Day two takes me to Roppongi Hills for lunch at a Chinese restaurant and coming out of the elevator from the metro we discover that the entrance to the complex (just before the giant spider sculpture) is decorated and paved with red dots. The Mori Art Museum Gallery is hosting a tenth anniversary exhibition titled 'All You Need Is LOVE - from Chagall to Kusama and Hatsune Miku'
The dots theme carries around the area, with activities for children and a larger than life figure of a child in a polka-dot dress swinging above our heads. And the exhibition itself is in full swing, finishing on the September 1.
There is also a poster advertising Harry Potter - the exhibition, at the Mori Art Museum and the film Wolverine making its debut at the cinema next door.
The area around the Mori Building has quite a different atmosphere from last year and a new energy. 'Yes', I was told, 'there are lots of lease changes; leases last for two years and then new businesses get a chance at the space'. Interiors have been upgraded, some making powerful, universal statements with mirror surfaces, others exploring the pulling power of steps to the ambulant shopper. I make a mental note to return, not just for 'All You Need Is LOVE' but also to check out if wheelborne and mobility restricted people are catered for in these stepped interiors.
I get manhandled up the two steps in the narrow entrance to the Chinese restaurant and, in a small private room, we select a Viking - all you can eat in an hour for a fixed price. As we browse and tap in our order on the iPad menu, choosing varieties of Dim Sum (and similar portion-sized delicacies), I become aware of new information about ingredients, the pork content of dishes is now clearly labelled. As a vegetarian I find that so helpful as pork oil is much used in Chinese cooking. My taste buds are in for a cheerful roller coaster ride.
School holiday Tokyo
vibrant with youth and
have all the Suits
hidden? The size
too large, polished
leather shoes lost
among lazy trainers.
Pretty, pretty frills
and lace froth
over slinky jersey
parade the billows
of water-vapoured air,
the shaded fountains
of the smart Roppongi Hills.
I was greeted with a gift, tickets to Kabuki in the newly finished theatre. The performance will take place at the beginning of September, I am very pleased and so curious. The old Kabuki theatre had been pulled down and the redevelopment images of the site showed a massive skyscraper office block behind a small redbrick box, a modern and efficient, if disappointing, use of the space. I had been sad not to have been able to experience this traditional Japanese event in the appropriate surroundings.
However, today the first thing to do is food shopping so we head out for Higashi-Ginza, a walk that will take us past the new building.
Imagine my surprise and delight to discover this clean, white and elegant skyscraper with a very large, traditionally shaped, beautiful brand-new Kabuki theatre imposingly placed in front of it. There are long queues at its entrance and crowds of people outside taking photographs. Kabuki is attempting to attract a newer younger audience and there does seem to be real interest amongst young people for older traditions, including the clothes.
Mussed-up, gelled black spikes
of semi-long Japanese hair
frame the face the peers
back at him from the shiny
surface. Hands fuss and fly
seeking home for phone,
wallet, keys, tablet, modern
life between the folds
of the brand-new,
We buy our food from Ginza Mitsukoshi (Mitsukoshi is an international department store), and I ask if anyone is worried about radiation. The answer is negative; the idea of only buying fish imported from Australia has occurred, but not been implemented.
The twelve hour flight has become familiar to my body, but the details vary each time. Processing me at Heathrow in my own powered chair confused almost everybody. I revelled in the freedom and independence, whilst the assisted-travel assistants consulted the rules and regulations. I successfully negotiated myself to the door of the aircraft on my own wheels and then watched as the powerless skeleton (without batteries and without the contoured cushions that make sitting for more than fifteen minutes a reality), was rolled away to the hold.
I fantasised about having Con.Text conversations on the plane, it probably as a fifty-fifty mix of people who speak a European language and people who speak Japanese, but I put in my pressure equalising earplugs and resigned myself to twelve hours of engine noise. Conversation is restricted to the expected and communication is via slow words and pantomime hand waving.
