I’m delighted and excited that Daisyfest 2016 has given DisabilityArtsOnline a slot at G Live in Guildford to showcase some of the talent DAO supports through our blogging platform. So, we’re producing an event next month called Words That Defy Normality - a smorgasbord of humorous, reflective, autobiographical poetry and performance from Penny Pepper, Allan Sutherland and Dolly Sen.
I was over the moon at the success of Penny’s campaign via Unbound to get her memoir First In The World Somewhere published by Unbound/ Penguin.
Penny ran the gauntlet of social media to ensure the publication happened. Backed by Daisyfest the crowdfunding campaign reached 102 per cent of its target, so the publication is due to be released in early 2017.
And now, hot off the stage from speaking at the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World (WoW) Festival, Penny will give Daisyfest a flavour of her personal recollections of the beginnings of independent living and disability civil rights.
Penny’s story is one of a first-generation punk crip who skirted through new romantic pop into being a music-junkie indie kid, always pushing her writing and performance alongside the emergence of the Disability Arts scene.
Allan Sutherland, once described as 'the first political stand-up on the disability arts circuit' has for thirty years been exploring ways of making the voices of disabled people heard.
He has explored his own epilepsy though performance poetry, stand-up comedy and personal writing. He has presented the lives and opinions of other disabled people through radio and television scriptwriting and journalism.
In more recent years, Allan has developed the technique of interview-based transcription poetry, which has proved to be a powerful means of telling disabled people’s stories. Supported by DAO, his first exploration of the form, told the life story of Disability Activist and campaigner Paddy Masefield, before further developments, which gave us The Explorer with scenes from the life of artist Nancy Willis and Neglected Voices, with stories recalling the lives of three disabled people:
In this performance he will be reading from his recently-completed collection, ‘Difficult People’. [We are the difficult people,/ The ones who do not fit,/ Who have no place in/ The world as you’ve made it.]
The collection straddles several decades of the writer’s engagement with disability arts, activism and culture. It starts with some of the performance poems, which document his own experience of living with epilepsy; followed by a set of found poems, and lastly his transcription work.
Dolly Sen has been blogging on DAO since 2008 with her unique and persistently uproarious take on the world. As a child, Dolly Sen was an alien in Empire Strikes Back. She knew then she would never know normal life. Dolly is an award-winning writer, artist, performer and filmmaker, which has taken her up a tree in Regents Park, to California’s Death Row, to the Barbican, Tower Bridge, Royal Academy, Trafalgar Square, and up a ladder to screw a lightbulb into the sky. She also thinks she is a sheep.
Dolly’s creativity aims to put sanity over her lap and slap its naughty arse. She will do this for your delight at Daisyfest, using poetry, art, comedy and sheep.
For my own part, as well as having the delight of compering the words that defy normality, I am planning to run a poetry sharing workshop earlier in the day as part of Daisyfest’s programme of free daytime events.
Most people dabble in poetry at some point in their lives. Some of us turn to writing poetry during difficult times in our lives as an outlet for deep-seated fears and anxieties. Some of us use poetry as an alternative way of recording feelings about people or events that are important to us, or as an alternative way of keeping a diary.
For others poetry can be the most direct form of self-expression when the creative urge takes hold. It doesn’t have to be precious or academic. It can simply be a rewarding way of giving voice to the value we attach to our lives. For disabled people in particular, poetry can often be a lifeline because poetry allows us the space to say things that are often negated, misconstrued or disallowed.
This workshop will be an opportunity to gain confidence through sharing poetry and getting feedback from others.
In thinking about my round-up of the highlights of 2015 there are several events that stand out and a changing climate, culturally and politically, which are having an impact on the evolving beast that is disability arts.
Last March, and for the third year running, SICK! Festival presented its increasingly influential showcase simultaneously in Brighton and Manchester. Branded as a festival that confronts the physical, mental and social challenges of life and death this years’ theme was sex and sexuality, abuse and suicide.
One of the pieces that stood out for me was Sue MacLaine’s ‘Can I Start Again Please?’, which was commissioned by SICK! and launched at the festival. The show received much acclaim from the press and won a Total Theatre award during its run at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Presented as a duo with Nadia Nadarajah mirroring MacLaine’s poetic script in BSL, the performance was like a Vermeer painting come to life and choreographed with delicate precision. A hymn to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of abuse, the piece reflects on the paucity of a useful language to articulate traumatic experience.
