwiches in the Hub at the Bluecoat the other day, hemmed in by parties, children and fussing adults all doing the same, I became aware that more than one of the crowd were wearing purple fleeces. When one turned I caught sight of the OACC logo on their back and wondered what it was.
As I squeezed further and further into my seat and made way for others to perch beside me, the area filled with around 25 people all purple clad and busy with chairs, bongo drums and display stands. This was the Open Arts Inclusive Choir – entirely unexpected and not on the programme or the blackboard of events in the foyer.
And what a treat they were too! The choir, disabled and non-disabled people of all ages and backgrounds sing together and have become one of Northern Ireland’s ambassadors, recognised for the quality of its work.
Beverley White formed the choir in 2000 and they have taken part in many choral competitions including the BBC’s Last Choir Standing where they made it to the final stages. With a clear focus, the light in their eyes shows how much they enjoy their singing. Their moving renditions of favourites such as ‘Be My Baby’, signed so expressively by one of their members and other unfamiliar but haunting melodies brought tears to many eyes.
I can still hear the crystal clarity of the soprano voice that rang out with such gut wrenching purity and the impeccable harmonies of the totally unaccompanied choir. The rhythms were irresistible, as they were played out in finger clicking, hand clapping and stamping of feet and everyone joined in when invited to show that choirs can be truly inclusive, even for those who are tone deaf like me!!!
Susan Bennett reviews films shown at the North World Museum on 24 November 2010
Short films are like short stories, very hard to get right but those on show at the Oska Bright International Festival by People with Learning Disabilities are a testament to the skill and art of making an impact. And all the ingredients are there...
An attention grasping opening scene, in the craftily shot flexing fingers of a silhouetted figure against blinding light, segueing into a bloody body on the floor in ‘The Bell Ringer’…. The stylised cameo photos of ‘Day and Night’s’ female dancers, twirling across windows on the screen, a mixture of pink and black and white.
A comic pair, like Laurel and Hardy but with a ‘Piano’, supping beer as they take a hammer, a mallet and finally a bicycle pump to a recalcitrant piano in a church. When it grows and explodes they are left with no option but to pipe in the bride and groom by blowing across the top of their empty beer bottles.
A swift squirt of ‘Tude-Away’, the aerosol that gets rid of bad attitudes in a flash.
But best of all was the ‘Hope Springs’ soap. Shirley tells the drama teacher to ‘F… off’ then collapses after eating too many crisps, but is she really dead? Simon’s been mugged and needs protection but who’s out to get him? The day centre manager Rod is up to no good in a derelict car park and has a sudden need to find some quick money.
‘To be continued…..’ scrawls across the screen and we are left dangling……. I just have to see the next one!
Life Drawing with Artist Tanya Raabe
By Julia Dean-Richards - a life model for 'The Nude ReDressed' and 'R:Evolve' at the Blue Coat Gallery
Through the Tunnel
Da da d-art through the Mersey Tunnel, red, yellow and sepia
somewhere between hard and soft, decisions in black charcoal
cast aside embarrassment, untangling from your own space,
the world outside cauterised with talk of dreams, scarves and beads
intimate gallery place and time.
Da da da time for black capped enthusiasm and dimpled brilliance.
Big eyes for Kate, very Picasso.
Tan Nan Jan, what will they all be like? “Everyone is lovely”.
Physical contact and shared lime light, bright in our faces,
shadows cast about, drawing us in, drawing round us.
Da da da draw closer, on the floor so your eyes can see
feet, easels, wrinkles and pubic hair.
Take five, break into comfortable robes, draped and bejewelled,
then back for ten, casually sat, stay like this like that, the artist,
chat, falling easels, unreserved excitement and a sweet pepper palette.
Da da da playing with the light, soft lines gently held her, joining
outside inside worlds separated by a green button and volunteers.
Interpretation, a man who sees but does not speak,
another, camera held like high eyes, what does he observe?
Graces, more than three: love, respect, strength, and history.