This was my first attempt at bringing the skinny-wheeled Japanese wheelchair back into the country, and once the aircraft had been cleared and I had been transported to its doors via the aisle chair, I eagerly awaited our reunion. The involuntary squeal of horror that escaped my lips and the agonised: 'That's not my wheelchair' was gracefully ignored by the man attached to the handlebars of a battered manual wheelchair. The dreaded 'health and safety' mantra darted unexpectedly from the lips of the cabin crew who took pity on me and sought to avoid the spectacle of my noisy refusal to transfer into the thief of independence that awaited me.
It is apparently hazardous to push the empty powerchair (which rolls most easily and smoothly without power), but quite, quite safe to push an empty manual chair. So health and safety dictate that I am first reunited with my independence at the baggage carousel, a process that ensures that I am supported safely through customs and immigration by my silent porter.
My support cushions seamlessly meld
into aircraft seat that awaits me.
For take off, toes dangle above floor
until we reach altitude and my life
is returned to my lap.
Hand luggage becomes
my footrest. Fred and George,
the sticks, live alongside my legs,
elbow grips in said lap,
my handbag dances a tangle
between sticks and lap, juggles
for space alongside food, and drink
I must hold in my hand there is
nowhere left that is safe, that is
my space for the next twelve hours.
I slide back the tilt of my chair
and prepare for oblivion.
From Narita airport into Tokyo by Skyliner, I wonder at the amount of new-build packed unceremoniously among the already densely packed townscapes. The colour of created geography changes subtly as the glossy turquoise-blue glaze of old roof-tiles gives way to sudden patches of modern creamy-brown. We speed past towns that flow into each other with barely room for a brief glimpse of cultivated countryside; past equally unsegregated skyscrapers, junk yards, luxury homes, abandoned tin huts, schools, tangles of power cables and shambolic dwellings all decorated and punctuated with greenery. I'm glad to be back.
Tokyo time has come around again. For a week or so before I travel, the prospect dominates my life. The preparation consumes me. I pace myself to live with this division of attention, I am well practiced in the phenomenon, but this year is more fraught than usual.
I think of my father talking about the see-saw between countries and cultures and the frustration of being constantly on the move yet going no-where.
I recall my grandmother packing to move us to the summer house on the beach for the season and my own determination not to live this divided life. And my other grandmother, long before I was born, lived in India where she too moved up to a summer residence in the cooler hills. So how could I hope to avoid the divide? It's part of my history, my memories and, in spite of my protests, my personality. It's in my DNA, the restless, reluctance of letting go, moving on.
When I was homeless I would buy pretty little things for my imaginary home and treasure them for a day before leaving them somewhere without looking back. I would wrap them up, just like we did for the summer house. It was somehow comforting.
I'm in the process of wrapping up the UK version of my artist and transferring my focus and energies on to the Japanese version.
The snag is that the Japanese version of my artist has such a fledgling identity floundering around without words, without the symbols to process and express the otherness.
Observation takes the place of conversation and I struggle to give face value the same weight and dignity as the spoken word. Finding and exposing the subtext in a culture so different is an intriguing challenge and finding my gaze is an act of patience.
I arrive, so the Google Bible declares
in typhoon season; I like heat
and humidity is fine in wide open
spaces, I cope badly with changes
of pressure; but the killer is concrete.
Radiating stored heat, transformed
from blessing under open skies
to oppressive smother of warped
atoms fighting the living tissue
that attempts breathing the breathless
atmosphere of the mammoth
heat store that is urban jungle;
the prickling irritation
of proximate concrete that
new, persistently renews,
Liz Crow 'Bedding Out' is happening in Edinburgh, today and tomorrow, right now, so here #inactualfact, some excepts from 'On Borrowed Crutches' poetry on wheels:
I have been prescribed a normal life,
life by the fifteen minute rule.
Sitting, standing, lying down; repeat.
So, now I need to ... go shopping.
