Creatives in Con.Text, the work from which the idea for this exhibition exhibition evolved, is awaiting further conversation with a printer, Sue Austin and Liz Crow are finessing 'Creating the Spectacle!' (film) and 'Bedding Out' respectively; 'People Like You' is coming together.
The five soft-sculpture figures jostle, in my head, for the most effective way to relate to each other and to the architecture on offer. Two of them are pretty much decided.
It is totally instinctive
the small in-breath and holding it.
The body angle, response to
spatial awareness, shoulders just
so and heartbeat nudging increase.
Without eye contact, conscious yet
unconscious; focused on other
for the instant of pushing through.
access demand brief encounter;
fleeting engagement with naked
exposed skin, breaching personal
space, hinting towards Imponderabilia
an artwork that demands your
on a physical level not
accessible to anyone
clothed in a metal framework;
people whose personal space boundaries
have no finer sensation.
Kouros and Koure stand before steps, their own naked fragility holding traces of each passing encounter. They stand wide enough apart to accommodate any wheelchair, yet they stand before steps. Kouros and Koure offer you space to consider access: public, personal, intimate,
And they challenge you to consider the weighty negativity of being continually offered so much more personal space than courtesy, or naked skin, demands.
The preposterous assumption that just because some people can get out of wheelchairs and climb flights of steps it's ok to reckon that we all can, has been preying on my mind. With more and more people buying mobility equipment for a variety of reasons that may or may not be associated with disabilty, I wonder how Disability Equality trainers cope with this issue.
I'm well aware that the general public do not register the difference between wheelchairs and mobility scooters: wheels are wheels.
And there is also almost no differentiating between users of wheels - apart from gender. I get mistaken for the oddest of people and I do find it offensive that people who know me and the other people in question, cannot be bothered to register the difference.
I'm not talking about small, hard to spot differences, I am talking about being mistaken for the plump, blue eyed woman with both legs amputated; I'm a size small with khaki-green eyes and both my legs. I also get mistaken for the woman who always travels her powerchair with a walking frame, an assistance dog and wearing a neck brace. I have none of these.
I do have blonde hair long enough to pin up with a variety of trademark chopsticks, yet am frequently mistaken for a short and curly haired woman on a scooter.
What makes all this so ironic is that I'm currently working on material for an exhibition called 'People Like You'. The phrase, originally offered to me with the words: 'should be taken out and shot' is now intended to highlight our common humanity, infer equality and play with the implications of the word 'like'.
It isn't meant to suggest that wheelborne are all much of a muchness and indistinguishable from each other.
Hey guys it's me! No really,
I know I'm wearing wheels, but
honest, it's me and I'm not
sporting a wig. I haven't
shot the dog, or had a change
of personality. I'm
not wearing coloured contacts,
or borrowed legs, I'm not the
grumpy one who runs people
over. And I'm not the one
for screwing the
Hey guys, it's me.
The door is open, reversing I seek to bump my way up the small step. It is painful and I get stuck on my first attempt, but this is the only way in and I persevere. I check out the two rooms I can get to, but there is no-one.
There is no reply. I am actually three minutes late, having had to find a wheelchair accessible route around a flooded subway. I told everyone I would be here for this second consultation, but there is no one waiting. I roll as far as I can towards the sound of voices and call out again. Nothing. There are steps at each end of the entrance hall.
I wait, I call. Eventually I decide to leave.
A staff member strolls in and says that the meeting is not in the accessible room we used last time, but up a flight of stairs. It is suggested that I should be able to get there and a second person joins in the process of persuasion. These two women volunteer three absent men to lift my powerchair. They volunteer one to make a ramp for a steep flight of six steps in a small space. Several other badly informed access suggestions are offered. They are unsafe, undignified and unworkable and I refuse.
The ladies make it plain they find me uncooperative.
I am persuaded around to the outside right of the building to discover small steps and flights of steps not navigable in a powerchair. I am then led around the outside to the left, to further flights of steps I cannot navigate. At the top of the steps a man joins the ladies for a conversation while I am left waiting. At one point I hear him say no, the lawn is waterlogged; I can see that for myself.
It is cold. One of the women comes to suggest that I try the right again. At my less than enthusiastic response she walks away. I have had enough of the farce. Disappointed and offended, I roll home.
Later I get a phone call. The word apology is mentioned followed by the accusation that I was late; the speaker sugests that the inaccessible room is justified by my being late (three minutes), and the allegation that no one was certain I would be there. It is backed up by the assertion that since a lot of people in wheelchairs do get out to climb stairs it was not unreasonable to assume that I would too.
