This is the last in the series. The timing is deliberate - this is my contingency bowl.
In case time and tide conspired against 'Creating the Spectacle!' In case the event was cancelled; in case the worst case scenario swallowed up the adventure and the underwater wheelchair disappeared into oblivion.
But actually it also makes a rather splendid trophy to present, with a fanfare, to all the successful participants of the most carefully prepared and choreographed adventure - the journey across the Fleet.
Sue and the underwater wheelchair, the undeniable stars of the occasion, were backed up, supported, carried, by the skills, knowledge and talents of dedicated teams all totally inspired by her wild idea and persistent enthusiasm.
Like the legend of history, 'Creating the Spectacle!' had no power over the tide; yet forever undaunted, the team completed their mission and this new legend was fact for a day.
And like the red carnations that bloomed over the water and sailed out on the tide, the story will travel, the myth of the chairborne aquanaut will spread and grow as the journey continues.
Lapping relentlessly against
prejudice and preconceptions,
the tide of enthusiasm
rebrands the stereotype,
the metaphor that presents all
and every disability
as cheat or hero, scrounger or
object of pity. Introducing
Individuals, people with
real lives, real hearts, real connections
that link us all into one world;
one people. The diverse glory
of the human race, Homo Sapiens
I could hardly sleep a wink last night. I might have been a little busy this week, but today has had big, bold, red pencil marks all over it for a while now. Depending on the weather, the tides, fate...Today is the day!
Today, in filming for 'Creating the Spectacle!' the underwater wheelchair takes what anyone could only describe as the absolute scariest part of it's journey.
I'm heading for Portland to be witness and part of the audience for this stage of the project. I shall be travelling with mixed feelings; I am looking forward to seeing Sue and the underwater wheelchair in the water again: that bit is positively magical.
But the underwater wheelchair cannot be confined to a pool, even one as deep as the Osprey Leisure Centre's.
Today Sue and the underwater wheelchair are going to be filmed disappearing into the sea.
A lagoon? Thats like South Seas or something?
Warm, clear water; it sounds so inviting,
not sure about the wheelchair though. Why not
just dive? The Fleet? Where's that, somewhere local?
Oh that changes everything. Bloody cold
off Portland. With bad tides round Chesil Beach,
plus that lurky, murky, muddy sea-bed...
I dunno why, but somehow the wheelchair
makes some kind of crazy sense; now I know.
Fleet Lagoon: that really is so awesome.
The eagle eyed DAO reader just might have noticed that the image used (yesterday) in Earthbowl 1 was not actually from 'Creating the Spectacle!'
'Portal' (2008), that iconic picture of Sue Austin under water in a wheelchair, was however our first hint of things to come - watch this space!
The Earthbowl series continues with an image from the early development stages of the project when the chair was still being refined and Sue was still learning how to control it.
Earthbowl 2 contains an image from the clinical waters of a diving pool where Sue, almost unrecognisable without that signature dress (but check out the hair), wears the full diving gear - necessary for any time spent performing in colder waters.
The finned wheelchair, well rehearsed in chlorinated diving, had not at this point had much opportunity to expand it's horizons; but after it's first globetrotting adventure, LinkUpArts was thrilled to be able to invite people to Sue's presentation (at Salisbury Arts Centre earlier in the month) documenting 'Creating the Spectacle!' to date and featuring The Underwater Wheelchair.
On stage, as it were,
facing a live audience,
the chair acquires gravitas;
a quiet dignity
it does not possess poolside.
It also radiates
solemnity in this
at odds with it's adventurous
Striped of it's blanket disguise
it waits patiently while it's
and progression unfolds;
It's historical journeys
roll out over the big screen
behind, until the moment
we, the audience, are free
to surround and admire;
to touch and covet the
21 June - 14 July 2012, Salisbury Arts Centre.
Relay: handing the baton of inspiration through time and across disciplines, has produced this exhibition at Salisbury Arts Centre.
I should, at the outset, declare my involvement, both as an artist and wordsmith and also as member of LUAN (LinkUpArtists Network) whose work, together with images from LUAN member Sue Austin's 'Creating the Spectacle!' represents LinkUpArts' presence as one of Salisbury Arts Centre's Creative Partners.
Like previous exhibitions showcasing work produced by the artist-tutors and their workshop participants, this one, extending to resident artists, groups, creative partners and resident companies, is buzzing with energy and talent.
Resident potter, Mirka Golden-Hann, exhibits Choreographed Vessel, a plain and elegant porcelain bowl on which moving images of dancers are projected - a work bringing to life the ancient Greek concept of Kalokagethia (harmony of physical and spiritual endeavour), through the talents of filmmakers, dancers and of course Mirka herself.
