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Arriving at Narita airport, Tokyo

Image - Tokyo_1.jpg

Nine-fifteen, we are early, and I sit waiting as folk walk off the plane. My wheelchair arrives and then I too make my way out onto Japanese territory. Lots of bowing, helpful people assist my passage through the airport terminal. I am met, greeted and handed over. SP and I take an unfamiliar train journey back to his flat in Tokyo. For him, after the earthquake and tsunami, so much has changed, for me it is all new and exciting.

The journey into Tokyo holds my attention, stands of tall pines tangled with equally tall bamboo amaze me. Why don't I know about this? Awaiting me is the hired powerchair and after a quick unpacking and sampling of Tokyo water we head out on my first exploration of Ginza.

SP did tell me that Mega City Tokyo is more like a collection of villages and the description is accurate. The texture of Tokyo is rich and thought provoking and everywhere are reminders that  people are rising to the challenge to be helpful and supportive of each other through the aftermath of the disaster.

My fascination with shoes draws me into the first shop. I am greeted with bows, I admire the shoes and the assistant smiles. Suddenly we are communicating, she makes images of bubbles, circles with her fingers floating, "Tokyo frighten". We are talking about radiation, she mimes the bubbles sinking into her skin, this invisible threat far scarier than quakes or tsunami.

Our walk into Ginza followed the river outside SP's flat, and although the area shows no sign of it, the tsunami did sweep a metre or so of water into Tokyo and muddy debris was deposited along the river walk. Everywhere is clean and there are plants; trees, flowers and grasses in every conceivable patch of land, or in pots and tubs. On our return, melancholy jazz notes float over the river from a lone musician on the opposite bank. 

Early evening and we head over to Roppongi to eat. Tokyo has a low-key sparkle. The only lights on Tokyo Tower are the aircraft warning lights. I actually find it beautiful and very atmospheric. The waterfall in Mori Tower is switched off, the iconic spider sculpture is unlit. The Gallery is showing Marcel Duchamp, Dali, Jackson Pollock, Rene Magritte and more. I ponder this over a dish of Soba. I must come back in the daytime and view the exhibition.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 2 April 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 14 April 2011

Setting out for Tokyo

I'm packed and ready to go. I've read up on radiation levels, checked out the frequency and strength of the earthquakes and received supplies of dark, exotic chocolate from concerned friends.

I'm worrying that my plans will be unworkable and find that keeping an open mind gives access to all kinds of anxieties, but having to be this flexible is also exciting. There are days when all the planning and pacing necessary to make my life function weigh impossibly heavily on me.

I still hope to visit the Hasedera Temple at Kamakura. The big attraction is the large number of Jizo statues. These small stone images, protectors of travellers and children, are said to provide comfort and support especially to women who have lost children through miscarriage or abortion.

I have my own artworks grown out of questions provoked by my miscarriages and the common reactions of kindly friends: ponderings on where disability begins.

I had originally hoped to use them to illustrate my Tokyo preparations, but with the disaster they felt too provocative and painful.

Maybe they will resonate.

I'm using Stefan's iPad, so you are getting it all as an email. I will figure out his computer soon - it's in Japanese - and hopefully the camera too.

Ginormous

 

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 1 April 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 4 April 2011

Tokyo preparations

The media feeding frenzy has moved on and I have attempted “business as usual”. Monday, the first to assume normal structure, failed miserably.

With meetings and events paced for theoretical minimal impact on the nature and levels of pain I normally managed to absorb, it looked like a good place to start.

However, I failed to complete the day and experienced a strange detached misery. Some time after 15.00 my colleagues had had enough! I was given a beautiful slice of chocolate gateau and sent home with instructions to “eat and sleep.”

Preparations to travel spark little flames of anxiety. I decide to buy a different mouthwash. My usual one dilutes in water, but Tokyo water is beginning to register higher levels of radiation and now I’m making silly jokes about Tokyo Teeth

I will be taking more with me, maybe I need a bigger suitcase. New difficulties emerge daily; getting from Narita airport into Tokyo city will be the first hurdle. The train has been suspended to save on power. The temporarily non-disabled can use the bus; a bus that I cannot use.