Da da da our story, bus home for a pound, paid for with a picture,
curving around Liverpool, twilit dazzling glass n blue-black autumn,
time etched across our bodies as scars, remembrances,
the angle between an arm pit and a breast, one hundred and seventy six years,
the movement of hair - fire crackers.
The Freak and the Showgirl
Wendy McGowan gets a taste of disability arts from performers Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz - at the Bluecoat Arts Centre
I was a bit daunted by the idea of coming away and meeting new groups of people but also being introduced to new ideas and challenges. I have so recently identified myself as being disabled that I have barely begun to think of what this means and have kept myself so 'active' as to keep such thoughts at bay for myself and others around me. I have been defined by my writing and art-making - and when I had to stop, began a new process of re-definition.
Amidst all of this I somehow found a way of working creatively through writing and visual arts - squeezing this in through even more frantic levels of activity. Being an artist has been as much a secretive part of my life as having mental health problems. Although curiously my underlying ‘strange’ thought processes could emerge into the mainstream and be appreciated as something of worth. So imagine perhaps what a strain and what an opportunity it has been to come to DaDaFest as both!
As someone who has been in hiding as it were I am touched by the courage and the journeys that others are also making and the achievements that they are making here as performers and visual artists.
My first ‘taster’ of DaDaFest was to attend a performance of _The Freak and the Showgirl _at Bluecoat Arts Centre yesterday evening. I thought I knew something, at least about politics, but this performance took things into a new realm for me.
The two performers, Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz, explored the idea of re-claiming difference as a positive looking at the history of freak shows and also by looking at issues of female sexuality. They did so very skillfully, by dealing directly with the material and moments of uncertainty where the audience may have felt uncomfortable.
There was empathy between performers and the audience but no tiptoeing around the issues. Moments of utter surprise and horror brought me in touch with just how much fear I naturally inhabit. How liberated I felt to contemplate the idea of not only inching forward in debates about disability and arts but to leap over a whole lot of controversy.
If some artists have already done this through challenging themselves and their identity... and so courageously that it must honour their achievements to build on this. When I think about how to step forward and do this for myself, I immediately feel the fear return, of being known as ‘different’. However I am at the start of this process and could all too easily ‘hide’ from this new community, that I have recently felt myself part of.
Poets on the Prowl
Susan Bennett encounters prowling poet Roger Cliffe-Thompson
I had barely gone in the door when I was set on by a prowler. Tall, muffled in a black jacket, scarf hiding half his face clutching an imposing black folder under his arm and obviously in a great hurry too, he grabbed me.
‘Roger! Haven’t seen you for ages…..’
‘Yeah, must be two years…… Can I read you a poem?’
I stood back. ‘A poem?’
‘I’m a Poet on the Prowl….’ So he did, from the sheaf of papers in his folder:
Jesus rose again
And wheeling himself out to his disciples
From now on
The world will subscribe to the Social Model of Ability
All non disabled will be assigned a carer
Sent to special school to learn to sign
Bath with a hoist.
Wear boxing gloves while eating
Travel by chair
So they can understand
No one shall be disabled
…..By their non disabled label
‘I read this to a group of architects this morning,’ Roger confided. ‘And they were a bit wary. Said they had been to see St George’s Hall that morning. That it was a pity its magnificence was spoilt by all those wheelchair lifts and ramps….’
‘So I said, “ You reckon we should keep all disabled people out, then?” They went bright red - then happily discussed their role as architects in universal design!
DaDaFest Talks: The Dark Behind My Eyelids
By Susan Bennett
By Design with Wendy Jacob from The Autism Studio
It was very hot in there, coming from the near freezing conditions outside. Stripping off surreptitiously, I struggled to catch up with what was happening. A powerpoint presentation, a signer, a top table of experts and a big screen showing the palantyped words a few seconds after they were spoken.
We were looking at a series of chairs with inflatable arms to support autistic children who enjoy the sensation of being held, yards of sticky tape attached to windows to delineate how much space autistic children can cope with.
