This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

> > Colin Hambrook

Colin Hambrook asks will the Paralympic opening ceremony provide more of a laugh than Katherine Araniello's take on the 'Superhuman' ideal being proselytised by Channel 4?

The London 2012 Paralympics, which will be broadcast in over 100 countries, with a count down to the opening ceremony being broadcast on Channel 4 tonight. After months of top level secrecy I got an email earlier from an excited disabled performer saying "it's all tantrums & tiaras back-stage". I can just imagine! All those 'superhumans' in the background getting ready to flex some bicep.

Personally I find the whole malarky about how 'inspiring' we are - as disabled people - to be deeply offensive. It's as if it's suddenly okay to patronise us. And now of course that we can do everything and be everything, it's perfectly okay to do away with benefits and let us die.

Last April a investigation by Penman and Sommerlad estimated "an average of 32 people  are dying each week despite them being ruled not sick enough in the medical test for the new incapacity benefit." More recently undercover Dr Steven Bick reporting on Channel 4’s Dispatches claimed the Government has issued targets for 7 out of 8 to be reclassified as eligible for work. The Daily Mirror reported, earlier this summer that "Atos boss Thierry Breton received a bonus of nearly £1million to help slash the benefits bill." Another report in the Guardian yesterday said that "the government have outsourced more than £3bn of public services to the firm."

It seems we are in a state of rapid change. Perhaps the dream of the the Disability Movement to challenge the charity model of disability has been more successful than perhaps we might have wanted. We're no longer the worthy cause that demanded tick-box recognition. It's hard to predict what's around the corner, but it seems some disabled people are fighting back.

And perhaps some of the messages from the Unlimited commissions will get through. For example Simon Mckeown's 'Motion Disabled Unlimited' animation is a graceful take on the ordinariness of the impaired body. Claire Cunningham charts her lifelong relationship with her crutches and its impact on her love life in 'Ménage à Trois'. Kaite O'Reilly's 'In Water I'm Weightless' gives a textured portrayal of individuals relationship to their impairments.

However, performance can be interpreted in many different ways so whether or not the disability messages of challenging preconceptions about who and what is 'normal' get through, remains to be seen in how the press cover the events.

However entertaining a spectacle Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings pull off for the opening ceremony tonight - in my mind nothing could beat Katherine Araniello's spoof on the Channel 4 Paralympics 'Superhuman' advert. Ready to do battle with fags and chocky cake, Katherine performs the amazing feat of balancing an imitation bar-bell on her finger, in the form of a cotton bud.

We can't match up to the aesthetics of the Paralympians however much we might try. Or kill ourselves trying...
The opening ceremony is being televised tonight on Channel 4 at 8pm

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 29 August 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 18 September 2012

Trish Wheatley looks forward to 'The First Four'

I was drawn into the world of Disability Arts four months after Adam Reynolds passed away. Consequently I never got to meet the man that lives on so fondly in the memories of his contemporaries.

I worked at Holton Lee, where I saw his work displayed in the buildings on a daily basis. His major legacy, aside from his wonderfully insightful and at times humourous sculpture, is the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary. Its fifth recipient, Simon Raven is currently in residence at Camden Arts Centre.

One of the events I’m most looking forward to during my time at DaDaFest in ‘The First Four’ symposium, a Shape and DaDaFest collaboration which sees the first cycle of four bursarists talking about their experiences and the impact that winning the award has had on their practice. Chaired by Shape’s CEO, himself a disabled artist and sculptor, Tony Heaton, the four artists Noemi Lakmaier, Sally Booth, Aaron Williamson and Caroline Cardus, will engage in a conversation about their very differing practices and the commonalities of the experiences and opportunities provided by the residencies.

Tony explains that “Something we never really get time to do is sit down and listen to visual artists talk about their work, this is a fantastic opportunity to do that.” For me, this is a really exciting prospect because I personally find that the arts is always made more interesting if we know context in which it is made.

That’s another reason why I found the DaDaFest Evelyn Glennie performance and talk a so much more fulfilling experience than a performance on its own.

If you’re around in Liverpool at 1:30pm on Wednesday 22nd August why not pop into the Bluecoat for this FREE event as part of DaDaFest? I hope to see you there.

