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.
Having trouble with the precise positioning of Kosta's pecs, I decided to try Google. Before beginning on the life-size figures I did do a lot of research, which included borrowing medical tomes and studying anatomy on-line. However I never actually Googled a specific body part, and here at my first attempt found apparently exactly what I needed: Origin and Insertion, including details of the specific ribs these muscles are attached to and how they are attached.
This is particularly appropriate as I'm trying out a new way of putting the figures together, with all the defining muscles now underneath one skin layer. The problem of insertion was foxing me and resulting in Kosta's pectoralis major looking unnaturally high on his chest. Well, we weren't quite talking about the same thing, but I did actually find the Wikipedia article very helpful, and so did Kosta.
I'm having to work hard to stay focused on the sculptures because the Con.Text conversations are beginning to form themselves into text which is demanding visual interpretation. This, though very labour intensive, is fun and quite addictive, whereas the soft sculptures are physically painful to produce, but something I really need to do.
And then of course there is all the arts admin stuff, life, love, house'n home to keep balanced. These have to be glory days.
Out here, on the very fine edge
where pain, exhaustion, depression, are
held in precarious balance, I
risk being totally destabilised
by the ignorance of the witch-hunt
determined to demonise my need;
to expose a criminal cheat in the
monumental effort I make to
present myself as equal,
The 'new man' will be Kosta; not from coffee Costa, but from costa, the botanical noun for rib. Kosta, deriving from Kouros like Eve from Adam's rib, is in essence a clone.
Physically, he should still be recognisable as having the same basic body shape and measurements as Kouros; maybe it is possible that he could still be classed as one of the Kouroi, but he will lack the classic pose.
Kouros, referencing Venus the classic beauty, has no arms. Kosta also has no legs.
Like Kouros, Koure has no arms. Nothing at her shoulders, just the frayed edges of her torso; arms are not definitive of Kouroi in the same way that legs are. Kouros and Koure stand in the classic pose. Without one leg to place slightly in front of the other, will Kosta need a new label?
Where will this difference, this diversity, take Kosta? The imagination that might replace limbs will not have free reign, my imagination will already have made visible the roots Kosta has grown to survive.
Where might this take you? What kinds of links will influence how the 'new man' is described?
He is only soft sculpture, but how might Kosta be classified?
So many people I talk to seem to feel that the Paralympic classification system, Lexi, has given them permission to be more open with their curiosity and speculation. Some of the discussion has been very blunt.
A part of my 2012 legacy that I cannot ignore...
Where does humanity end?
How many variations
do we need before we
decide to draw the line?
To offer less, expect less;
to look away instead.
How much life can be
before we embody
with a less than human
right to equality?
Meet Fred. Meet George.
I hate them both. Totally interchangeable hatred; one left, one right, mirror twins. Totally interchangeable names.
I knew a man who hated sheep, he said that sheep have only one raison d'etre which is to die in the most inconvenient place possible. Fred and George must have been sheep in a previous life.
Now they are just sticks. Metal sticks with plastic cuffs and hand-shaped branches, whose sole purpose is to crash to the floor as frequently and inconveniently as possible.
They have clones littering up the place, but still just two interchangeable names.
And I hate all of them. I resent their clacking clumpiness and their ability to transform me into a four legged animal.
They are frequently laying traps to break my limbs and destroy my credibility. They wreck havoc with my appearance ruining my lines, destroying my clothes in the process and my arms with it, their cuffs leaving bruised manacle-echoes just above my elbows and holes in my knitwear.
Fred and George masquerade as cheeky monkeys who are here to give me their full support, but make no mistake, they are bullies; abusive 'partners' never satisfied with less than dominating our relationship.
I resent the way they use me, they are only sticks. They consume my energy, like thieves. Manipulative and demanding, everything we do is on their terms.
Meet Fred, Meet George. I hate them both.
I've a ticket to Claire Cunningham's performance in Saturday's Unlimited at Southbank, I feel sick with apprehension.
Babies and animals
move about on all fours.
The symbolic value of my crutches
is not lost on me.
Metal legs expose me
as the wounded animal
even when I meet you
at eye level. Face to face.
Back in 2006 'Bare Boards and Blue Stilettos' was an uncomfortable installation immersing the audience in faulty communication and uncertain access. I began working on it in 2005, it was my first major piece of Disability Art.
Fanny the (animated) wheelchair, never made it beyond BB&BS, but Jessie...
Jessie seeks to be 'People Like You' - she was my first soft sculpture, born out of despair (unlike Kouros and Koure), reaching down into the depths to make her connections. When '(it might be disability, but) it's Still Life' was exhibited at Holton Lee in 2011, Jessie was intended to join Kouros and Koure, lying in the ground beyond them, her searching roots just beginning to show.