Artist Wendy Jacob who directs The Autism Studio at MIT told us that one child wore glasses despite their excellent vision as the frames help to give a border to what he was seeing and led us to question: how do you define space? Is deaf space different to autistic space?
When she is not designing furniture, Wendy also experiments with lateral ideas, such as producing a floor, which translates sound into vibrations; encouraging people to lie down and feel sound. Her recent two day festival included a party with music designed for the lower registers of sound and used resonance as a shared experience.
Elephants do it too. They have a low rumble, which can be heard miles away and sounds like a large truck, if you can hear it. Throat singers do the same; cats when they purr.
For her next act Wendy wants to insert the Arctic vibrations she collected from the ice into entire floors to create a new dimension to lived architecture!
Niet Normaal with Ines Gevers and Mat Fraser
Just how normal are you? The Niet Normaal Difference on Display was a large-scale, audience-oriented art event in Holland earlier this year. Described by its curator Ine Gevers, it contained a multi media show, covered bio-politics, plastic surgery, traditional and confrontational art as well as a mammoth line of all the pills a person might take in a life time. The number of pills for women was far longer than the line for men.
Is this normal? Is a freak show normal? Well Mat Fraser had much to say about that! But of those asked in Holland this year as part of the event, many were sure they were normal when they started but came away like me, questioning who decides?
Well, a test is usually one way of determining someone’s normality so have a go on the Niet Normaal website. Questions include gems such as 'How much saliva will you produce in a lifetime?'
- enough to fill six buses.
- enough to fill two swimming pools.
- enough to fill one medium sized sauna.
- enough to fill a small cottage.
And me? Well, it turns out I’m 22% normal - and my friends would say that was generous…
Deaf Space by Hansel Bauman
I must admit I was sceptical. I can walk, see, speak, eat and take care of my own personal needs so why spend a lot of time designing a building for folk like me? But it was freezing outside and the radiator I was hugging was nice and warm so I thought I’d stay a while.
The man in front was asleep, head lolling sideways much to the concern of his partner beside him and great wafts of previously digested smoke and alcohol floated back into my face. They say the best way to get used to the smell of decaying bodies is not to hold your nose. Working on the theory that a thousand pathologists can’t be wrong I braced and breathed deeply.
Mmmm, the more I saw of this presentation, the more I became intrigued and wondered why nobody had thought of all this before. I mean holding meetings, discussions and even drinking coffee together in a circle so we can all see and hear better. Simple and cheap!
And that great idea to make the edges of buildings glass so you can see who is coming round the corner. Using colour for walls that is of greatest contrast to skin tones so you can read people better, putting mirrors over workstation so you know who is behind you. And the brilliant work to find a way of getting someone’s attention by throwing a shadow in their direction instead of making you a nervous wreck by banging or making a very loud noise.
So, well done Hansel Bauman of Gallaudet University in Washington DC. I was so absorbed I even stopped smelling the smell!
Susan Bennett warmed up on Young DaDaFest awards ceremony at at the Contemporary Urban Centre
I warmed my hands on a cup of hot water, adjusted my woolly hat and shivered. It was not just minus one outside - with wind chill on top - but freezing in the Contemporary Urban Centre too!
The doors were open to let in the hordes of enthusiastic young people and the arctic blast hit us all, including those gowned and glittered for the big night or dressed in black leotards with dancing pumps, clutching plastic bags.
But it was tremendous. We had video clips, creative writing readings, dancing, choirs, in all shapes and sizes, and a samba band, with everyone giving it their all. One of the X Factor style judges commented on how wonderfully the audience swayed!
In-between acts we had short film loops made by local schools. Baby on a Budget with its closing strap line: Be careful and respect yourself, was loud and clear. The playground duel from Merseyview School and the Nightmare of Detention were great twist in the tale clips which showed how well they had mastered the art of the short video.
But, as always you have a favourite act and for me the Sandfield Choir stands out. Not only for the inspired choice of songs and the catchy beat, but the memorable Joseph and the dancer who came back to encore, so crisp and spectacular was his set.
