Monday morning and time to get out. Time to remove 'People Like You' from the temporary home in Salisbury Arts Centre Gallery and place them in storage until May and their reemergence into the spotlight at the Lighthouse in Poole.
And I can't help but make links to Bedding Out (Liz's bed was here on this stage)... that temporary visibility, the Big Splash in the limelight, followed by a period of rest, assessment, evaluation and repair - behind closed doors.
I make the link because, after Liz Crow's Bedding Out and the massive response by so very many people who can identify with Liz's bedlife, I am still getting ensnared in my own trauma; the memory of when my own bedlife utterly dominated my existence. And I do mean existence. It wasn't a life; at least it wasn't a life with any quality to it. And that was official; the doctor doing my assessment told me to my face that I had "no quality of life at all".
I was eventually rescued by medical engineering, but that's another story.
Breathing is nothing to be
taken for granted. Each breath
a work of art, drawn tenderly,
eased by the millimetre in
in fear of pain, disruption
triggering the muscle spasms
that seem terminal threats
And each breath out
Here we are and will you be coming? Could you be part of this interaction? 'People Like You' is still making noises in Salisbury all day today and tomorrow.
It moves to the Lighthouse in Poole at the beginning of May...
My journey to Salisbury Arts Centre following Sue's white lines has a (temporary) festival nature. I am cheered along the way, I point out that I wasn't the artist, but people shake their heads in disbelief. I'm given the thumbs up and knowing, acknowledging smiles. I arrived in a very positive frame of mind.
So different, so very different to my frequent travels through the town and completely at odds with the hate crime that was the start of 'People Like You'
"People like you should be taken out and shot", I was told in a small shop, by a man who loomed over my wheelborne presence, wishing me dead and out of his way.
But I live, and it seems that 'living' might just be at the heart of the matter; people are not just living with disabilities, we are living. And it's freaking society out.
Paralympians are ok, they 'live' in the limelight for just the right length of time. They can be inspirational without causing compassion fatigue.
Disabled people have been moved out of ghettos, allowed to inhabit public spaces, given the legal right to equality, the right and the obligation to work; but apparently society still cannot believe we have the right to durational survival, let alone a life.
Guardians of the non-functional access, Kouros and Koure
hold their own hidden secret lightly. The unfunny joke that
lingers beneath a surface preoccupation with nudity, with
gender and the white distraction that grows greyer with each
evocative fleeting encounter. Kouros and Koure, reminders
of spatial manipulation, of domination designed to command
feelings of beauty and wonder, awe and respect,
entitlement; and voluntary surrender
to power, to hierarchy, to money,
White Lines; lead you to me. To 'People Like You', to glossy pink grab rails, to Kouros, Koure and co. They lead your thoughts to created geography, to the man-made spaces that largely unnoticed, influence and dominate our thoughts, our moods, and consequently our lives.
Wheelborne, I seldom interact with playful geography,
confined by the history and imagination of architect and planner
I roll oppressed by the hierarchy of power. The constant reminder
of status in flights of elegant stairways; the broad sweep of pedestrian
elevation which protects soft bodies from the disrespect of vehicles
dictates; removes choices; single width level access a persistent
indication of priority. The queue to avoid doors that require effort
a reminder that dogs eat dogs, that one for all and all for one
is never about the concept of fair. Expedience rules.
And daily, diversity is almost always inconvenient.
Wheelborne I become more sensitive to the negative effects of urban spaces, to the manipulation that is hidden in plain sight to insidiously plant it's message wherever people gather. This message, primarily for the wheelless, colours your perception of who you are, and who I am; who you might aspire to be and where you belong, who you might choose to travel with and where you might aspire to go.
And of course it does also have a profound effect on wheelborne people.
We live in a system that devours space with no regard to Spatial Justice.
Grab me. They invite me
and grab me; they sign to the
Kouroi standing self-absorbed
and utterly armless.
