Distance is key.
We trash countless blind alleys while I attempt to nudge this snorting black nightmare closer to something solid and dependable like a wall. And the walls disappear leaking us into further unforgotten realms in a maze of blindness, déjà-vu, multiplying, each fresh nightmare waiting in the wings like the wild goose eager and ready to take its turn leading the horde; eager like the wolf, to close in with the pack.
And countless horses crowd every nook and cranny of now with indestructible past; in a mindless trample of panic, the stampede opens its maw to consume me.
Saturday 10th November, Peter Catmull Theatre, Hythe: instepdance.co.uk
Thursday 29th November, Pavilion Dance, Bournemouth: paviliondance.org.uk
The Incredible Presence of a Remarkable Absence is the wonderfully apt title of Lila Dance's new 50 minute re-imagining of the world created by Samuel Becket in Waiting For Godot.
Entering the black cube of Salisbury Arts Centre's Main Space after the interval, the semblance of low mist at early dawn swirled from the dust covered floor. Four characters entered in hats of the pork pie/trilby/tweedy type and carrying small hessian sacks that spoke to me more of migrant hopefuls than Becket's shabby-chic end-of-the-roaders.
But the patterns on the floor as these eloquent bodies moved through the space, drew me in. The dancers connected with individual audience members, growing an intimate sense of involvement as they each revealed their peculiar personalities. Solemn or sad faces and sudden mood shifts created the uncertain atmosphere, but the Hat Dance made me smile and soon I too was involved in the waiting.
Swung between fragmented text and incredibly fluid, connected bodies I was drawn ever further into the stillness that is my own personal mode of waiting. The burden of these four uneasy characters killing time before my eyes, became my burden. I felt somehow in danger of loosing myself under the weight of it.
Disability, interdependence, manipulation, tenderness - issues that fought for attention while I watched, waited and absorbed movements that bypassed any kind of reason or rational thought, linking directly to my instinct and emotions.
By the end it seemed I had journeyed somewhere precarious and was not sure I would find my way back, my headspace now haunted with supplementary images of Munch's Scream and Kierkegaard's slightly odd love-letters.
Heavier than the pre-show handouts indicated, it really needed single billing. I needed to create space around it and in so doing, risked loosing sight of the humorous and sensual 'Not About Love' duet that had entertained me before the 20minute interval.
I am changed
or am I? Is it
my love that
or your love
that sees me
I am changed
or am I? No, or
Yes. And yes
I am changed
of how or why;
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
On the road to equality, I often feel strangely disempowered by the process of Disability Equality Training. Why is it only the temporarily non-disabled who get offered a training opportunity? And why only on occasions?
I rather fancy the idea of some training myself. Not exactly the same kind of course, but there must be skills I could practice in order to combat the negative effects society has on my moral and there must be advanced skills I could use to influence or change the mindset of those folk who never get the benefit of expert guidance.
I just don't want to leave something so important to me totally in the hands of others, even if they are experts; but I do like the idea of being proactive, as well as the possibility of making a more subtle contribution to equality.
People who suffer trauma through accident are offered help to find ways to cope. Society is frequently the accident that traumatises disabled people, but at best we are offered nothing more than passing, sympathetic acknowledgement.
Years of feeling like a leper have taken their toll, I want to be more responsive and positive to the people who have actually taken equality onboard. And with those who haven't got there yet, I'd like to find creative ways to take the initiative, I do rather like the idea of having more control.
Rolling in to a lift I need
space to turn around,
like the wheelless do, I prefer
a face-front exit.
Equal opportunity needs
Wheelless take turning
for granted, without the need for
negotiation. Just a quick
foot shuffle, head turn;
on the spot, no-brains-cells-needed,
My new skinny-wheeled powerchair doesn't seem to be fussed about getting its controls wet; I'm starting to believe that they might actually be weatherproof. Chunky-chair would splutter and stop if I neglected to wrap the joystick and control panel in plastic protection.
Chunky's wheels however would take rain in their stride, and were never phased by leaves on the road. Not so with the skinny-wheels. That slightly oily surface that glosses city streets on rainy days is a factor to be reckoned with and decomposing leaves a decided hazard.