First to get me ready: crutches
to the elbow, shoes and bags and
Mmmh, fifteen mins standing. Me?
No. And thats not even walking.
Yes I need to take a chair. Thanks
to the physios and Med. Eng. I have
a wheeled one, with support cushions:
seat and back engineered to fit
me. I've charged the battery, and
oh yes, another fifteen mins.
Standing, sitting, now I'll need
somewhere to lie down; and not just the bed,
the custom insert too, because
I can't actually lie flat. I wonder
how I lead a normal life
carting round the chair,
the bed and my personal array
of custom cushioned support.
Thanks be to Medical Engineering.
Being wheelborne I always feel
wide and neat - that's neat as in petite,
and wide, as in my chair is probably
a size eighteen, no twenty-two,
wrapped around my own ten.
Does my lover look beyond the wide;
the heavy preference of stressed men?
Does he enjoy being head and shoulders,
chest above my folded, wheelborne frame?
And how does he feel when I emerge
tall and slim, swinging on two metal sticks?
This practice wishes to inform you
that the doctors will no longer see you.
You were overheard by the practice
secretary, saying your doctor claimed
there was nothing wrong with you.
You will need to register with
You have, they said,
no quality of life.
We cannot help you work;
we cannot offer DLA.
We wash our hands
except to say
We do reserve
the right to take
your benefit away.
I recycle words. We all do it. They say something different each time. I recycle images too. People used to do that as well, back when there was no sharp divide between image and word. Years ago I spent time in the theatre sketching rehearsals; a scary, fast-paced scribble of a task which I found exhilarating. Periodically I would revisit my stack of sketch pads and extract material for evolution into other states, for exhibitions and illustrations.
Recently I found myself reusing images from 'Livet i Danmark'. This was originally a Danish tv soap, 'The House in Christenshavn', you can still google it to discover more. It spawned a film, but this controversial theatre extrapolation (Life in Denmark) sank without trace, no reference to it, good or bad, seems to exist.
At the time I didn't think it was politically motivated, targeted any particular audience or indeed intended as anything other than entertainment in an already crowded marketplace. It seemed very much at odds with the issue-based arts scene and I was very uncomfortable with the apparent 'in your face' superficiality of the play.
It did not appear to be a rewarding experience for anyone. It had nowhere to go, I can find no trace of its existence on the stage at Arhus Theatre and no trace of its failure.
I never saw the original tv soap, I was told it was the Danish answer to the street soaps popular in England at the time. On stage the characters inhabiting The House were reinvented as inmates of a futuristic asylum for non-conformists and disabled people.
I was far too busy capturing fleeting moments to notice if there was a plot, but it seemed to me that none of the actors was comfortable in their role or sympathetic to their character. Authority (the concierge?) was reinvented as a soulless man in black with a cross between a light sabre and a cattle prod with which to discipline the tenants who struggled constantly to understand the system and their imprisonment within it.
This was the portrayal of a system that denied people's human rights and drove them to express the extremes of their personalities purely for the voyeuristic entertainment of an audience.
Maybe I was too innocent to understand the true nature of the work at the time, but now as I recycle images from the sketchbooks, I do wonder...
And I also remember looking at the bone dry banks of the shrunken Zambezi, waiting for the rumble of rainwater, for the return to the accustomed, the accepted, state of normality. Things change and sometimes it is just harder to go with the flow.
From green to gold and dust,
savanna in the draught
audience shrivels to gone.
Funding trickles to drops like
Zambezi without rain
on the voice of rolling water.
And we must work harder they said
and we must be at fault,
mea culpa. I am willing, show me
how can we reach our target?
I listen dumbstruck to these
people who do not know
that they are under attack.
That their audience cowers in fear
that food, and safety,
somewhere to hide
takes precedence over
The Heroic in the Everyday
Salisbury Arts Centre, 6th July- 18th August
Hijack All Dayer - Free - Youth Arts festival
My day had been long and full of potential stress and misunderstanding, the drive to Salisbury in the radiant heat of baked metal, was in a Friday rush hour, I was tired and prickly, but I travelled with anticipation.