Also in March, the provocatively named Awkward Bastards conference produced by DaSh at the mac in Birmingham shed light on critical issues relating to the Arts and Diversity. There are no easy answers to the problematic of identifying with any single ‘characteristic’. “How do you fit content of character into a quota?” Skinder Hundal asked, echoing a general sense of disillusion with labelling one’s work or one's self as anything. Yet still the question remains of how to make the invisible corners of Art practice visible.
Election night in May was made memorable by a performance by Jess Thom of Touretteshero’s, ‘Backstage in Biscuitland’. If you know Jess’s work you’ll know she has a unique capacity to improvise. Learning that “Nigel Farage is at home washing his tortoise” was actually an immense comfort in the face of the misery of the inevitable outcome of the vote.
Originally an R&D commission from Unlimited in 2014, ‘BIBL’ as it’s affectionately known on Twitter, went on to receive five star reviews at Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the UK tour is set to extend until May 2016. In November Jess presented a version of the show for BBC4 as part of Battersea Arts Centre’s Live from Television Centre broadcast and she got 3 million views on Russell Howard’s Good News on BBC Two. I had the privilege of interviewing Jess shortly before the airing on television.
In April Dao’s own Trish Wheatley and Alice Holland worked with Liz Crow during the production of her live performance piece 'Figures' highlighting the impact of austerity on our community. Trish interviewed the artist and Alice blogged about her involvement with the project, illustrating the power of art as activism. Perhaps Disability Arts is not dead, but like the clay figures Crow made for her performance, has been crumbled to nothing, waiting to re-emerge?
In June, I went to see Sanchita Islam’s astoundingly beautiful artwork at Rich Mix in East London. Imagine some of the most popular artists from the history of Art collaborating on producing 25 foot long scrolls using ink and pen. You’ll find elements of Da Vinci, Bosch, Breugel, Dali and a myriad of others intricately hidden amongst a seamless cacophony of elaborate detail. Using the event to launch her book 'Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too' - published under the pseudonym Q S Lam. Despite falling into a medical-model approach, the artist presents a much-needed critique of psychiatry from a personal perspective.
Four months later and I’m still recovering from my week at the Edinburgh Festival. It was hugely enjoyable and I got to see loads of amazing work, but the high octane engagement necessary to cope with the city is not conducive for someone like me, coping with ME/CFS. This year we saw Unlimited take off at Edinburgh with a plethora of artists with Unlimited awards showcasing work as part of the iF Platform and the British Council showcase within the Fringe Festival.
My most memorable encounter was with newcomer to Disability Arts, Rowan James. A part of StopGap's iF Platform, the spoken word performer’s 'It's Easy For You To Say' was not one of the most polished or well-staged pieces in the festival, but it certainly came across with the most passion; at turns humorous, engaging and biting when it came to making comment on the impact of ‘labeling’, serving as a critique of Disability Arts in a disabling world.
The year's 'Consumption Award' for theatre riddled with disabling stereotypes goes to 'Kill Me Now' at Park Theatre in Finsbury Park. Displaying the most abject humour it was an example of the kind of theatre that should be shot down as soon as it rears its vituperative head. Thankfully, the theatre director Jez Bond listened to disabled people's complaints and elected to commission work from within the sector later in the year. He programmed Deafinitely Theatre for a run of their piece 'Grounded' during November, reviewed by Dao’s new-ish recruit Joe Turnbull.
At the beginning of October I had the pleasure of interviewing Aaron Williamson at the Shape gallery during a showing of the ‘furniture’ he’s created for his Demonstrating the World Unlimited commission. When the first outing of the live performance took place in November at the Experimentica Festival in Cardiff, Chloe Phillips gave it a considered response.
Choosing a blog post of the year is tricky. There have been so many erudite, funny or touching posts from all the artists using Dao as a blogging platform. But I think the question that Sophie Partridge raised again about the emphasis on impairment rather than disability, which has been a hallmark of the work shown this year past, is something that needs further and deeper discussion.