I began working on the roots, but somehow it never came together. I had moved far from Jessie's dark despair and I kept wondering if it was all too personal. Would Jessie speak to anyone else? I tried to put her back in storage, but as soon as 'People Like You' began taking shape, Jessie put herself back on the agenda.
Jessie began in the conflict between my personal, private identity and the face I wore in public. Jessie, unable to stand, sought an identity through symbolic roots, roots burrowing into some other state of presence.
Stitching, I am drawn to link the roots I'm now creating with mobile phones (rooted androids, superusers) and social networking. Reaching into our own darkness, roots become symbolic of the search for connectedness and symbols of that never-in-the-present state most people seem to be practicing.
Between posting, pinning, texting and tweeting, my thought for the day is that social networking could be the Borg and we are all being assimilated, willingly. Eagerly assuming that we are each expressing our unique individuality, are we in fact creating one monstrous identity where each one of us is just one more line of code? Or is it something else?
Lying face in the grass
arms reaching out, fingers
rooting into dark earth,
I am aware of life past;
hearts that have rotted away
from disintegrating bones;
breath that still whispers love words,
lust that still moans desire;
reaching out, seeking me, pulling
me down, calling me in.
And I am aware of
the love lifting me back
home, the seismic shift
in my life, my destiny.
Jessie is looking good. Removing her hair was quite traumatic and I pondered the bald skull a while before deciding that it needed a little remodelling.
On the floor, a half-stuffed torso has joined the various body parts, I need more wadding before I can go further with the sculpture; it is hungry on wadding and I ferry the stuff home frequently. Tied to the back of my powerchair it gives a bulky profile that no-one would guess is a new body in the making.
Rooted people grow on the pages that I am so lucky to be able to sit outside and draw. I need to make the most of every good day.
I've just taken a break to Google 'rooted' in my quest for a name for the new man, and discovered rooted androids and superusers. I need to think about that.
Back in 2006 when Jessie lay in mute protest on her platform bed, superusers didn't exist. I had been drawing rooted people since art school, exploring issues of belonging, connecting and self-awareness, but I still left Jessie's seeking and reaching out as something suggested rather than created in 3D. The despair that engulfed me inhibited Jessie too.
At the time, Disability Arts was new to me and while it was giving me back a voice, that voice was very small and frail, I had yet to figure out how to use it.
Disability Arts found me;
held me spellbound in revelation;
poked and prodded at my strength
until my eyes opened in focus;
until my words made no-sounds,
until my fingers drew protests.
And remade the offer that is life.
The paralysing silence
shattered, and I became
When it comes to fancy dress I think I make a pretty good Borg Queen. And if the conversation dries, I can always announce: 'Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated' - which brings me neatly to the question of integration and, whilst I'm stitching sculptures, my current concern: 'Will Integration kill Disability Arts?'
Are we only here for the interim between barbarian past and enlightened future?
Will the real or imagined possibility of being embraced and valued fragment any hopes of recognised cultural diversity?
When the barricades come down will we have anything left to say together?
But are we actually on the brink of this much hyped adventure?
And after Integration will it matter who tells our history?
Who knows? These thoughts wriggle around in my head while I stitch roots.
Have we given enough thought to what we actually do want? Before we get there, we need to have realistically explored the options; we need to have taken responsibility for our Culture and ensured it's visibility and accessibility.
There is no way forward without this: we should be the keepers and curators of our past, present and future. If one day we should morph into Them, we will need to do it on our terms.
Then again, it is possible that we are not actually heading for any kind of Integration at all; that some of us are just trying to hide amongst Them in an attempt to avoid persecution.
Kneel and I will knight you
for services to the
Kneel and I will rest this
edge upon your neck.
Symbol of a less enlightened
past; heavy on my frailty;
it falls to leave your head
rolling in the aisles.
I am totally looking forward to making an official start on my DAO Diverse Perspectives Commission conversations!
After sitting in residence at Salisbury Arts Centre last year and creating my first conversation/ text work they were keen to see me develop the possibilities. Initial talks with the then Director of Salisbury Arts Centre focused on a visual presention and People Like You, the exhibition, began to take shape.
I have already started on the preliminary writing, but it is important to me that words do not dominate my creativity. They leap so instantly into every situation, swamping the slow simmer that, given half a chance, will boil up into something visual, tangible and 3D.
My life-size figures are on such an evolution and for me, essential to the journey. I began creating them in 2006 and they are evolving to express the wordless things that lurk in hidden corners.
Working on them I can choose to fill the silence with music (which inevitably lures me away on parallel paths), or I can listen to the words that peep out of my subconscious to tease and chivvy me with their own need for expression. Here I mull over those persistent issues of equality, diversity and integration, I worry about the future of Disability Arts and, like a homing pigeon, the access issue is constantly returning.