But skinny-wheels' ace is never leaving me stranded. Masses of battery capacity plus the ability to convert to manual gives me a safety-net; security I have not had in almost 15 years.
Play or pass? Who am I today? Slim or chunky? Pumpkin at midnight, or 24/7 party animal? Am I in a rush, or can I take time for a relaxed stroll? Do I want city slick, or the off-road experience?
Working different wheels is far more significant than wearing different shoes; I'm getting choices that would have eluded me mere weeks ago.
If dependence on wheels shapes my personality, am I about to discover whole new sides to the Chairborne Identity?
Yesterday I forgot
to recharge my battery.
That should mean I'm grounded,
waiting and kicking myself.
Today though I'm out
free; I have a spare
to fall back on. Planning
tomorrow has never been
this easy. The prospect
rears on it's hind legs
to tantalise and
I should give you my car-keys, you could park my car anyday.
That's amazing, I couldn't do that with a wheelchair.
You really can get around in that tiny space, well done.
And I boil. Spontaneous anger drives me to growl:
Carkeys? Hand over your spine, I've got wheels of my own.
You are so clever walking; I couldn't, not with those legs!
And: Congratulations, you really do work those legs well, amazing you don't even fall over...
There is no real logic to this rudeness. I wasn't born with wheels and there is a skill to living and working with them, so why do I get so offended when wheelless admire my dexterity and adaptability?
Why do I feel so patronised? Why can't I stay cool and offer a lighter reply?
Why have I not developed skills to prompt people to rethink the way they see me?
Thank you, I do specialise in Ferraris, but could probably manage a Bugatti...
No, it does take skill, practice and a brain cell or two...want to give it a go?
And: Yes, I am rather good at this, for a female I have brilliant spatial awareness!
When somebody opens the lid and the opportunity for change presents itself, why are we so obsessed with the shape of the box that contains us?
I used to take words for granted
and not just because I can read.
I used to recycle, but not any more,
it's an option for folk with both feet on the floor.
I used to just drive on my own,
without the kerfuffle and fuss.
I used to enjoy going out for a meal,
aware how much fun spontaneous feels.
I used to be tall; wear a hat,
take the train to town for a show.
I used to be free to roll over in bed,
but now I'm supported by cushions instead.
I used to air-kiss with my friends,
propel, with my hand on their back.
I used to be one of the good and the glad
now I am "merely" the chairborne; the bad.
Discovering the imposing bronze statue behind Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa reminded me that I really do wish to attend a Kabuki performance. The traditional Japanese building of our local Kabuki theatre is controversially being replaced by a modern brick box and not due to reopen until next year. I'm hoping it will be amazingly accessible.
I checked out the alternative theatres and discovered that I had missed the May season. I had hoped to go to a morning performance as the event usually lasts around four hours. I would need a translation too!
The Kabuki stage has a 'catwalk' running from the deck to the back of the auditorium, where the hero of 'Shibaraku' appears to deliver his monologue. Unlike Shakespeare plays, this piece was conceived spontaneously in the middle of another play, by the actor whose family developed the drama and now seems to have exclusive rights to the role.
The hero wears an impressive padded costume to add height and width to his stature. I think Japanese people are perhaps more aware of the symbolic possibilities of clothes and they are fond of dressing up.
There are quite a few young people wearing kimono, but so many women in 'dolls clothes' one gets the impression there are almost no grown- ups in the country.
Outfits that look like mini, frilly nightwear and cute little- girl hairstyles make it seem like Japanese women pass from childhood to old age with no adult years between.
And indeed, a lot of them are reluctant to take on roles as wives and mothers, to the extent that the government is seriously worried about the shrinking population numbers.
Is our fascination with being/looking youthful leading humanity on the road to extinction? Is this particular Utopia a dead end?
Kimono: the hair
the style, the pins,
socks and shoes
as well as the
belts, all belong
to make tiny steps
into a future
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
Today I'm trying out a Japanese wheelchair to take home; not exactly the one I'd planned for or expected, but good. I hope.
