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Review: The Shape Open 2013: Disability Re-assessed - disability arts online
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15 October 2013

Winner of the Shape Open 2013 Eric Fong stands next to his video installation Reflection 01, which shows a still of a distorted face

Winner of the Shape Open 2013 Eric Fong with video installation Reflection 01

Shape’s annual visual arts competitive exhibition invites disabled and non-disabled artists to submit work on a disability theme. Tim Hayton reviews this years' exhibition on show at The Nunnery Gallery in London E3 until 20 October 2013.

The theme of this year’s call-out was Disability Re-assessed; and this estimable collection, short-listed by the indefatigable Tony Heaton, in the company this year of Yinka Shonibare and Rosamond Murdoch, Gallery Director, has been skilfully mounted in the two rooms of the Bow Arts Nunnery Gallery in East London. It is showing a total of fifty-two chosen submissions in different media: painting, sculpture, textile, digital art and photography; and including six video works.

The senses seem drawn initially by a particular colour-palette: bloody reds and purples, and fleshy, bruised greens and blues; and by an over-riding sensation also that a spiky or jagged consciousness is imposing itself. The initial feelings of both the visceral and the unsettled are realised: the bared organs: hearts, lungs and viscera, of the expressionist painting and sculpture; and an ever-present anger at the mystifying attitude of this present government in assessing the modest requirements of those with impairments.

Welcome Anomaly, part 2, Jenni-Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen, is a case in point.  An upside-down mannequin hangs by its leg from the ceiling, possessed of seemingly frivolously-chosen and undoubtedly fabulously-coloured body-parts. The work counsels caution in assessing perceptions as to the importance of foetal health; but also, in a light-hearted enough way, exposes the pickle the establishment seems repeatedly to make out of the simple processes of integration and inclusivity.

The exhibition moves equally and candidly between the inward and the outward: a stunningly beautiful and fragile membrane, Latent, Jo Paul; a cynical calling-card, Arbeitsfahig (Fit for work), Jon Adams; reflective ink drawing, My left hand. Stigmata/Hand of Glory, Annie Morgan; a life-changing dice, …And The Odds and Sods, Aminder Virdee; and above everything the exhibition strives at discourse: Beth Lau’s A=Z (Work in progress) is an alphabetical design embossed in Braille which the viewer is invited to touch and in so doing leave their own marks. 

Indeed it is in its comprehensive breadth and quality of the artwork that this exhibition scores so highly. The show opened on the 3rd October to a packed audience. 

Yinka had the last word and, though genuinely torn, made his decision. This year’s runner-up was Katherine Araniello.  Katherine gleefully plays her own nemesis – a crazy, mascara-ed, singing living-doll – in this highly entertaining video-installation, Pity, which comes at a price.  

And the winner was Eric Fong, also with a video-installation, the lucid and focussed, Reflection 01, in which – without giving too much away – little by little a disturbed pool reverts to a state of total tranquillity.

Disability Re-assessed is at the Nunnery Gallery until 20th October. The gallery lies within very easy walking distance of both Bow Road tube station and Bow Church DLR, and thus is a breeze to get to whichever direction you are travelling in from.  The gallery has a good and friendly coffee bar and eatery – so do get along there while you can, as this is a show that is not to be missed.

For further details about the Shape Open 2013 please click on this link to go to the Shape website