The mountains you move with humour
far outsize anything done from the
shadow side of despair.
Counted out! Where did the time go? The Symposium has been and gone, but its too early to be taking stock - Liz Crow is Bedding Out and 'Creating the Spectacle! 360' has not yet been packed away. 'People Like You' will be there until Sunday with Kosta, Jessie, Fons and Kouros and Koure doing their best to own the Salisbury Arts Centre Gallery space.
The grab rails never cease to delight me. I love the shocking girly pink, and the glossy smoothness. I fantasise about lots of grab rail messages around my house, inside and out, to facilitate upright moments, standing tall.
I also play with them in Photoshop where I created the chrome style that featured on the Symposium Poems leaflet.
It might be the colour
they don't look like grab rails.
I think it's the pink...
feminine, they're feminine
and I just want to run
my hands along the length
of them, touch them, they look
so... so smooth.
There are quite a few people who don't notice them. People who make their way up or down the ramp that connects the entrance and Gallery space with the rest of the Arts Centre, without needing grab rails, without noticing that the long straight blackness has been replaced with curly pinkness.
There is so much that people don't notice.
It might be a sign of the times,
or 'People Like You' but people
are pausing, watching, peering,
engaging, with smiling faces.
There is much less hurrying by.
Much more brave curiosity,
much less anxious indifference.
'People Like You' engages.
'People Like You' - the final week of the exhibition:
This is a powerful combination, if
you can take it all in. The wheelchair
artist talks about a hidden secret
and seeing this, the subtle sum of it all,
I can believe there is one. I can believe
I'm on the brink of discovering it.
Here, now, on the brink of Bedding Out, caught up in this wave of interconnected protest, it's possible to believe in better.
Caught up in the global impact of 'Creating the Spectacle!' its possible to believe that this is a threshold moment for our species.
Counting down to the exciting meeting of minds in From the Personal to the Universal, it is possible to hope.
The cynical part of me knows that once the Symposium discussions are over, 'People Like You' are packed away; Liz retreats from the twittersphere and Sue jets off to USA, the bubble will burst.
I want to believe that the Overview Effect will change humanity's plans and aspirations for the future of our beautiful blue planet, but I know we are still hacking down acres of rainforest in order to grow palm oil.
I want to believe in a seismic shift in the way we relate to each other as humankind, as members of one global species. I want to believe in the positive, generous and hopeful triumph of messy complexity over reductionist tyrany.
I want to believe.
The detail, must have taken years.
There's something about them
especially the rooted figures,
that I connect with. I feel them
saying something to me;
it's like personal...
You don't look at it and think disabled.
It's art, it ticks all the boxes. It's inspirational
normal inspiration, you know? Not the sympathy kind.
Everybody can relate to it, without
all the usual triggers and it still makes you think.
I think art like this really does make a difference.
Around and during the Symposium (10/03/2013) 'People Like You' has the added bonus of Liz Crow and Sue Austin presenting live work.
I first met Sue in 2009 when she came to document 'Testing the Edges' and was bowled over by her engagement with the project. She was also the first person to appreciate and share my delight in the freedom of a wheelchair.
I began working with the concept of the chair as an animate creature in parallel to developing Jessie, my first soft-sculpture, in 2006. Technology and funding issues mothballed my project, but I've followed Sue's development of her amazing underwater wheelchair with great delight.
'Creating the Spectacle!' for me, resulted in my second Con.Text piece, Underwater Con.Text, which grew out of conversations around the concept, the testing, and the heart-stopping reality of the underwater Fleet Lagoon crossing.
She looks so free, so serene,
I can see its an artwork and
clearly a message of hope.
And so original. Where
did it come from, and where next?
Con.Text conversations allow words to inform my visual artwork within a framework that at least allows me the illusion of control. My third Con.Text piece, the DAO commissioned 'Creatives in Con.Text' felt like a complete departure from focusing on the wheelchair and an opportunity to refocus on access, diversity and created geography.