Considering the fuss I have been making about having an accessible meeting room, I wonder on what grounds the speaker feels justified in holding this preposterous opinion.
Since no-one told him I was there, the man making the phone call (same man who called the meeting), does not actually accept any fault, repeating that the meeting started on time and I was late.
I heard the apology word but I cannot accept it, I reject the guilt he tries to lay on me. This feels so much like the behaviour of an abuser blaming a victim and I refuse to be the victim.
Who or what kind of
leaves such a bad stain?
How sincere is an offered
delivered as a command?
How valuable is the word
backed up with accusation?
How much are empty
MonoLympic has only one sport, only one category, only one concept: access.
The torch has been lit and you have been chosen to tweet the flame.
Countdown will commence one quantum moment from the designated start, which will inevitably be in advance of the allocation of the first metal (lump).
And the nominations are...
Well, in the spirit of equality and freedom of access, the committee invite you to nominate your all-time, show-stopping, mind-boggling access issue. Under the MonoLympic rules you will need your access issue to have been witnessed by a fully trained MonoLympic access volunteer (please ensure that their certificate states they have satisfactorily completed a 5 minute introduction). Unwitnessed access issues may still be accepted into the MonoLympic, but in the spirit of equality, they will not be judged.
MonoLympic has no connection to any other Lympic activity on the planet.
All MonoLympic lumps are copyright.
Via Westminster Bridge and a complex of old buildings with a clock tower, we attempted to reach Trafalgar Square. Olympic Detours and fenced off areas took us through Whitehall and a photo opportunity with some gentle, patient horses standing beside a big label warning that they might kick or bite.
Along our route, a long, long queue of London taxis, progressing slowly and very noisily with much horn honking, was the cause of much laughter.
The prominent Olympic Countdown caused mild amusement, but the young people drawing flags on the paving, and the 'would-be' statues standing motionless on soap boxes, attracted the most attention.
With a passing nod to the lions in the Square, we made our way into the National Gallery.
Secretly hoping to steer the party towards the Sainsbury Wing and Metamorphosis, I nevertheless resisted the urge to cheat and followed my guests on their whimsical travels through the complicated unsignposted space. Looked at through Asian eyes not much of it seemed to make sense, but the individual talents of the classical European artists on display, were much appreciated.
Do you have a guide?
Oh no, we have far too many rooms for that.
Well some way of finding our way around?
We are a very big place, we get many visitors
we could not possibly afford to do that.
Perhaps just a map of the layout?
There is a Plan. At the entrance. And her tone speaks:
idiot; but maybe she didn't know
they don't have one in Chinese.
And maybe she is unaware
of cultural diversity.
Visiting London with Chinese friends seemed like the perfect opportunity to see the place as a visitor with almost no English; apparently it's supposed to be especially well geared-up for visitors right now.
Approaching the Capital by train, I was a little shocked to discover that my ticket was the most expensive of our party since I did not seem eligible for any of the offers available to the ambulant travellers.
Buying a ticket for a wheelborne traveller, did not alert station staff to the need for assistance or a ramp. No-one noticed me or my access problem. We were in real danger of missing the train, until hurried enquiries, in English, led us to the correct person to handle a ramp.
My arrival in London was totally unexpected; UK train staff might not have any means of communicating between staff, trains or stations?
I was stuck on the train until somewhere on Waterloo station the correct person was found to produce a ramp, and she appeared to be unfamiliar the item.
From Waterloo we wandered towards the festive atmosphere of the Southbank, and chuckled about two gigantic figures, one leaning over from a roof and one climbing up or down the wall of the building. Maybe they were robots? The building was decorated with columns of strange, green plastic bowls and didn't seem to have a main entrance.
Alongside the famous river we saw a lot of word-boards strapped to the railings. And some large empty crates that it was possible to roll through in my chair, amusing my friends. On one of the crates was a picture of brides in White Wedding gowns - one of the brides was a man with a beard and this caused prolonged laughter.
Keeping our eyes open for street art and entertainment, we were aware of posters advertising an evening dance event somewhere in the vicinity.
The multicoloured 'rainbow sandpit' where children were playing, was a curiosity that awakened some concern. Was it natural? Was it safe?
Pretty-girl crocodile, weaving through the crowd;
pointing toes, high then low and counting spaces,
snaking, swaying, dipping rhythms; curls of spine.
Supple bodies, sensuous arms, splaying fingers;
dragon-cousin crocodile: breathless, chanting.
Happy laughter woven into swirls and leaps,
arabesques, pirouettes, and smiling faces.
No special dress, no explanation, dancing
all we need to know.