Anthony Aston, currently the Arts Centre's Technical Manager, has been experimenting with mapping projections to three diminutional surfaces and a resulting digital piece involving the resident youth dance company, Jigsaw, and a regular life drawing group, is most effectively exhibited on the Altar Stage wall.
These two pieces popped out at me at the preview, but there is so much more to see and I'm looking forward to revisiting Relay. The Totem Poles and various smaller intricate pieces need more time, as do the Kingfisher Poets, and there is also the intriguing live performance of the dissolving clay city on Saturday 14th July at 11.00
We read your poem and we cried.
My words adorn, caress the clay;
the tiny figure perched atop
the totem pole is helter-skelter
me with buttercup dust still gold
on my toes. Who would be thinking
the lover who opened my eyes and
brought me back to life, would yet be
muse; his inspiration handed,
artist to artist, maker to
maker; enduring pregnation,
perpetual, powerful. Who
would have dreamed this muse would
have so much life in him.
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.
If nothing else, being in Tokyo has served to clarify my ideas about spatial equality; to crystallise my thoughts about some of the negative psychological effects of historical Greek and Roman architectural practice on European urban design, to ponder the power of hegemonic places and to begin to formulate further ideas about created heterotopic spaces.
I am quite lazy about following up on even my most important ideas and although my blog intro states that my work 'engages with issues of access, from acknowledged physical needs to perceived symbolic exclusions', I've never spent time in the blog explaining or exploring what I mean by that and why I feel it is important.
As yet, I am unaware of any studies on spatial justice of created geography from a wheelborne viewpoint. Studies of urban poverty by people like Marxist and Distinguished Professor of Anthropology David Harvey ('Social Justice and the City'), resonate with some of the issues - his postulation that Capitalism 'annihilates space to ensure it's own reproduction' raises awareness of the shrinking dimensions of many modern created environments; but the notion that justice has a geography and the equitable distribution of resources, services and access is a basic human right (Soja), is at the heart of my interest in perceived symbolic exclusions. Created geography that marginalises difference has negative psychological effects on how society sees itself and invests in it's future.
In Britain I queue,
for the wheelchair-wide
dropped curb and wait
while the wheelless
use this easy space.
I queue for the
prefer it's lack of
effort. And I am
to make excuse for
my bulky presence;
squeezed to the edges,
This urban geography
lacks a sense of
the sense of justice.
Yokohama gets a rough deal from me. She's always squeezed between other places, other attractions, yet evening Yokohama Chinatown lures me with some excellent dim sum in a quiet first floor restaurant, with windows looking right at the elaboratly carved and decorated Chinese temple opposite.
Kamakura is the day's first destination, the site of the giant Buddah I visited last year, it also has a small, but excellent art gallery showing works from the Kamakura collection of traditional and traditional-inspired illustrations.
Last time it was closed, this time I get lucky. Down a leafy little alleyway, turn left into a beautiful, private- looking mini garden, negotiate some small changes of level and the glass doors slide open to let you in. If you are a fan of Edo period Ukiyo-e you will not be disappointed.
The day also includes shopping, I have been trying to find an affordable 'tan' that I can corrupt into curtains for my kitchen and, dependent as it is on the tourist trade, Kamakura comes up trumps.
My 'tan' is a cotton linen mix, in the natural linen colour with earth brown stripes. I also find a very fine box in which to carry my chopsticks. I've been looking for something that would keep them clean in my handbag. This little box is a light fine--grained wood with tiny magnets to hold it shut. It closes with a satisfying click.
One unmissable temple later and I'm back on the single track train that hurtles past mini gardens and kitchen windows to the station on the other side of Yokohama, that brings me straight into Chinatown.
The slow roll to the restaurant is colourful and crowded.
Chinatown offers the strange
to western eyes, variety
of goods or bads we may just
not be ready to do more
than mock. But also stuff
that shudders as I pass.
Dried shark fins, snake- poison
face packs, tiny bottles with
small bones and mysterious
hand- scribed labels.
How does this look to the neighbours?
Googling for occasion clothes, I discover that the kind of frilly baby-doll outfits mentioned in 'Symbolic clothes and Kimono' are in a style labelled Gothic Lolita. Mmm; says it all, I guess.
Sun sets early in Tokyo, and the warm night air lights up with city living. The Gothic Lolitas who have prowled in packs by daylight, melt away; daydreams insubstantial. Groups of Suits gather, fill the streets with contained anticipation.
Negotiating space to pass 'Gentlemen's Clubs' advertising live nudes, I get to practice my almost forgotten 'excuse me' phrase. I exist outside of their narrow focus, I have become a different kind of invisible; the kind that promises safe passage.