First held in 2011, the Arts Centre's exhibition of works by resident artists, workshop leaders and participants has been an annual success and the buzz leading up to this one was encouragement enough to keep going.
For a Private View/preview performance the occasion was packed out with well over a hundred people booked in as audience for the dance, film, monologues, and the experimental capture of imprints on clay during a joint performance of the two youth dance groups Jigsaw and their younger 'feeder' company, Seesaw. The results of this, a film to be projected onto the fired clay, will be shown at Hijack on 31st July 2013.
In the exhibition, various works had already been capturing people's imagination, and conversations with workshop leaders were moving several people within earshot from their first impression of 'I could never do anything like that' to confessions of possible ambition and expressions of interest in the the start dates of coming sessions.
Recession may be biting into the arts in dramatic fashion as people find it more and more difficult to justify expenditure on 'luxury' but the cuts cannot kill the creativity that is part of being human and part of what we expect of civilisation.
But how has it come about that so many folk have grown accustomed to paying 'experts' for culture and no longer feel qualified to practice any of the arts for themselves? This neglect of personal hands-on involvement by people who can afford vicarious creative expression by the proliferation of professionals that bless the good times, has shown up the enthusiastic work and practice of disadvantaged, disabled, and damaged people in a strange and insular light.
Exhibiting art has become normal for 'not-normal' people and not-normal for 'normal' people. Making is one thing and seeking public acknowledgment is something else - 'normal people' don't do it. 'Normal people' no longer seek to divert or entertain each other. 'Normal people' not only expect to enjoy a supremely polished end product, but expect it in a recognisable format - the format we are most encouraged to rate is the one that transfers value into shareholders bank accounts.
Whilst the media would have us believe that everybody wants that shot at fame, that chance to make a mark on history, the people who consider themselves normal rarely feel able to present themselves as worthy creators and makers, and though a percentage do seek witness to their existence in the cult of celebrity this leaves everyday arts and practice by the normal 'not-normal' without context.
Here in Homegrown we see works by career artists, students and recreational artists, 'normal' and 'not-normal' - all exhibited together. An inspiration towards the rethinking our concepts of value in relation to everyday arts and creativity.
Topsy turvy the world of 'normal' turns talentless
wannabes into flash focus curiosities for their
fifteen seconds of life in the spotlight; witness
their existence. The rest of us
cannot expect to be embraced as beautiful
people for merely existing. Refusing
the sympathy vote, we strive for
acknowledgement knowing we cannot
expect to divert focus by just showing up.
Unless we can generate pounds
and transferable profit we are
required to prove ourselves in an arena
with no rules, no guidelines, no shape.
And in the invisible underground, the labours
of those who do not qualify, identify, are overseen
until some unquantifiable paradigm shift
lifts them from obscurity. Their work will
overshadow their 'not-normal' identity
while cogs and wheels and binary code
record and archive the eerie silence
of a people waiting on posterity, sleeping
like lions unaware of their chains.
I'm painting my decking, well not at this moment as its hard work and frequent bouts of horizontal recovery are necessary. As I paint, and no not its not exactly paint, more of a wood stain, I think about what's going on under the surface. It's a fair bet that the wood is rotting from the bottom up; I compare my decking to painted sepulchres and am suddenly embarrassed by a sticky wetness around my nether regions.
Years ago when my first child started moving himself around he did what I called the bum-shuffle. I never dreamed how useful I would find that for deck-painting. I was being mindful of splinters, but unfortunately not mindful enough as I'd shuffled myself onto the paint lid, still wet and now somewhat attached to my flimsy summer clothing.
I've never needed an adult version of a nappy and incontinence is not a topic that crops up in conversation, so forgive me any incorrectness. Actually the topic did crop up quite a bit in my voluntary job, the one I don't do any more. There the manager would cope discretly with any accidents that occurred, sometimes popping unnoticed round to the charity shop next door for a change of clothes for the grateful customer, by now waiting in the accessible loo.