There have been benefits. Much of what’s been shown has had a focus for attention on the creation of innovative access – partly down to some of the pioneering work done by Unlimited. Another of the Unlimited R&D Artists, Chloe Phillips was a real find. Her research into audio-description as part of the creation of a piece of work with Taking Flight theatre is going to result in some interesting if not hilarious theatre next year.
From a small award, in part motivated by Jess Thom being refused entrance to theatres because of impairment issues, she has gone on to challenge theatre makers, directors and producers to think about the creative uses of ‘relaxed performance’. Backstage in Biscuitland has been an example of how art can be a real catalyst for change.
On the other hand – in tandem with a plethora of performance and theatre that tells our stories of impairment – is a careering back to medical model language.
This year has seen an explosion of a return to the use of the tongue-twisting phrase ‘people with disabilities’. As though the Social Model never happened. As though we are forever doomed to be objects for scrutiny in the eyes of non-disabled people, defined as containers like Pandora’s Box – emblems of everything that’s wrong in the world.
There was a clear end to what we saw as Disability Arts at the beginning of the 2000’s – a move from an activist phase of work that sought to challenge discrimination in a pro-active way, made by and for us. The last 15 years has seen the emergence of work looking to challenge perceptions and prejudices. In the last few years we’ve seen much professionally produced work with more money behind it to make it more presentable to wider audiences. But also there has been more of a sense of fragmentation and less of a sense of what Disability Arts is for. Disability Pride seems to have taken a fall before it even had a chance to raise its head.
The issues Sophie raises need further questioning because we have entered a new phase. It hasn’t quite defined itself, but is marked by the closure of the ILF last June and the caps on Access to Work, which will continue to make it harder and harder for disabled people to continue paid employment.
For Dao, we look forward to some much-needed improvements to the site next year. From the team, Trish, Joe, Alice and myself, we wish you all the best for the holiday season and look forward to engaging with you all again in 2016.
I arrived at the Liberty Festival in the Queen Elizabeth Park in Stratford with that M.E. glow, swollen glands and throbbing head in a howling freezing wind and lashing rain, thinking “what am I doing here?” By the early evening I left with that Liberty love thing that keeps me going back year on year.
Liberty has always been about a sense of community and grass roots, which has been helped in recent years by the association with Together! who presented an afternoon of music and poetry.
Michelle Baharier from Cooltan Arts read a moving tribute poem to the life of a friend who ended their life as a result of austerity policies.
And Allan Sutherland did a few poems from his forthcoming poetry collection ‘Difficult People’, which to my mind is an astute way of summing up how disabled people are represented by the media and press, generally. Inherent in the idea of us being ‘difficult’ are the reasons for how and why we continue to be marginalised. The poem ends on a typical Sutherland tongue-in-cheek cliff-hanger:
Just getting rid of us
Is what you’d like to do
Which gives us a lot in common -
We ‘d like to get rid of you.
Yes, Liberty is a watered down version of what it was when it was held in Trafalgar Square and the association with Disability Sport is incongruous because of its rootedness in a medical model of disability. And call me naive but I always thought being Mayor of a town was a job like any other, not an event brand.
However, in terms of politics with a small ‘p’, there’s still something of value about an event at which disabled people come together to share their arts and culture in a public arena…
Considering the weather and the fact Liberty’s been moved to a Sunday, guaranteeing transport routes will be out of action and PAs and carers will be in short supply, it was amazing that a reasonable crowd turned up at all.
I’d been excited about Sonic Vistas as Ivan Riches has been blogging on Dao about his motley band of assisted music technology performance artistes for a while. It was a raw and unpolished performance, but a lot of fun all the same. Kris Halpin looked super cool, playing power chords on air guitar using MiMu Gloves. The loveable Mik Scarlett, star of synth pop, reminded us that nothing about us should be without us, and the equally loveable Sophie Partridge took us home on the night train.
This year we were given a range of excellent world music with the incomparable Baluji Shrivastrav, the versatile Hassan Eraji and headliners Mbongwana Star. With an irrepressible jive style style the 7-piece band have a unique sound melding African and western rock styles of music with bass lines incorporated into the playing of rhythm guitar.
