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
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
I subscribe to the theory that Utopia always appears to be getting closer. And with the perfect place, the perfect society, comes the perfect life-form - the cyborg. And wheelborne people could be closer than most.
The chairborne aquanaut leads the field, being more than just a metaphor for her chosen life-form, closer to whales, dolphins and sharks than any mere human in dive-gear.
I came to Tokyo hoping to pursue my hunt for Disability Arts, but instead find myself on an apparent detour. I want to return to Odaiba, the artificial island at the end of Rainbow Bridge, to revisit the Universal Design Centre at Toyota's Exhibition Hall. Here they demonstrate developments to a Universal 'wheelchair'.
This 'chair' transports it's user in upright or horizontal positions and travels at speeds that exceed those aspired to by most powerchair manufacturers. It is being designed to be universally desirable. Is this what mobility disabled people want? Is it a viable alternative to a powersuit? Is it anything more than a detour on evolution road? Is it sexy enough to compete?
Technology could be my best way forward: a way to make some connections; a way to look below the surface of life here; to discover heterotopic spaces. There may still be treasure at the end of the rainbow, or this could be going nowhere.
sense of direction.
hither and thither.
I see Sumida.
Today we find
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.