It was a truly memorable night which showed the huge creative potential of young people in Merseyside and we all left much warmer and light of heart!
Notwithstanding my judgment, the winners were:
Creative Writing Award: Lewis Harvey
Visual Arts Award: Jack Spencer
Performance Award: Sonic Ivle
I Fall to Pieces
Susan Bennett saw a work in progress, written and directed by Kaite O’Reilly and performed by Julie McNamara
I am still wondering how to do justice to the hour long monologue delivered with such impact by Julie McNamara, for words are so easily misunderstood.
On one level, yes, it was a good turn, which described – nay showed you – a ‘funny turn’, the reality of living with our mental health.
But it was far more than that... For Julie took it to the audience, a mere foot or two away, with the playwright and director sat in our midst. We were challenged, forced to confront our preconceptions of mental health, what is ‘normal.’ And we all know how close we have been to that edge.
Prowling the blurred boundaries, sometimes being the person who sat next to us voicing uncomfortable thoughts, other times portraying professionals ‘dealing’ with the patient, she drew us in.
We heard the inner mind trying to make sense of bewildering sounds, scenes, realities beyond this everyday perception. Saw coping strategies, compulsive actions and the freezing fright, which comforts while storms rage in consciousness.
The need to give the professionals what they want so they can cure you, the futility of all intervention is played out so painfully that you are at once truly empathetic and angry for what it takes to be noticed and acknowledged as a person going through hell.
The language was raw, real and drawn from true experiences, for many have shared with Kaite their thoughts, become almost the co-producers of this powerful piece.
It was all this - and still more. Impossible to witness without being pierced by your own fragility, this could so easily be your reality... and who wants to face life sedated?
I Fall to Pieces was a work in progress for a performance of an Unlimited Commission by acclaimed playwright Kaite O’Reilly before it becomes part of the finished work The ‘d’ Monologues for the Cultural Olympiad.
Bonny Cummins was captivated by the Happening - a performance by International MCees with Disabilities at The Bluecoat on 26-27 November
I knew Krip-Hop Nation would be a highlight of my visit to the Happening Weekend at DadaFest 2010. I had heard of the group and knew they would be mega fantastic. The raw energy and talent that they have is phenomenal; a synergy of their combined talents. A more altruistic artistic bunch you couldn’t find anywhere.
They are truly international and had met up only twice before the performance - so what we were seeing was the ultimate live performance. They sparkled; got everyone moving - as well as moving hearts and minds with their lyrics and the beginnings of a pioneering movement.
The love and respect they showed for each other and the talent and joy at being at DadaFest shone out of them and onto the audience. The comments book was filled with praise. The stunning back drop of red and black wolves at the Bluecoat Liverpool, reinforced the message visually; as wolves work tirelessly together for the greater good. The word ‘Touched’ was stencilled to the wall behind the stage, resonating with the heartfelt lyrics.
US-based Leroy Moore is the inspiration for Krip Hop. His poetry is pure as driven snow with hard-edged messages, unflinching from the issues he addresses: “We don’t need a record label, we have already been labeled.” His words and lyrics are poetic activism - a sweet energy, a mesmerising irrepressible presence. His words are a challenge to the stereotypes, resistance and negative attitudes which pervade disability in the mainstream.
Bavarian Binki Woi uses his voice to create an original rap sound - a large presence on stage vocally and musically. He lifts his voice and inflection on the word mid-note to create texture within the beat as he stretches and binds his voice around the rhythm. To audio-describe what Binki does would be hard!
He is an experienced, seemingy effortless, performer. It was great to hear some of his rap in German too. He also performed to a reggae beat with Leroy and Lady Warrior interacting. There’s something about the way he explores the rhythm and line with his voice tones, that is new and exciting. Sunny and smooth he was the chilled anchorman.