The day the assistant manager told a lovely chap who happens to have a raging version of MS, and whose body had just let him down, to go outside because, 'you stink' shocked me, shocked other volunteers. We expected the woman to be fired, and waited amazed over a number of weeks as nothing happened. In spite of protests, there were, for her, no repercussions that we were aware of. Eventually I left.
We were distressed, lots of us, but we were part of a nation that was already buying in to the notion that 'with the Olympics everything will change' and we were buying in to hope in a big way. And for a month or two there were glimmers, but as you're well aware the seeds that began to germinate were quickly snuffed out by a government who thought they could take advantage of the Olympic smoke-screen to clamp down on human rights. Where have I heard that before?
Like Wittgenstein I find
my days begin in hope, but
unlike the philosophic mind
they close, bemused, the
of not technically cruel,
but never kind,
conducive to the same old
reoccurring, same old
prejudicial pressures on
by the tactically deaf
But still my days begin in hope,
same old hope predawning;
same old hope somewhat
worn thin and yet unable
to sink and die
with the sun.
My Olympic legacy? The resounding confirmation that the political spin and people manipulation that is freely condemned when it occurs elsewhere is just as rampantly encouraged right here under my nose. Which brings me back to my decking and painted sepulchres. Except its reversed, there is no whitewash on the outside. All the bad stuff is out there, no amount of Olympic distraction could cover it up, but underneath, from the inside, there are loads of (extra)ordinary decent people, people like Liz Crow with #beddingout, just being human and striving to build that body of opinion that will finally turn the tide.
Behind the flag and bold
paraded silenced athletes
polished to perfection,
and after all the hope
and hype march politicians
leading media, unshy,
by the nose, declaring
a burden on the honest
working citizens who've
earned the right to look away.
The lions sleep, so now you may
draw your own conclusions.
But lions do not sleep forever.
Recently I've had difficulty living with torn-to-pieces-hood. I wept readily. And this in spite of some blessing of sun, some lightness of clear blue sky, and momentary gentle warmth seeping through my skin to delight my bones.
Waking through the night in a restless tangle of cotton shroud, I was tempted towards tantrums, until reminding myself that these are the good old days and I am not just surviving. I have a life!
I've not been well and this, on top of the demands of disability, has been exhausting.
The taken-for-granted stuff that forms my daily physical challenge got tangled up in emotional depths that were a bit too roller-coaster for comfort. Spooky stuff rattled my marbles. Creative ideas shimmied and teased just beyond reach of motivation because I was holding my breath, listening for something other than sound, feeling for something other than touch. All of my focus was occupied in a dimension I didn't even know existed.
Ground control to ... who? There were too many words stampeding to get out of my head like there was no-one in control. And the only possible resolution was to wait.
I attempted to release the words in some order, glimpsed a glittering fusion that mulled, that simmered on the point of tipping. The sense of agitation was building. And the weeping.
I need to make art, I need it to survive, especially now. And I need it to find my way in the world.
The unwell is temporary, even though it has been draining my resources for almost six months, an unquantifiable hindrance that both drives me towards exploring the bad bits and seeks to prevent me from getting anything together at all.
This shit has become a recognisable part of my creative process and right now I wonder why the hell I do it; maybe I could wait until I am well, but I need to make art.
And sometimes I just need to work with the stuff that scares me.
Where would I be without making?
What darkness would engulf me without
the risk, the challenge, of creative
possibility? The dream of clarity.
And the deadline, reason
to pursue my need with purpose.
The blog, the presentation, the
exhibition, poster and the book:
ways to travel without
getting totally lost.
Ladders poking out of the snake pits
layered beneath sunshimmer water,
forest fern secrets, musical meadows
and warm ripe raspberries.