I sense the challenge. Will Tokyo, waiting in unaccustomed darkness, be open to exploration? And what kind of exploration might be appropriate? My fascination with Japan’s past; with the art and cultural history that shapes modern Tokyo, may seem irrelevant to a people needing to focus on recovery and on building a new future.

And my particular focus on access; my hope to discover how deeply ingrained symbolic values impact on issues of equality for disabled people attempting to function in Japanese mainstream society and culture?

Somehow I think this may have to wait. There will be immediate issues claiming every available portion of energy and attention.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 25 March 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 3 May 2011

Tokyo one week on

I recall when you laid
inside me; when your heartbeat
changed me forever. And I
watch the child weeping; the father
searching; pictures of a missing wife.
In the small details are the
points of access that compel me
to engage painfully with
hurt beyond imagining
from somewhere the earth does not move
and my house is still where it should be.

Incredibly this continues. The earth still shakes, the threat is still there of both quake and tsunami, but it is all overshadowed by the nuclear disaster. Are we in danger of losing sight of the main priority?

SP believes that the nuclear threat, whilst serious, is being over-hyped by the media. His life continues as normal apart from the continued earthquakes. No-one is saying what might happen if the four reactors have to be abandoned. I am unknowing and it is scary.

So much can happen in two weeks, and my trip could still be possible. Going against the flow, I wonder about continuing my preparations to fly to Narita Airport. It seems surreal.

Friends and loved ones advise against going and I become aware of some of the pressures being laid on folk who live and work in the Japanese capital.
Its hard to tear myself away from the constant stream of “live” news.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 18 March 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 20 April 2011

Tokyo: day two

Earthquakes, tsunami and the unseen threat of radiation; we may not be in the aftermath yet, but jargon is slipping into my conversation.

“Brown-outs” are a big concern. Japan relies heavily on nuclear power and being without electricity is already a problem. Power to communicate; power to produce, store and prepare food and water; power to rescue, to repair and rebuild; power is key to survival and recovery.

I reflect on my earlier use of “meltdown” to describe something that happens to me. I acknowledge that my own personal “meltdown” bears no relationship to the one that is possibly threatening Japan. It is hard to take in the enormity.

How soon can Japanese power production return to necessary levels? Japan and indeed the commercial world depends on it. And how accessible will this crippled be Tokyo for a wheelchair user?

SP tells me that the streets of Tokyo are quieter than normal, but there are still restaurants open and food is available. His phone needs charging; the food in his freezer needs eating, and he is conserving his supplies of bottled water and non-perishable food.

As this day progresses further quakes are being reported, images of flooding and fires dominate the media; images of destruction, warnings of mud-slides and unstable buildings; whole villages and towns wiped away, all these things speak of horror and heartbreak.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 12 March 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 23 March 2011

Spike Island (focusing on the task in hand)

I exist in the unquiet.
I breath to the soundtrack
of a panicked heart.
My thoughts churn and leap without focus.
Nausea creates its own quake
as my horizon slides;
the floor slips to a diagonal
and worry drains me of energy.
My desire for reassurance
dominates with lingering
persistence and futility.

My journey to Spike Island is different. I feel vulnerable, exposed, as if I have forgotten something vital and I arrive with a feeling of being elsewhere. Familiar faces, coffee and mini custard-cream doughnuts vie for my attention. For moments at a time the task in hand claims me, and gradually I focus what is happening around me.

I allow the fascinating New Voices project to draw me in. The laptop is open at my homepage and the BBC silently keeps me in touch with Japan. My involvement is personal, my focus tiny. I’m not ignoring the death and disaster, but like most individuals, I’m helpless. The scope of this is beyond comprehension.

Projecting the DAO website onto the screen in front of us, Colin gives the three of us a preview of how our blogs will look. I am surprised to be so excited. Our discussions and feedback are positive as, with Colin’s encouragement and assistance, we finally see ourselves as bloggers.

As I become more familiar with this it becomes easier to take on board, the learning is faster and easier and I just don’t want it to stop.

The afternoon workshop with David Trigg focuses on styles of writing; on being appropriate; and on persevering. David shares the trials and delights of his own journey with us, highlighting how we too can learn from this vicarious experience.