I had a meeting to attend, in my home town, just 8 minutes away in the car, however it became necessary to travel in my wheelchair so I allowed a good hour. It wasn't enough.
Deeply shaken and in a lot of pain I was forced to abandon my journey after an hour. I was two thirds of the way there.
Wheelborne, do I have the right to expect that a pavement should be accessible and traversable? Do I have the right to expect that a dropped curb should facilitate my safe delivery to a second level?
Or should I anticipate that any journey I might undertake here on these pavements might endanger my life and health with pits and ruts that threaten to immobilise or overturn my wheelchair; or cambers and angled surfaces that deliver me, powerless, into a stream of traffic?
What exactly is a pavement for? What makes it fit for purpose? Do wheelborne people have any rights to safety as pedestrians?
Can anyone possibly imagine I can be integrated into mainstream existence when just turning up is so fraught with personal danger?
Can anyone possibly imagine I can be integrated when urban geography conspires to ensure my absence?
Can anyone possibly imagine integration without the possibility of presence?
What price spatial justice?
Wake me up when it's all gone away,
the cultural olympiad, the
blonde moment, the vital distraction.
Wake me up when you want to talk
about the simple, ordinary stuff
like feeling safe and welcome; being
expected, planned for and valued.
Yes, wake me up when the madness leaves;
when you're ready to talk equality;
access to welfare, health, and safety;
to simple shopping for clothes and food.
Let me know when the big attention
stealing drama gives way to the post
event paralysis, remind me...
of your fantasy: the legacy.
I traveled part of the way to Hakone under a poster with an image in grey, of cracks in a pavement - Proof of Existence. The Hakone area seems stuffed with museums and galleries that will tempt me back; this poster was for Shinji Omaki's Proof of Existence.
Passing the Hakone Open-Air Museum I saw evidence of artworks that will need to be explored. Plentiful signs and posters pointed to other inviting destinations; Hakone brought itself to my attention and certainly has something to live up to, next time I come.
Standing in front of the naked musician blowing an oversized horn, I presumed it was an homage to the real life naked trumpeter.
This one was small - less than hobbit-sized and on loan from, yes, somewhere in Hakone. A bronze statue in the Marunouchi Street Gallery in Tokyo, he was modestly shaded by a tree, small in every detail (bar the musical instrument), and looking very comfortable with his nudity.
If I am frequenting all the wrong places to find disability culture, it is not just the lure of the 'mainstream' famous arts, it is also their accessibility and plentiful abundance. I continue to question the existence of disability culture yet daily hope to find it hidden in plain sight. Invisible only because of a culture chasm.
Yet is a society without the need for disability culture good or bad? Is this taking integration too far? Does it free up disabled people or oppress them?
This experiment of trying to find Disability Arts and artists 'from the ground up' needs some control data to line up against. Maybe I need to visit London as a foreigner and see how far I get.
Those universal sounds, uttered by
deaf people signing, alert me. Here
on the train I travel, wheels on wheels
back to the crowd, quietly watching
window reflection, unobserved.
Instant curiosity lifts heads
momentarily; and flashed tension
comes, goes, never was. I get the
outrageous idea of a culture
where disability just isn't
a concept; a culture where people
are just and gloriously people.
My life in Tokyo is not exactly domestic, there are few meals to cook or chores to attend to. The robot cleaner takes care of bare essentials and meals are mostly eaten out. Passing a restaurant, we check for access and availability and by the time I roll in, several seats have been removed to give me a choice of seating.
I am greeted with dignity, with no sense of being too much bother, or of being patronised.
This area that I call home is quiet and comfortable, with very little evidence of poverty or social injustice. Obviously it colours my impressions of Japanese society and maybe it makes access to issues a slower process.
Around me I see Universal Design embraced with the collective acknowledgement that age will inevitably render it necessary for most people; and I see evidence of design being used in a more socially aware fashion.
In English public spaces people lacking wheels inevitably choose to use the dropped curbs and the automatic doors, yet designers of these spaces continue to ignore the implications. I live in a part of England where there seems not much attempt being made to take advantage of design possibilities to promote, or symbolically play with, notions of equality; or create spatial justice.
Running alongside Sumida, the walkway has fascinating changes of shape and texture and many resting places. One particularly attractive portion has a narrow chequerboard pathway leading to steps where it widens out before more steps lead back up to the sinuously sloping wide sweep of path rolling consistently alongside.
People lacking mobility disability inevitably choose to descend into this little pit, before coming back up to my level. I love the symbolic significance and the impression of design awareness that created this role-reversing space.