Posted by Trish Wheatley, 21 August 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 29 August 2012

Colin Hambrook introduces The O’Crypes

Frame 1 (from the 6 frame Crippen cartoon strip that accompanies this blog)

The O’Crypes have whet the appetites of many DAO readers with over a 1000 pageviews since episode one which we published on 9 July.

Many of you have left messages saying how much you’ve enjoyed the characters and have followed the dilemmas they are facing in the plight of dramatic cutbacks to services whilst huge amounts of money are being spent on the Olympics and the Cultural Olympiad.

Each episode is set to represent a different storyline about each member of the family cutting across age, gender and race. However it seems that publishing the strip separately from the blog was confusing a lot of readers. Click here to find the latest O'Crypes strip in our gallery section.

It has been a strength of the commission that it has caused some controversy.

Some commentators have left messages expressing concern that our family of disabled people are too prescriptive in their attitudes: others that they are not dogmatic enough.

Episode five saw Brad in conflict between his sense of the injustice at the rough treatment of disabled people in the current climate and his admiration for the blade runner Pistorius.

Many of us are torn between a love for watching the sport and a sense of what they mean politically. If you were brought up in a special school and swimming at Stoke Mandeville was a highlight of your youth; who could blame you for wanting to see those games.

On the other hand the cynical move of ATOS to sponsor the Paralympics whilst chopping peoples’ benefits is an obscenity. Paul Silson of 'Workers Power' recenty reported that “In the last three years 32 people, deemed fit for work by Atos and therefore having their benefit axed, have died within weeks of the decision.”

Last weeks episode saw Nabs reflecting on the BBCs Written World poetry project.

This weeks episode sees Jood missing her dance classes as the pinch of the cutbacks takes its toll on the family. Click here to see episode seven of the O’Crypes

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 20 August 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 18 September 2012

Trish Wheatley gets inspired at DaDaFest

Image of event programme reads: DaDaFEst 2012 presents an evening with Evelyn Glennie Saturday 18 August, 7:30pm with an image of Evelyn Glennie beating the drums at the Olympic Opening Ceremony 2012

What a cracking night for DaDaFest! One act from the Olympic Opening ceremony and one from the closing ceremony, it was as if it had all been planned! Ruth Gould, CEO of DaDaFest introduced it as the biggest night in the history of the twelve-year-old festival. Hosted by the iconic Liverpool Royal Philharmonic and sitting in anticipation to watch Dame Evelyn Glennie, Britain’s most successful percussionist, I totally agreed.

I'm not going to detail the actual performance here, except to mention how well programmed it was with the Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra and the Liverpool Signing Choir. An excellent introduction to an event that had at it’s heart the intention to inspire people to try something new, realise the possibilities for inclusion and that “we can all participate in making sound”. Glennie’s programme of percussion pieces was excellent. It was an encyclopaedic exploration of the senses that left the audience spellbound.

For me, it was the second part of the show that was the real revelation.  We were treated to a fascinating insight into Glennie’s musical process. She started by explaining the very beginning of her journey as a musician when at twelve she had her first percussion lesson. She was given a snare drum to take away with her, no sticks, beaters or instruction. What an inspired way to teach.

She had a whole week to explore the instrument, placing it on different surfaces, getting to know the feel of it. This word ‘feel’ was central to the whole talk. Glennie, through working with her teacher, eventually rejected the use of hearing aids because they would only boost the sound levels but not the clarity which is so key to accomplishing the level of musicianship Glennie aspired to and has since without question achieved.

As a current student of the cello the most insightful and helpful advice that she gave was in explaining that the room in which she plays is part of the instrument. Where you sit, your posture, the number of people and importantly how you listen all affect the way in which the music is experienced. Rather than simply practicing the notes, rhythms and phrasing, she rehearses. By that she means that she imagines the space in which she is going to perform and plays for that space whether it’s a cathedral, concert hall, outdoors or chamber setting.

In answering a question about how performance techniques might be applied to other situations such as a job interview or presentation she explained that when she plays, in that moment, that piece and that instrument are her favourite, she puts everything into them. This really interested me and I’m keen to apply the knowledge that she shared to my own musical and professional journey. For me, the intentions of the evening were brilliantly achieved and I hope that many others in the audience left feeling as inspired as I did.

Posted by Trish Wheatley, 19 August 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 18 September 2012