He has read short pieces of our work and is generous with praise and some carefully constructive criticism. The day has been very good, but I hope this is not the end. There is so much more to learn.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 11 March 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 23 March 2011

BREAKING

Breaking. The word has become familiar to me. I see it every day; I don’t always notice it, but have a subconscious awareness that it is there. It has acquired an association the brownish-orange colour and the marching line of alphabetic ants that accompany it somewhere between the menu-bar and the headline article on the BBC News website that is my homepage.

Breaking; the significance of the word has never attacked me before. Breaking News: it is good to know what’s going on in the world and so instantly. Except that this news is personal. This breaking is the earthquake in Japan and the tsunami warning. It affects Tokyo where I have a loved one.

SP lives and works in the Japanese capital, he has been there four years and is familiar with life there. The implications of breaking hit hard; the horrendous possibilities of breaking tear into me, sending my mind into turmoil.

The email that pings in from Tokyo reassures me that he is safe. His workplace is shaken, but not broken. The workforce has been sent home, transport is not working but SP lives close enough to work to make this possible. His home appears safe. I would speak to him but reception around the work building is poor and he keeps breaking up.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 11 March 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 23 March 2011

Recapping. (the journey so far)

I began this journey with a great deal of trepidation. Physically getting to Spike Island being the first obstacle to overcome and parking my car within reach of whatever assistance I would be offered to extract my wheelchair from said car, adding high levels of stress to the process.

While the first meeting was indeed difficult, most access issues were soon ironed out and subsequent meetings have been positive, energising occasions.

Working with Colin has been enlightening, informative and fun. I am actually looking forward to blogging for real.

These sessions have not just been about blogging, information around the issues of creating an online presence, promoting my Artist’ career (and also the organisation I direct).

Getting to grips with the stressful and often boring aspects of functioning as an artist/artistic organisation in today’s world, has been creatively offered in varied workshops from which I believe I have already learned a lot. I’ve certainly been examining why I create work and who I create if for.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 8 March 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 23 March 2011

Contradiction: morning and afternoon workshops for DAO New Voices project

On the cusp of contradiction,
as in the eye of the storm,
there is profound silence.
Not the hallowed silence
of privacy, more the tortured
silence of war. The war
of passion restrained
by will power. The agony
that overflows the rock-face
in Smoke that Thunders.
Leaving your ears empty
of all the words I cannot say.

My subconscious has anticipated the afternoon workshop. The morning was a journey with Marie-Anne McQuay; a guided tour of written words and websites; generous snippets of information; maps of accessibility from which to construct our own individual offers and requests (promotional material and applications to Arts Organisations, funders etc); seedlings for inspiration.

I attempt to contain the growing excitement; remind myself to remain in the head-space; concentrate on constructive thinking (I think, therefore I am). It is important to stay within the arena of verbal communication, but my artist has already committed to the passion (I feel, therefore I create). The internal struggle results in a blanket of silence.

Not a good place to begin the afternoon. Sovay Berriman’s workshop is a gentle introduction to the process of crafting the creative biography; the artistic CV with layers subtle enough to reveal more than the face value. But I have done my homework, Sovay has prepared us with a preliminary email and I have made my own online investigation. My artist, itching to begin on the ideas of the morning, unleashes the passion and my previously contained reaction to Sovay’s work demands and consumes.

It is with a sense of relief that I realise my subconscious has already prepared a framework where the passion may deconstruct without dissipating; where the unruly energy of my artist will eventually inform my intellectual processes and I can engage with the task of penetrating the domain of the funder; the sponsor; the patron; the industry attempting to weave the economic viability equation through humanity’s creative search for reason, purpose and acknowledgement.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 4 March 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 23 March 2011

Making contacts for Tokyo

I'm an artist planning to visit Tokyo in April, in my wheelchair. I use images and words to explore, through my Disabled Gaze, relationships, social positioning and the psychological impact of the unseen exclusion (for example when steps or platforms are used as a metaphor)

I also work with other disabled artists and am currently preparing Phase 2 of Testing the Edges (Phase 1 being an action research project funded by Arts Council England, exploring and documenting what disparate groups of disabled artists might have in common and who the audience might be for their work).