Bodies take shape
under my needle:
sees muscles swell and
contract, inch lower,
shift with the placement
of limbs. Limbs that form
with thoughts; ideas
prompt their creation,
Ideas that by-
pass words; thoughts that
travel the careless route
to a reality
where fact and fantasy
The agapanthus in my green and white garden has never looked more stunning. A jungle of green shades and textures surrounds and inspires my outdoors working. Sun warms my bones and enables these quiet moments when pain takes second place.
Indoors my floor is strewn with body parts.
And Jessie has finally lost her hair. I have been reluctant to remove the long black dreads, but since Kouros, my soft sculpture figures have had no hair; Jessie, who is being worked on from (what were) the toes up, is now ready to go bald.
The new man (as mentioned - just a newer version of the old one, less hair, but that doesn't show) is in pieces. I get a little thrill of excitement anticipating putting him together.
In the garden I work on smaller body parts, it's important to keep them white, and in the heat that can be a challenge. Anticipating two new men, I make extra parts and they line up on the decking. The third man creates interesting questions, so soon I must grab pen and ink and start investigating his options...
from the gentle shade
of my garden-green
nipples for the new
man as the sun slides
I imagine life
doesn't get too much
better than moments
The Hayward Rat (Rattus Flattus) has proved positively inspirational.
There is work queuing up to be let out of my head and there are days when this queue and clamour paralyse my choosing process.
The Hayward Rat has brought Kouros and the body project right up to the front of the queue. The body project aims to resurrect Jessie from 'Bare Boards and Blue Stilettos'.
At the time, she made dramatic impact, but I felt she needed to be a little more explicit. I was asking people to use their imaginations, but not giving them enough to work with and Jessie presented as scary, but also maybe a bit of a full stop.
Ever since '(it might be disability but) it's Still Life' presented at Holton Lee, Jessie has been nagging me. She wanted to join Kouros (the life-size soft sculpture of a nude male); he does have a female companion, and we were thinking they needed a lot more company; a group of them would provide more ammunition for imaginations to run.
So here in the sunshine, I've been working on Jessie's muslin skin and polyester muscles and the new man (who is actually just an up to date version of the old man).
Jessie is named for jesses
those seeking tendrils that
float in the jet stream of no
longer quite-wild birds of prey.
Symbols of symbiosis
like roots drawing Jessie down
to other connections, links
that thread through Jessie's heart.
Jesses, merely symbols or
darker, deeper holds on
Lying in bed without my wheels, it occurs to me that I am semicyber, but being without them does not free me from their impact. And these times, out of the public gaze, have no impact on the way society views me. Cyborg or cyberbodied, in the public consciousness a chairborne entity is 'bound' to it's wheels.
Here in Japan where I have almost no Japanese, I am freed from any negative feedback regarding my wheelborne presence, by my own lack of understanding. In that way I am freer to create and express my own identity, to find my own eutopia/heterotopia.
With no way to penetrate the polite veneer of Japanese society, I have no access to the can of worms that must inevitably wriggle under its skin.
Nevertheless I retain my optimistic view of the Utopian. Japanese public, social interaction seems to function in a universal way, working for those lacking disability as well as for those with.
Is this why I'm finding it hard to find any real traces of Disability Culture here?
Over the Rainbow Bridge,
this time in the glow of
bright lights, Tokyo Tower
defying it's age, gleams
a juicy orange spike.
Tokyo Wheel, as it shrinks
into the past, colour
changes, pattern changes.
Tokyo winks and sparkles,
welcomes with no trace of
irony. The Universal
Design Museum is
closed. A power saving
I once heard Anish Kapoor say something along the lines of "my art works because I have nothing to say" which struck me as very odd.
Triptychos Boxed is a glance at the aspirations of faith and mythology from a wheelborne perspective. A collection of previously loved small boxes containing references to aspects of faith, they also focus on the 'get up and go' that, chairborne, I both long for and reject as irrelevant.
This is my first conscious attempt to make work that 'has nothing to say'. It is merely a suggestion; an emotionally charged comment tossed under the wheels in passing, totally open to any interpretation you might visit upon it.
It may not stick to your wheels (apologies to those of you without - no inequality implied), but maybe you will 'stick' something to it?
Sci-fi might be my mythology;
superheroes are never normal.
Perilous poking around
pointlessly perfect bodies
of history, convince me
to look to the future
to aspire to.
I pin my hopes
on a chairborne aquanaut
to re-imagine life
as we know it,
Crow, dammit, Crow. Box 3 and the final part of Triptychos is heart-shaped and Schiaparelli pink, except for the outside of the lid. The box, 21 cms across and 4 cms deep, has a teal coloured lid decorated with colourful peacocks adorned with hearts instead of eyes.
When you open the box you will find, not a love letter, but a Christmas card. Mary and Joseph hold each other anxiously as the baby in the wheelchair peers up at them. The angel is of course, adoring; the sheep proprietorial and the goose indifferent or just looking for the way out.