UK-based Lady MJ is a dancing fire starter who ignites the room when she sings. She has a gentle open presentation, and addresses the audience directly and honestly with lyrics that talk about her acquired brain injury and her recovery. Her voice is strong and tough, with some haunting melodies thrown in for good measure, when she sings about her personal journey. I couldn’t shift her tunes from my head for days.
She acts as a dynamite, front woman; loving each number; dancing inside the beat. After the performance on Friday she collapsed. It’s part of her life since her injury. She spent five hours in A and E - but was back on stage on Saturday!
Krip-Hop Nation report on the latest news about musicians with disabilities[ through their website, at www.kriphop.com They have a column on Poor Magazine can also listen to a feature on Krip-Hop on www.alltalkradio.netkrip-hop
The DaDaFest Happening Weekend and Liverpool Biennial
By Trish Wheatley
The Liverpool Biennial 'Touched' was a very eclectic show which took place in galleries throughout the city and beyond DaDaFest. However, it was framed by a “something for everyone” approach showing a mishmash of artwork. The premise for the title was that the audience were meant to be 'touched' by one or more of the artworks.
However there was no context like this framing the work displayed in DaDaFest. There appeared to be little reasoning behind the placing of the work in different venues. There was no explanation of the selection process apart from the presumption that they all related in some way to the Festival’s theme; Objects of Curiosity and Desire.
Despite this lack of clarity and some fairly major access issues in St George’s Hall relating to confusion over an audio guide, poor signage and a lift malfunction in the same visit, the artworks themselves really did stand out. Some for their quality, some more for the starting point of the debates in the conferences and post-event bar chatter.
Particularly striking for me was Alexa Wright’s 'Cover Story' which explored “various kinds of human interactions that pass across the human face and questioned what it might be like to have a face that does not function in the usual way”. I fear it was easy to miss, again because of the lack of signage and I was unsure if the absence of sound from the subtitled video monologue was deliberate or a technical / staffing error. For me the silence added something.
We enter the room to find a black screen with a white blur moving around the centre, morphing in shape, but always referring to a human head. We never fully see it or understand it. In contrast a monitor showing a video of a middle aged woman, assumed to be ‘normal’ looking, without facial disfigurement speaks the lines of someone with facial disfigurement. (This monologue is actually compiled from interviews with five women with facial disfigurement.) The lack of sound really drew me into the way the face was moving and as I began to realise this wasn’t the face that originated the words, creating a real sense of the emotion and meaning driving those words. I found the piece very powerful.
By far the most successfully curated work I saw throughout my visit was by the photographic artist Wolfgang Tillmans whose installation at the Walker Art Gallery as part of the Biennial was superbly and meticulously executed from concept to installation. I have always found the display of contemporary art with its contrasting aesthetic tends to jar with traditional painting. Tilmans’ installation comprised of his own work interspersed amongst the existing collection. He had been given permission to remove some of the paintings in the collection as part of the installation.
In one particular room, this removal of pictures revealed a photographic shadow of the art that had formerly occupied the space. This, next to a painting by Daguerre, one of the co-inventors of photography, and Turner, the master of light, was simply brilliant. The addition then of Tilmans’ own camera-less pure light photographs brought us to the contemporary in a way that made sense of the photographic process and it’s place within the history of visual arts.
Returning to DaDaFest and the Bluecoat the placing of Ju90’s lightboxes outside the front of the building made a real statement about the visibility of DaDaFest and this continued inside with Simon Mckeown’s animation work which forms his Motion Disabled project and Tanya Raabe’s “Misfits” style painting installation in which the audience was invited to match up or mis-match the bodies of four disabled people on a spinning display divided into three sections.
All this plus a John and Yoko style Bed-In made the Hub in the entrance a really happening place. The work was of a very high standard, but for me, it seemed a little pushed out of the gallery spaces and therefore not valued and considered in a gallery context. My dream for a future DaDaFest is that the Bluecoat allows the festival to exhibit in the main gallery spaces for a more coherent and high profile celebration of visual arts from the Disability Arts movement.
Trish Wheatley is a freelance arts producer and curator who lives and works in the South West