A line of suits on the gutter side afford me a clearway, but as I begin the roll-past an equal and opposite line emerges and I am trapped between them. With great formality, and loud exclamations both lines bow deeply towards me-in-the-middle.
I Process Like Royalty - wondering and delighting in my invisibility.
Tokyo is warming, rain is more frequent, the humidity rises and large insects swarm silently. Soon cicadas will emerge to sing, and Paulonia wood will come into its own.
Said to keep clothes dry (damp mould being a serious problem), the Princess Tree was traditionally planted at the birth of a daughter and the wood then used to create a chest of drawers for her wedding gift. Today Paulonia is prized for it's warp resistance and used in skis, surf-boards and guitars.
The fast growing Phoenix Tree
is the Green Goddess
of reforestation. The
from root-stock, grows
twenty feet in a year
in her eager youth, and
stressed earth, increasing
possible food production.
The Princess Tree, saviour
of us all, also sounds
good in the body
of a Dean ML XM.
'Does she take sugar' seems to be a question foreign to most Japanese; I am always spoken to directly. When I travel, all help, questions or instructions are directed at me - even if I have a Japanese companion who knows the way. And if my companion presumes to comandeer the guiding process, I am usually asked if I am ok with that.
Of course they do tend to presume that I need help, but then most times they are right. I always feel the intentions are good, the attitude is right. It makes a big difference.
Finding my way around in the multi- layered super-city that is Tokyo does get easier as I learn to use the sky-scapers as landmarks and begin to understand the layouts.
I have even got used to the idea that the enormous, formal-looking office blocks frequently have arts, shopping areas and restaurants that are worth looking into.
I was in such a place, outside a dress shop, when the dresses began dancing. Swinging about on their rail like crazy puppets, they looked quite surreal.
Unusually, one of the young staff members began to cry; normally earthquakes do not provoke much reaction from anyone. She was embraced and consoled by one of her colleges.
I have noticed that, wheelborne, I seem somewhat insulated from the effects of earthquakes. I notice other things moving and shaking, and during small forays on crutches, or in bed, feel them much more.
Where were you when we had the earthquake, is a question I frequently cannot answer.
Another, quake, another shift
the living earth has more presence
here. And thus creates a greater
sense of need for harmony
of effort. Need to recognise
outrageous and delicate
strength that moves mountains and seas,
grows cherry blossom, and floats
cloud soft over Fiji San.
Humanity invents ways to
co-exist, to live and dance,
to celebrate life on the edge
of each possible extinction.
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.
I seek Japanese fabric. Something on a roll, where I could ask for a metre or two.
I love the colour aesthetic here, and the use of texture. I feel the need to take some of it home with me.
This fabric lives in the past. It comes in one narrow width, one long length - it comes in a Kimono quantity - a 'tan' - ca 35 cms wide and twelve metres long. Linen or silk, sometimes cotton, each with it's own tradition of weave and colour. And each weave or colour has it's own traditional application: the male Kimono, the female Kimono, the child Kimono, the door curtain - the size and shape of each is defined by the size of the tan.
Tailors and fabric shops sell tans; tourist shops sell off-cuts and scraps. Somewhere as yet inaccessible to me, I'm convinced there is patchwork. But the idea of cutting into, or defacing, a tan, mystifies and horrifies the traditional tailor. My search exposes the alienness of my thinking.
Wider fabric is western fabric, in western quality and colours; western fabric is cut and sold by the metre. Someone somewhere must surely be creating a bridge, opening up the possibility of buying half a tan, a quarter even, for something Other.
If I lived here, my home would be outrageously furnished in mutilated tans. My wardrobe would be full of corrupted shapes - tans distorted to interpret western convenience clothes. Even on powerwheels I balk at the mobility restrictions the Kimono imposes.
Hamarikyu contains a duck
cenotaph; a mausoleum of
departed souls. Traditional duck
hunting grounds of past emperors
awakened the need to honour
the spirits, if not the consumed
bodies, of ducks who gave their lives
for imperial entertainment
and gastronomic pleasure.
Hamarikyu is a moated garden,
with ponds and islands, a haven
for ducks spared the fate
of their predecessors, to gather
unmolested by hunters past
or present. Forgotten humans
fading in the shadow of
a memorial to ducks.
I have made contact with a potter, Yoko Terai, who has an exhibition of beautiful pots and a friend who speaks some English.
The pots, elegant forms in calm shades of white, have a gentle, sensuous beauty, but also the imposing authority of Mount Fuji; I had difficulty restraining myself from picking them up.
I can imagine living with them.