Imagine my surprise when the soft-sculptures, newly installed in Salisbury Arts Centre's Gallery Space, made instant interaction with Sue's underwater environment thus enhancing their own capacity to stimulate and provoke.
For me the wheels are pivotal and expansive. The alien environment is hopefully facilitating people to grasp the concept that wheels offer freedom, that the chair may be a paradox, but is never merely a prison.
You just know, looking at it, that
it says something, and you need to pause
and let it come to you. It is
unmistakeable, powerful; with
such a light, confident touch.
Building up to live performances, counting down to the symposium, the tension mounts.
Some great comments about 'People Like You', the assembled work of Liz Crow, Sue Austin and myself, include this one which makes me smile:
If this is Disability Art, its very subtle,
I can relate to it. It's mainstream,
is that an insult? What I mean is it
works for anyone. Everyone should see it.
Since they first appeared in this exhibition, the soft-sculptures evolved from my Con.Text conversations have been relating to Liz and Sue's separate installations. The easy relationship of Kosta to the underwater environment took me by surprise, but I have always been aware of Jessie's links to Bedding Out.
I do like the way this resonates
in the space. Links and echoes
back and forth. I like that in an artwork,
I like it here in this space.
Long before I was aware of Liz and her practice, Jessie was a version of me in bed in public. Unlike Liz I was not brave enough to make a personal appearance. And unlike Liz's bed, Jessie's bed was a much darker experience. More of a Laying Out, with its links to death and being laid to rest, Jessie on her black platform bed was mistaken for a dead body when she made her debut appearance in Salisbury Arts Centre in 2006. Jessie reflected my own fear and dread of the minimum existence I was expected to live or die in.
The long term plan was for Jessie to be placed outside on the earth and succumb to the elements, but the creation of Kouros and Koure in 2009 marked a significant turning point where a remodelled Jessie emerged detached from her bed.
I used to tell myself that if I survived, one day I would have freedom enough to speak out. One day I would no longer live in fear and a bottomless pit of insecurity. But the shock of experiencing that fear and the memory of living it, is deep seated; the trauma of the experience continues to intrude on my life.
I am in awe of Liz's courage and anticipate Bedding Out with a tangle of mixed up emotions. The prospect of a Bedding Out conversation is actually petrifying, but surely it's time.
In bed? Here in this place?
A bed on the stage and
the idea makes me
smile, but artist-activist?
Are we ready for that
here? In Salisbury!
'People Like You' conversations are already growing into a fascinating body of work:
I have discovered my own
thoughts echoing through your
work. Words I can relate to.
I've noticed the way you
I'm keen to move into this positive space where a new figure is taking form, but don't want to move too quickly. Next week will see 'Bedding Out' with Liz Crow go live, and there will also be live White Line art from Sue Austin as well as her 360 'Creating the Spectacle!' film.
I anticipate such a wealth of conversations plus the continued exploration of the intriguing relationship between the three quite different artists' works forming this 'People like You' exhibition, both at Salisbury Arts Centre and later in the year at Poole Lighthouse.
What I really like about this exhibition,
these artists, is that they offer a level playground.
They don't look down on me from the superior pain
of disability, nor do they condemn with
poor quality or poverty of existence.
Its not aesthetically alienating,
it is humorous, complex and very moving.
And of course there is the Symposium, at Salisbury Arts Centre on 10th April, where I may offer something of myself on the journey from the personal to the universal.
As artist, I have been offered so many personal words that impact on me and inform my practice. Choosing a few to share will not be easy.
I believe in you, do you
believe in me? It's time.
Time for life, time for
change; climb, clamber, crawl,
wriggle and roll|
out of the straight jacket
of fear. Time to refuse
to be groomed as victim;
time to reject persecution.
It's time to come out
of hiding, it's time.
to be one with another.
I believe in you, do you
believe in me? It's time.