Phase 2 uses the research conclusions and resulting questions to explore and document possibilities for integration of disabled and non-disabled people in creating and presenting an interactive performance piece. It will also research possibility of the informed audience and issues around the economic viability of Disability Arts.

Not speaking Japanese, but wanting to be able to access Disability Arts in Tokyo, I am attempting to find places to visit and possibly people to contact.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 3 March 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 23 March 2011

Energizing (Preparing for second meeting at Spike Island)

“Meltdown” and recovery images may possibly be a fruitful avenue to explore. I can imagine beginning by collecting images and maybe setting the whole thing within the context of my journey to Tokyo and back. There will be a parallel evolution as the internal and external changes and influences affect who I am and who I perceive myself to be.

This could also be the right time to explore working with moving images and to do more thinking about changing/relative states of being.

I could be taking on too much. I want to be alert to the symbolic aspects of Japanese culture and society and how they impact on disability. And I want to be able to relate this to my own experiences in Europe and Africa. I want to be open to the possibility of being changed and to appreciate new contexts. But I do want to have some fun and enjoy the cherry blossom too! It may also be useful to bring this general process under the spotlight at Spike Island.

I could bring poems in their “Unhinged/Hinged” context and then also in their separate contexts of “(it might be disability but) it’s Still Life” and “Divided”. (That would be two poems – together in their “exhibited words” context and separately in the context of an installation and a radio play).

It is a small example, but I think enough to illustrate the process and yet still remain physically manageable for me.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 2 March 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 23 March 2011

On Reflection (After First meeting at Spike Island)

Already there is the possibility of change. My artist is considering ways in which my disability can have a much bigger influence on my work.

I’ve just had a “meltdown” – something remarkably similar to a computer crash. And as usual, on rebooting, I feel as if someone has installed some unfamiliar software while I was switched off. Sometimes I wonder if I still have any access the old software; sometimes I recall something I did in the event horizon of the meltdown, that now seems quite alien and strange, or even downright stupid. I regret not allowing myself to be more aware of the impending crash. We are not talking minutes or hours here, but days. I’m certain that there is a period when I am in denial and equally certain that I know why: I’m trying to hang on to that particular version of me. The private person finds that very important; the artist is actually much more curious.

Who am I? Is there a real me? Is any of the old software integral to the real me? “Corrupted” is it more or less me than the upgraded or the new? Am I nothing more than the hardware – the empty container? Maybe I have some kind of core program or a default setting that gradually reasserts itself.  I have spoken about this before, but never attempted to work visually with it, or even write it down. As a wheelchair user I am incredibly sensitive and protective of the brain-bits-bytes, having been a victim of the effects of NLNB* syndrome on more than one occasion.

I am the raw material for my artist. I have my own unique disabled gaze through which to communicate the issues my artist chooses to work with. My work has always been issue based, but my artist is daring to wonder if while this “meltdown” issue informs everything I do, it should also be a focus in its own right.

Visually I find this daunting. The only place I can think to begin is with a moving, evolving image. When my brain does the equivalent of suddenly acquiring a 10-bit-per-colour workflow, I always make a connection to the kind of time-lapse photography that shows ferns opening or seasons changing. My brain goes through a similar process as I reboot and, as an example, colours emerge and evolve quite as if I am discovering them for the first time. I need to give this seed of an idea some space to germinate…

It occurs to me that maybe I should start at the beginning, but then I wonder if I mean the beginning of the recovery or the beginning of the meltdown.

And while I give these seeds space to grow, I could perhaps try to explain what I mean by saying “this issue informs everything I do.” In my work I make a point of constantly reusing images, both visual and verbal, often updating/upgrading them and exploring how they evolve in different contexts. Sometimes I feel it is necessary to relate how they evolve from previous states – their previous context being too powerful to abandon. If it does not bring borrowed context with it, the context can still remain with the work via documentation, or by exerting an influence via its evolution. On occasion work can be orphaned from its origins, but may later attempt to revert to a previous state. This is my way of framing the issues I work with, with the same kind of context that frames my life.

*NLNB (no legs – no brain) syndrome probably affects 80-95% of non-disabled people who see someone in a wheelchair. It is marginally less insidious than NNNB (not normal – no brain), a worrying condition that for some sections of a population can be indistinguishable from NLNB and not only affects a possible 90-100% of non-disabled people, but also a large percentage of mobility challenged individuals also.