I sense my eutopia moving closer. Actually Utopia moves like Michael Jackson; the moonwalk ever deceptive.
Having the iPad is great, the Brushes app frees me to explore previous frustrated trains of thought and practice, and being here in Tokyo inspires me to make more creative links between image and word, links I had previously been struggling to realise.
My search for roots and identity mingles with the desire for mobility. I come face to face with the need to acknowledge that my roots cannot be linked to a country or a culture; that I am genetically in the past as Scandinavian, in the present as European, and in the future as Asian. My search is no longer a search, but an exploration.
Who am I today? I am the artist who makes links with Toyota's Universal Wheelchair and Bruce Sterling's "Lobsters"; an artist who wants to explore the implications of Haraway's postgendered possibilities from a chairborne perspective.
As a wheelborne entity I'm asking how the concept "cyborg bodies lead to cyborg consciousness" (Danielle Devoss) might be creating my identity.
And my soft sculptures need to be more than seeking into the earth, they need to stretch into time and space. I need them to explore Thirdspace (Edward Soja).
Sumida today has a choppy quality,
lending an air of expectation and excitement.
The floating landing for tourist-boats squeals
like a stressed-up pig, but occasionally
emits a soft feminine moan. A flash of green
marks the flight of a Japanese sparrow
with a bamboo leaf in it's beak.
Here feels creative, is it just the change of scene?
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
I'm planning my next trip to Japan and I hope this time to be bringing back my very own skinny-wheeled chair. Will it actually make a difference to my life?
Being in Japan opened my eyes to the realisation that I have accepted too many restrictions without questions; shouldered the burden of inequality as if I deserved it and run out of energy to care.
When I acquired my first manual wheelchair, I was overwhelmed with emotion. The gift of mobility was magical and although it took months to get it set up so that I could use it for more than 15 minutes without pain, I was immensely grateful to have it.
I was never able to go far in the manual chair, my shoulder joints are not really up to the roll, so when I became the owner of a powerchair, I was suddenly faced with the wonderful and terrifying prospect of going out alone.
I've never managed to afford the kind of vehicle that could transport the powerchair, so even when I am out alone, I'm never that far from home.
When I began as the paid coordinator for linkuparts, I tried to get access to work assistance to remedy the situation, but was told that any help that enabled me to be more independent for work was open to abuse - in that I might also use it in my free time.
With the Japanese chair, things could change and I'm actually scared.
Scared that they will and scared that they won't...
The London underground map
and the symbolic wheeled chair,
iconic part-truths to make life
easier. But while the map
harms no-one, not so the chair.
shorthand for all and every
disability, the chair is
all embracing and, for the horde
who only ever see the chair,
I too become synonymous
with every disability
known, imagined and unknown;
regardless of me and all
Irrelevant to other
disabilities, this symbol
is a trap prejudicial to
my perceived identity.
I want out, I want free.
On days when I feel quite invisible, even to myself, I have, in the past, found something salvational in my archives; a confirmation, a reassurance of my existence as artist. Surrounded by the evidence of my work I then find inspiration and the need to say more and other.
For a year now the blog has been adding to my archive; or has it? It doesn't feel like it works in quite the same way. I'm wondering how other creatives feel about their blogs... When I exhibit artworks, perform or publish words, I still feel they are mine and a resource open to reinterpretation in other contexts.
Why don't blogged words feel the same? Why is revisiting them not the same experience? And why does that feel appropriate right now and maybe even empowering?
Rumplestiltskin was a truth
that, revealed, lost it's power.
What I create is the truth
about me. It may not be
more than the truth at the time,
but then gathering time
my catwalk words will draw
a bigger picture; outline
fill details to the image.
And the image will speak
the volumes left unspoken;
the slow, steady cradle
will layer the reveal.
These are the secrets I keep
from myself, for myself. But
are the catwalk words cast
like confetti to end in the
gutter? The images passed
like so much litter? Are they
still mine to add or to edit?
I'm here for the journey and
something is changing, but
who changes who, and why?