I’d been keen to see the latest circus theatre offering with Jamie Bedard and John Kelly as part of Extraordinary Bodies - a partnership between Cirque Bijou & Diverse City. It looked like the weather had stopped play, but in the spirit of true troopers they decided to go ahead anyway.
The wind clearly limited how much they could do on the huge aerial platform - a ladder, come bridge/ boat structure held in place using counterweights. The narrative told the story of an escape from home by an adventurous daughter leaving behind a distraught family. A chase was played out as the structure turned 360 degrees, held by a supporting frame.
It was the kind of spectacle that Greenwich and Docklands International Festival who produced the event, are famous for. And John Kelly was in great voice with a range of ballads and rock songs telling the story of a young woman in search of colour and excitement.
Unfortunately the rain started again and rather than risking the electric guitarist going up in sparks the performance had to close mid-way, with the offer of hearing a finale with the Southwark community choir under cover in the nearest tent.
Overall it was a great day out, despite everything. I’d love to have seen more… so if it goes ahead again next year it’s certain I’ll be there…
We are looking for responses to our 2015 Reader Survey to get Your valuable feedback is absolutely vital for future development of the organisations and to help us to secure funding for future projects.
This year we are doing something a bit different. The questionnaire is completely anonymous because we want to gauge the temperature of feeling towards some of the major disability related arts programmes. We're also really excited to hear your thoughts on how we can improve Dao's website.
We want to gauge the temperature of how you see Dao and how you feel it is best placed to support the artistic endeavours of the disability arts sector.
We’ve asked for your impressions of what it is that Dao does and what content and style changes could be made that would improve your experience of the website?
We are also asking you to let us know what sort of partnerships we could make that would be invaluable for you to develop a career in the arts.
Dao is more than a website. In recent years we have given various talks at events and festivals, run poetry events and supported commissions to make new work. We also collaborate with other arts organisations and provide some consultancy for arts organisations as well as helping to promote festivals through media partnerships.
We connect people to artists and organisations; work with artists to develop and promote their projects, including named in kind support on funding bids, create volunteering opportunities and give informal mentoring through artists blogging. We have also run arts writing training programmes in the past.
We are not sure how aware people are of the range and extent of the work that our small team of people is engaged in or of what readers think generally of the work that we do.
It would assist us greatly if you can spare 15 minutes or so of your time to complete the Survey Monkey, which you can find by clicking here.
Here at DAO we’ve had a fantastic start to what promises to be an astonishing year for disabled artists. Each month we will aim to highlight some of the new content and alert you to upcoming opportunities to get involved with DAO. So, new for this month we’ve published a flurry of new blogs from our regulars, Gini, Vince Laws, Signdance, Gary Thomas, Oska Bright, Sam Jacobs and Aidan Moesby to name a few.
We also welcome five writers who have just started on our Arts Council funded New Voices programme in London. They are Deborah Caulfield, Nicole Fordham-Hodges, Rich Downes, Obi Chiejina and Charlie Swinbourne. They will be blogging, reviewing and interviewing over the next few months. We’ve already had a lively workshop session at Shape’s offices in London and I’m really looking forward to see what they produce. Why not look at their articles and take time to make some comments to get the debate going?
There’s also new content on our Creative Case for Diversity website. Featured here is the latest article by Sarah Pickthall called Walks of Life in which she considers the work of Pina Bausch, Alain Platel and Merce Cunningham – their rejection of the notion of the perfect body and their celebration of what the body does naturally and involuntarily. From the blogs Amardeep Sohi asks ‘What do you think is the role of funding bodies such as ACE and arts institutions in diversifying the arts landscape?’
We invite you to read, consider and get stuck into some discussions on these topics. The Creative Case site and comments boards have been designed to give everyone a voice so why not make yours heard?
Don’t forget our listings service! You can sign up to receive a weekly listings bulletin. Also, if you have an event or opportunity to advertise you can upload it yourself by clicking on listings and then ‘send us your listings’.
I am writing from Auckland, New Zealand. I'm lucky enough to have been invited out here for a shortened version of Momentum09 - set up and run by Philip Patston of diversityworks. It's been great meeting some of the disabled artists in the disability arts movement here and finding out about how the movement is working out here. The pace of life is so much slower and more relaxed, it seems ...