The random seeds of the flower garden
are coming full circle. In beds beside
dark soil is cleared and raked to a fine tilth.
I watch and wait with anticipation,
but one morning a regimented row
of soldier marigolds, over- bred and
barren, stand to attention as I pass.
A playful echo, Sumida's ribbon
companion is fading, and easy
gives way to the approaching season.
Heat and humidity creeping closer,
my journey is broken by orange and
yellow reminders of law and order.
My computer died, hence the long pause in online accessibility. And I’ve been recovering from an accident and all that stress has resulted in a personal “crash”.
Re-booting has been hard and slow I’ve been working with scrambled eggs; luckily they are reverting back to “little grey cells” because I was beginning to get a little scared.
I’m getting to grips with different technology but totally, temporarily, cut off from the digital projects I have been working on.
This might be good; I shall come back to it all, refreshed after a time out.
And I have a new project to focus on. The View from Here is an exhibition at Salisbury Arts Centre, with work by Martin Bruch, Juan delGado, Aidan Moesby, and me.
I’m “Sitting in Residence” and I see from the invitation to the preview that it says “an intervention” – cool, I’ve not done that before.
I hope to discover people who will talk about their journey to access this exhibition and to make poetry, add texts to the exhibition space and blog.
I’ve written two blogs since day out in Chichester and not posted either of them, my self-preservation instinct over-riding everything. I need to overcome this paranoia.
My fear is real, but what about the threat? The instinct to hide is a relic from my “dinosaur brain”. Threatened, like the wounded animal, I seek isolation, and I am so easily made complicit in my own marginalisation.
Integrate. Hide. They shout
from behind the barricade
of “Normal.” Is this progress?
Or an offer of safety
until the war is over?
Except this isn’t war.
This financial instability
merely an excuse to mask
the poverty of aspiration
that sees a generation
overwhelmed by its
complexity of knowledge
and its poverty
Times are hard; as a consumer of fringe products, I discover my choices are slowly being eroded by the decisions people are making in order to survive this financial turbulence.
As a disabled person I notice my needs are more openly ignored as people struggle for their own existence.
The hard times are actually the times when I really do need recognition and support, but I am dismayed to find the so called “New Thinking” that is designed to enable the arts to at least tread water, actually offers disabled people nothing except the encouragement to hide.
Somehow my personal artwork is progressing. Putting out bits as they form had seemed such a scary prospect; I’d half expected the exposure to kill the inspiration. But now I happily remember how much I used to enjoy working to an audience as a student.
However, I spent a chunk of yesterday submerged in surreality; from Peter Eugene Ball’s driftwood sculptures to Nick Blinko’s pen and ink drawings and the strange sensation of Pallant House floating, tethered to Sir Colin Wilson’s 2006 red brick extension.
Chichester Cathedral hosts “Sacred and Secular” until 29th September: haunting driftwood figures that span cultures, faiths and worlds, flowing back and forth between death and life.
Nog’s teeth. Live
long and prosper. Way
back beyond final frontiers;
the Bell-man alerts:
And please Sir!
Me Sir, me Sir.
Take me down
enfold my arms.
When the lights go out
we will all creep away.
Take the ship;
horse-manes foam under
silent Styx; nosing through, we’ll
flee the public gaze.
Take me down
enfold my arms
my empty arms;
wag my tail.
When the lights go out
we will all creep away.
See through secrets,
And please Sir!
Me Sir, me Sir.
Short, sharp creeping,
stiff bones weeping.
Take me down,
enfold my arms;
when the lights go out
we will all creep away.
I easily made a link between them and the amazing pen and ink drawings just about visible in Pallant House. I was very disappointed to discover them in a darkened room and positioned in cabinets way above comfort levels from my wheelchair. In fact they were too far away and poorly lit to see any of the intricate detail. The four enlarged, laminated copies on the table were helpful when taken into the daylight, but the magnifying glasses, pressed against the glass cabinets by standing visitors, were no help at all. This exhibition finished on the 14th August.
Pallant House itself was an accessible surprise; it’s eclectic collection of twentieth century British artwork sitting more and less comfortably in the Queen Anne building. It was Andy Goldsworthy’s etched chalk boulder resonating in the marble fireplace that drew me in and allowed Pallant House itself to offer up it’s own surreal experience.
Some things just work perfectly and appear so simple and obvious. The genius is in the inspiration.
Somewhat in the same vein, I was pondering aloud about Susie Macmurray’s mussel shells neatly stuffed with red silk velvet; commenting that this particular idea would not have occurred to me.
“That is because you are not an artist” was the ignorant pronouncement of an arrogant soul passing behind me. Surreal.