Inside the lid you will find the words: crow, dammit, crow
Looking for role models
I wasn't keen to be a sheep
or a man. I wanted the one
who couldn't take up his bed
and walk, to be the hero.
And finding the
I just wanted to hear it crow.
Schrodinger's Cat. Box 2 of Triptychos, is black and 15 cms deep. It has six sides, each 7.5 cms. The outside has a texture like fine grosgrain which gives it a silk-like finish. The lid has a 3 cm lip and both box and lid are a smooth black inside.
When you remove the lid to peer into the darkness you will see the words read read read read read read read read & read in sky-blue printed around the edges of the floor of the box.
There is also a black square in the centre of the floor of the box. This square can be seen against a sky-blue background and it represents a black cube.
Inside the lid are the words: SCHRODINGER'S CAT.
I am the mystery;
Inside the box
I am a box only
faith sees inside.
But faith never sees
the inside of me
just closes the lid
and I am gone.
Mute, but still complaining, the Triptychos waits. On the down, I created it for Shape Open, but circumstances disabled it. It went no-where. I hate waste, so skipping the selection process, I exhibit it here. It consists of three boxes.
Are You? Box 1 is oblong, 21x6x4cms, with a domed corrugated lid, it was made in Japan and is predominantly black and white. Inside it contains three flat, round objects; two are sacred Shinto symbols, each repeated three times, but folded to appear single.
The third round object is a mirror, and placed over the three round objects is a tiny branch. It is actually from a Magnolia Stellata, but I trust it fulfils it's symbolic task.
When you open the box to peer inside you will see yourself in the mirror and if you choose to extract the mirror for closer inspection, you might notice that on the reverse is the word 'normal'.
Inside the lid are the words: ARE YOU
I wanted to visit Niet Normaal
but my life is not normal enough
for that to happen with ease.
I did get to a Ju Gosling
and made 'Normal, my eye'
a tribute piece. I rolled away
mirrors that still work for me.
Asking questions of even
the most carefully
The View from Here finished on 23 December 2011 and I miss making Con.text - the title of my conversations and writings.
Just as Con.text took me by surprise,
grabbed my attention and offered rich
food for thought; I am all at once faced
with the view of an abrupt ending.
Like a Looking Glass, The View from Here
pulled me into an alien space
with strange perspectives from other minds.
I travelled delight and confusion;
well-worn and unfamiliar paths;
I went no-where and yet travelled far.
I’m not ready to leave,
but there’s suddenly no time to go.
Back here, on this side of the mirror,
I carry all the words.
Con.text, both finished and unfinished,
ends and continues in my head and
in my plans for the nearest future.
This time next week Christmas is over
and The View will be gone forever.
There will be a brief and empty space.
Space of memory: memory of
spaces awaits Deconsecration;
and this Con.text will need some kind of
finishing off; some kind of ending.
Sitting in Residence at Salisbury Arts Centre, talking to loads of interesting people is fascinating. I wanted people to be honest with their personal responses and gut reactions, and have been frequently taken by surprise at just how much honesty I'm getting.
I had this conversation with a young person as we were surrounded by Martin Bruch's Bruchlandungen:
How I relate to this is
Like, these are the important bits of your life, yeh?
And these are the bits I throw away, y'know?
The pictures that don't work,
I only keep the good ones.
I don't want to say your life is rubbish, but
its making me think...
Extract from a Saturday "in Residence" conversation at Salisbury Arts Centre partly inspired by the relative invisibility of Aidan Moesby's artworks in The View from Here, plus People do Say:
Does art that no-one sees have
anything to be heard?
Can it have the impact of a tree
falling in the forest?
Is it dead
or alive in
If no-one sees it
does the concept of art
When no-one can see
does the artist
this might not
People do say
say overlapping things
things I've not heard
heard only in passing
passing words they like
like a party game
There are so many words; too many for here and I'd like to keep them together as a body of work, but here, more extracts:
I felt so self-conscious in the wheelchair,
but my eyes saw things
differently. My brain
unpacked the info with
the prospect of a
Artist and curator
creator of paper
sculptures, come to
I’m cheating you see:
I’m just too busy
but one day it’ll be me
doing a workshop.
The View from Here is at Salisbury Arts Centre from 10 Nov to 23 Dec 2011
My intervention is going well. My approach is proactive and flexible which has allowed the project scope to expand. Very few of the visitors to the Arts Centre feel they have a journey which relates to the exhibition, but probably about 80% of them are happy to contribute their words and thoughts to this fast growing body of work.
Striking! Noticed it at once.
Had to bend down; its child height.
Then I saw the wheelchair
and had the revelation:
a disabled artist.
good pictures. I’ve got
children myself, don’t
actually have time
to stop and look.
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.