Settling People Like You into the Lighthouse Gallery space was not without problems, compromise and pain, but for me all of that paled into insignificance on discovering that Mirka's beautiful bowl had been damaged somewhere between being wrapped up and packed in Salisbury and being unwrapped in Poole - the day before the exhibition was due to open.
The large chip on its rim is a complete puzzle, and the sadness is pervading.
The bowl was part of a collaborative installation with ceramic artist Mirka Golden-Hann. Mirka had previously worked with words of mine with her students. This time we had worked together on someone else's words and struggled through an emotional journey to create 'Dark Blue World'
We had shared our thoughts, feelings and reactions to the words I had used to interpret the Czech blind man's song into an English poem, and our emotions had dictated the form of bowl. A bowl to be held and turned in your lap as your fingers discovered the sharp little points of Braille spiralling down from its rim. And Mirka had created it.
Holding the finished bowl, gazing into its deep, dark blue interior, I was holding a womb that drew me into the vastness of space and time. The pin-points of slip that my fingers discovered were my words, unreadable to me; echoes of the puzzlement and pain in a stranger's blindness.
And now the echo of my own distress at the loss of this beautiful collaborative creation that had so very much to say about courage and humour and loss.
Letting go of dreams,
the stuff of courage.
And holding on, that too.
And pretending to be brave,
the getting on with
whatever it takes.
This is what it takes
to smile, to be
Needing my soft-sculpture to continue meaningful narratives in the context of its next venue, the Lighthouse, Poole, I have been working on a suplimentary piece inspired by the very different environment.
I have described 'People Like You' as an exhibition bringing together the work of Liz Crow, committed and caring artist/activist; Sue Austin, bold and challenging artist/researcher and Gini, dreamer and poet, artist/social commentator.
You'll notice that I don't actually think of myself as an activist; at least not in any traditional sense; which doesn't mean I don't engage in activism.
My practice has always been socially aware, issue-based and, I like to think, subtle. I'm argumentative, but try not to be confrontational. I make art to raise awareness of wrongness and I am concerned about the magnitude of wrongness, a concept as elusive as that of 'normal'.
I believe in the good in people, I don't want to tell people what to think or how to think it; I do wish to point out that in subtle, insidious ways, created geography influences and dictates our thoughts and actions in favour of inequality on a multitude of levels.
I dislike categories that brook no blurring of edges, I believe in the efficacy of making the work rather than talking about it and in that spirit I regard my DAO blogging as an integral part of my practice.
I believe 'the affairs of men' need a paradigm shift and maybe this is a threshold moment. The aim needs to be audacious, we are one global species and as I said at the (10/04/2013) Symposium: From the Personal to the Universal, I believe our last best hope of being human is in defying reductionist tyranny, looking out for one another and treasuring, honouring, all of the messy complexity of our diversity.
I look for solidarity as the greatest tool, but I find it disappointing that the arts establishment remains in its shrinking bubble and individuals seemed only to have eyes and ears for their own niche diversity.
I am inordinately glad when we are not being drowned in the same old same old of our past, but equaly shaken by the apparent timidity of our gaze into the future.
There is so much to put right, overwhelming if we were not so many; but we are. Globally, together we are. Why don't we think big? Why don't we act bold? Why don't we reach out and grab the seminal moments? Why are we still so faffing parochial...
And the old timers, are they only listening to their own drums? Are they too proud to climb into bed with rhizomatic networks like the OWS movement, with Craftivists, with a globally networked world that resists focus on individuals and leaders?
Have they bought into the negative image of armchair activism in spite of its global impact potential?
For me activism is a lifestyle and my concern to live in a fairer world does not necessarily translate into being an activist.
DAO links me to an online community of artists and activists, alerts me to opportunities for lifestyle choices and raises my awareness of the context in which I practice. I value immensly the focusing/diversifying presence of DAO in a Networked Society
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.
Last week I joined an audio-description training introduction and as a result was offered a taster touch-tour and audio-described performance at Salisbury Playhouse by their professional, very helpful team.