I could also live with a regular delivery of flowers - the most beautiful arrangements of cut flowers; exquisite mini-bonsai in round balls of moss or tiny bowls; or more lasting - groups of fine pots containing complementary green foliage plants.
As the season develops and Tokyo gets greener, the higgledy- piggledy street- assortment of degrading plastic containers containing a variety of beautiful plants multiplies. Around doorways, in alcoves, around the many public trees, bushes and street furniture; lining alleyways - anywhere they would not create nuisance - there are plants.
The soldier marigolds that march Sumida's walkway are the exception, but their regiments multiply to occupy the available spaces; they are supplemented by a crack team of bold, red salvias who engage the bright pink azaleas in a war on the optical senses.
One quarter of the population suffers from hay-fever from the millions of, State planted, Japanese cedar trees that shed their pollen at this time of year. The government is seeking creative ways to tackle this man-made issue.
Occasionally I see Japanese pots - big, bold and beautiful, but normally plant containers appear to be anything recyclable that comes to hand. A curious aesthetic.
There is more than distance between us.
More than the sounds that never quite make
understandable words; more than the
shape of our backgrounds. There is a
desire to reach out to foreign culture;
to touch the exotic where east meets
west. To colour our days with the unknown.
I have no natural investigative skills,
make no intuitive leaps that take me
beyond the obvious. I persevere yet
appear to make no progress in this
one-woman effort to connect with
creatives who might want to engage
an outsider in the revelation
of insider issues. Utopia continues
to move like Michael Jackson.
I often duck into department stores to use the facilities, or change the batteries on my chair; today threatens rain and there is a small queue of people trying on umbrellas. An assistant stands by to hand over the next choice, opened and ready to use, so that the prospective purchaser can look in a full length mirror and check out the colour, style and size. Plain, ruffles, frills or lace? Large, medium or small? Tan, black, or... the colour options are plentiful. Finding an umbrella that suits is quite a task.
There seems to be plenty of people with the time and money to indulge in choices like this; I do see evidence of homeless people, but not much obvious evidence of poverty. I see wheelborne people, mostly being pushed in 'disabled chairs' (the sort with small wheels that cannot be propelled by the disabled person) and I see people on crutches - usually accompanied. Clues - like the poor condition of the wheelchairs - and the rarity of powered equipment, do lead me to conclusions about day to day living for disabled people here. Reality might not be keeping pace with the optimistic spaces and equal opportunities may only exist for visitors with independent means?
Having said all that I then came face to face with a lone disabled female. I didn't need Sherlock Holmes' deductive skills - she had well-worn knee braces and used crutches; she also spoke quite good English; we exchanged email addresses.
I'm pretty sure she isn't Japanese, but she lives and works here and is the first disabled person I've managed to make contact with.
How ironic that these flashes of Utopian space
that so attract and release me, do not appear
to promote greater independence for the
Japanese crip population. Produce no tangible
evidence of a solidarity or awareness
of a need. But then the need could be mine.
Could be most disabled people are so integrated
I never notice them. The people that catch my eye
the lucky ones who, in a less caring society,
would be lonely behind brick walls, sitting
beneath windows too high to see out of.
Mrs Q might have been happier here, with
more than just a bottle of whiskey and a bunch
of roses to see her through the week.
I've had a disagreement with a woman in an art gallery. We were discussing; I was talking about the visitors to galleries, she was talking about the exhibitors in general and the artist exhibiting there in particular.
I said that Japanese took art very seriously. She declared that he had a free and easy style and Japanese art was very varied.
We politely agreed to disagree when suddenly she realised what I was trying to say, looked discreetly around, and then totally agreed with me. We both laughed, but quite discreetly; the atmosphere was very solemn.
While Japanese people walk around galleries in a state of solemnity, once positioned in front of a piece they are not intimidated by art; everyone seems keen to deliver their personal interpretation and to express an opinion.
Not much of an exchange, yet quite a milestone for me who speaks very little Japanese. There are moments when I feel I understand other people's conversations, but dialogue is much more tricky.
I am frequently approached by strangers keen to try out their language skills and strange meanderings across a variety of European languages result in painfully protracted monologues that have no real content.
I am however left with the impression that the locals have noticed me, like the way I look and enjoy the humorous positioning of chopsticks in my hair.
The chopsticks probably say more than I do, certainly more than I am aware of, and they seem to give the impression that I am accessible.
Wandering out of my comfort zone,
finding less accessible quarters,
I discover galleries. Indeed many,
all with steps enough to keep me out.
And curbs not dropped enough
to let me pass; but then I find
a rush of angels keen
running to open doors;
eager to be
And I start to ponder
the seldom seen