Already there is the possibility of change. My artist is considering ways in which my disability can have a much bigger influence on my work.

I’ve just had a “meltdown” – something remarkably similar to a computer crash. And as usual, on rebooting, I feel as if someone has installed some unfamiliar software while I was switched off. Sometimes I wonder if I still have any access the old software; sometimes I recall something I did in the event horizon of the meltdown, that now seems quite alien and strange, or even downright stupid. I regret not allowing myself to be more aware of the impending crash. We are not talking minutes or hours here, but days. I’m certain that there is a period when I am in denial and equally certain that I know why: I’m trying to hang on to that particular version of me. The private person finds that very important; the artist is actually much more curious. Who am I? Is there a real me? Is any of the old software integral to the real me? “Corrupted” is it more or less me than the upgraded or the new? Am I nothing more than the hardware – the empty container? Maybe I have some kind of core program or a default setting that gradually reasserts itself. I have spoken about this before, but never attempted to work visually with it, or even write it down. As a wheelchair user I am incredibly sensitive and protective of the brain-bits-bytes, having been a victim of the effects of NLNB* syndrome on more than one occasion. I am the raw material for my artist. I have my own unique disabled gaze through which to communicate the issues my artist chooses to work with. My work has always been issue based, but my artist is daring to wonder if while this “meltdown” issue informs everything I do, it should also be a focus in its own right. Visually I find this daunting. The only place I can think to begin is with a moving, evolving image. When my brain does the equivalent of suddenly acquiring a 10-bit-per-colour workflow, I always make a connection to the kind of time-lapse photography that shows ferns opening or seasons changing. My brain goes through a similar process as I reboot and, as an example, colours emerge and evolve quite as if I am discovering them for the first time. I need to give this seed of an idea some space to germinate… It occurs to me that maybe I should start at the beginning, but then I wonder if I mean the beginning of the recovery or the beginning of the meltdown. And while I give these seeds space to grow, I could perhaps try to explain what I mean by saying “this issue informs everything I do.” In my work I make a point of constantly reusing images, both visual and verbal, often updating/upgrading them and exploring how they evolve in different contexts. Sometimes I feel it is necessary to relate how they evolve from previous states – their previous context being too powerful to abandon. If it does not bring borrowed context with it, the context can still remain with the work via documentation, or by exerting an influence via its evolution. On occasion work can be orphaned from its origins, but may later attempt to revert to a previous state. This is my way of framing the issues I work with, with the same kind of context that frames my life.

*NLNB (no legs – no brain) syndrome probably affects 80-95% of non-disabled people who see someone in a wheelchair. It is marginally less insidious than NNNB (not normal – no brain), a worrying condition that for some sections of a population can be indistinguishable from NLNB and not only affects a possible 90-100% of non-disabled people, but also a large percentage of mobility challenged individuals also.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 24 February 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 23 March 2011

First reactions (Cogito ergo sum – I think therefore I am)

Sum

Ergo sum
New
Ergo, I begin.
More;
there is more.
There is more
and I grow.
Need.
I consume and I
need; always more. New
growing, hungry, waiting.
Needing new; always new
Consuming, devouring,
exposing, concealing. Old
new, growing, storing adjusting.
Seeking the New Voices. Saving,
storing voices, more voices: new thinking.
Growing, knowing. Wider, wider. Saved
a squillion exabytes awaiting
my capacity to think. Cogito?
I store, I save, I reveal, I compare.
Sum;
surely sum.
I think I am.
Ergo sum.
Cogito ergo sum

Being part of New Voices 2011 is both exiting and very scary. As an artist I love to exhibit my work and to be involved in the reactions of its audience. Even just being there to watch or listen lets me feel I am still its guardian and with that, the illusion of control.

My artist likes to feel in control. And the shy, private person that is me hides behind my louder, opinionated artist, but still likes to feel she is able to exert a little modifying influence. Can this happen online? Or will my artist be set free from constraints she normally takes for granted. And will she make any impact, or be swallowed into obscurity? This is scary.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 10 February 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 23 March 2011