Touch-tours normally take place on a stage which is, unfortunately, not wheelchair accessible, but I did manage to wheel close enough to feel the grassy surface texture of the set.
I had earlier been emailed a link to the Playhouse website's audio information, but had found the set description quite confusing. Once in the space I realised that I had not taken the thrust of the stage into account, nor gleaned any idea of relative sizes. I began to get some insight into the amount effort I would need to put into this.
The set was in fact, quite simple and during the performance, remained unchanged apart from the addition of a few seasonal props.
The props being so few and simple, this particular touch-tour was not particularly touchy-feely, more an opportunity to converse with the actors and gain insight into the visual changes that guide sighted audiences through the twelve years covered by the play.
The actors were really helpful with information that enriched the experience without giving away any story, but vocally I found most of them hard to isolate.
This play (Joking Apart, by Alan Ayckbourn), is heavy on dialogue with not that much action, so that aspect was relatively simple to audio describe.Which really was a good thing because my tinnitus is having a very bad patch.
The sound equipment picked up all the ambient noise in this busy theatre and magnified it indiscriminately in my ears - making the introductory words hard to distinguish as they began around ten minutes before the play started. The degree of focus and concentation necessary was hard work.
As a sighted person I was intrigued by the extra dimension offered and its effect on my experience of theatre. Because the describing task was shared by a team, the play seemed to change character in quite a surreal way and I came away from the performance with a lot of loose ends in my head, a lot of questions, and food for thoughts about pursuing this further.
I also felt disorientated, with a far greater than normal sense of detachment from time and place that heightened all the colours on my journey home.
and be aware you need
to build confidence.
Know your route.
Don't overload, give
and be aware,
of levels, textures, footspace.
Use body for reference,
distance and height, and use
the clock face for
This text is sixteen lines,
default font, left oriented,
for your screen reader.
Like the children, you think you've let go, you watch those independent steps and move on from the wrench. But nothing prepares you for the way your creation takes off; gathers momentum and brings home the stories that you scattered; brings them home enriched with lives and links and lightening bolts.
'People in Con.Text' conversations are full of positive feedback, and a great sense of people's engagement with the exhibition. They are, so far, hugely enjoyable - there is certainly a buzz.
Bathing in strangers' eureka moments is a delicious flattery, yet reawakens the dead time memories. Withdrawal symptoms that yawed and pitched their accusations through acres of barren emptiness. Life too terrified to work, or think; almost too lost to be, and overwhelmed with riven memories of other exhibitions, other success, adulation. All gone. Lost.
And years clinging to the certainty that the dead time was but a prelude; that this was no infertile grave, but a mystical gathering of treasure; a time of preparation.
The unshakable knowledge that I would meet my muse, the certainty of fruit from the pain and these two things a tangled web of life-line, of refuge, of healing and protection lead here, to these moments. To this gratitude. To this place of hope.
To 'People Like You' now.
Fight is the first word
thrown semi consciously
at waking panic;
bone to detract the crouching tiger.
With practice and confidence
the word becomes a garden,
a hidden space where being defies
the ravages of fear. A space outside of time;
the strong and steady heartbeat a life
in which to plant a future without fear;
the reclamation of tranquility
where laughter seeds love
and trust becomes
Now that 'People Like You' is installed in the Salisbury Arts Centre Gallery, I need to tidy up - housekeeping.
My house, without the five soft-sculpture figures, is peaceful. Where they had spilled out into my personal space, I can reclaim room to breath.
My studio however is a mess. And none the freer for the exodus of artwork - it still contains preparations and pictures I rejected for this version of 'People Like You'. Canvasses exploring the theme of angels - the visual accompaniment to my 'Creatives in Con.Text' blog, await some other opportunity to shine.
They were created with white paint and small scraps of muslin, cutaway shapes from the soft-sculpture figures. One, Evidence of Angels has had a Photoshopped detail featured (14 December 2012), but others including Aftermath of Angels, await developments; progression to a new body of work maybe...
And there are new figures teasing to be set free from my imagination, refusing to be restrained by my limited storage capacity. I am frequently deciding to sell my small etching press. I need the room, but Printmaker was my identity for so long and each time I recall my delight in the processes, nostalgia prevents me. And even though I no longer have a lithographic press, I will never ever part from my stones.
Maybe some kind of reorganisation would work?
The little bits, snippets, rejections,
the unexplored, lie in wait, ready
to hijack the new, waylay it, woo it,
dissect it, ignore it, all with the
aim of extracting, assembling,
inventing the next stage; making sense,
creative, rational or otherwise
of this driven stage that offsets the
bipolar languor of the waiting
with its curious mix of focus
versus distraction; teasing forplay
to the the grand finale - which merely
proves to be another stage in life's
essential practice of performance art.
Not caring, not daring to leave a gaping hole, a vacuum through which I might disappear like the humanoid rabbit, I have already started on 'People in Con.Text'. Conversations with visitors to the 'People Like You' exhibition/installation will form part of its evaluation and already there are gems like the squealed, 'letter handles' that a small child used to draw her parents' attention to the grab rails.
And the smiling gent who came to tell me that if his dog were allowed into the gallery it would be standing quivering and growling at these progressively non-human, alien mutations that are the soft sculptures: Kosta, Jessie and Fons.
Was it my imagination, or did I also meet my first (fledgling) troll? A timid creature whose query, 'What is this stuff?' tumbled disdainfully out of her somewhere between the naked Kouros and Koure and was simply answered with the explanation, 'muslin'. Reflection warns me that deeper disapproval was possibly choked by confusion and conditioned behaviour.
'To make progress we need to be able to imagine alternative realities, and not just any old reality, but a better one; and we need to believe that we can achieve it' (Tali Sharot). Between the three of us in 'People Like You' wouldn't it be great if Liz, Sue and I could spark the Better Reality fires of your imagination!
I've never wanted to swallow the sun,
or live on the back of the fleeting beast
roaring and roiling, but nevertheless
I need them both crinkling the edges of
each time I show up to get the job done.
Lucid as never before, letting go
was the best gift my muse ever taught me,
letting go and letting me reinvent
all I ever wanted, each and every one.
And like Anais Nin I like to live at the beginnings,
by nature I am always beginning and believing.
I have never wanted to swallow the sun.
Wednesday was time to put in some overdue effort on the PLY Project. LinkUpArts members have gathered 'baby and now' photos of people like you, like us, for the 'People Like You' exhibition. These need printing out, 'baby image' on one side, 'now image' on the other. A few do not have baby photos of themselves so I have made simple boy and girl outline drawings. It would also be great if people wanted to draw their own. No-one is excluded
There are different ways of looking at the phrase 'People Like You' and one of them hopefully promotes the opportunity to express solidarity.
Appart from a temporary Olympic truce, the negative history of disability has been bought into by almost everyone, including many disabled people. The current trend of blaming and shaming people who do not conform to society's idealised image of the perfect person, living the perfect life, is utterly destructive to everyone. Segregating people into relative categories is immoral and illegal. Who does not look back with shame on how previous generations have behaved towards other minorities?
Encouraging people to add their images to the exhibition will be just one of the interactive elements of 'People Like You' designed to promote the idea that equality is not really something to be offered to somebody else; equality is a state we are all entitled to share.
Feel free to email your own 'baby and now' images to email@example.com any time before 10th April 2013.
The adrenalin rush, the energy spike
flimmers and flares in the secret dark of the
latent eureka waiting the new lover,
the loyal muse, to carry its quicksilver
voltage out into consciousness barely
ready to inch away from intensive months
of mulling, chasing, constructing and hiding
the revelation, the prodigy-child that
is now suspended, in full view, mercurial
in its loyalty to the origins of
its own precarious, long-drawn conception.