This week Trish Wheatley and I have been busy making plans for new projects on DAO, getting ready to for DAOs tenth anniversary in April 2014. As one of the projects we hope to develop is a poetry prize, I thought I'd add a quick post on the first Outside In poetry event hosted by Pallant House Gallery on the 12th October.
Simon Jenner penned a review of the event last week, but for those who were in attendance [and those who weren't] who wondered at the words of the wild and invigorating performance of the legendary Dave Russell, I thought I'd post one of his genius poems from his collection Prickling Counterpoints.
Dave gives so much as a performer with a rare quality of complete and utter uniqueness, mixed with a humour that is beyond all ken. I know because I've been set free by clinical psychiatry without a facile solution in sight.
I never go to gypsies to find out about my fortune,
I've cast off superstitions of the past;
I am a product of an era of built-in obsolescence
Where relationships are just not made to last.
My world is morning-grey; I have learned to live with it,
That's a promise that to myself I vowed;
Because I've been set free by Clinical Psychiatry
And no facile solutions are allowed.
The highways of your mind are quite forbidden to pedestrians,
That's tough on me – I'm trying to be naïve;
When it comes to making statements from the bedrock of my feelings
It's the tongue inside my cheek I must believe –
You see, I read you up in books before I ever saw your face
And now it's just your ambiguity I see,
And as I wander through those labyrinthine depths of inner meanings,
I think the only one I'm talking to is me!
I hoped my being lonesome might place me on a pedestal
But now I see I'm in a lonely crowd
Of people all set free by Clinical Psychiatry
And no facile solutions are allowed.
We're half-past liberation; nothing's right and nothing's wrong –
There's just a big complex of different points of view,
And my vast array of paperbacks has so broadened my outlook
That I make all the allowances for you.
Yet you still seem to be present as a sensory phenomenon
and this poor superego can't be proud
Because I've been set free by Clinical Psychiatry
And no facile solutions are allowed.
I happened upon a recording posted by Jim Clark of Dave back in 1997. I'll be ever indebted to Dave for his song Microscope with its ever useful instruction on how to attain the binoculars of wisdom. To be astounded and amazed click on this youtube link... and remember to make sure you have your microscope with you at all times
I was asked by Occupy London to find disabled performers to take part in the memorial service and protest against ATOS and the Work Capability Assessment which took place on Saturday 28 September in Parliament Square.
And so my thanks go to Sophie Partridge, Penny Pepper, John Kelly and Dickie Lupton who took to the stage to join their voices with those of many other disabled activists, MPs, GPs, the War On Welfare (WOW) petition and the Dean of St Paul's, the Reverend David Ison, who was instrumental in the organising of '10,000 Cuts and Counting'.
The title of the service acknowledged the 10,600 people who died during or within six weeks of being put through the Atos Work Capability Assessment between January and November 2011. The figures relating to the numbers who have died since that date have not been released by the Department of work and Pensions.
It seems that the climate of silence in the media surrounding the fact that disabled people with the highest level of support needs are being hit 19 times harder than the average person is something the government want to suppress. Why else would the ATOS boss Thierry Breton have been awarded a bonus of nearly £1million in 2012?
Many people have said that the austerity cuts have taken us back to the situation we faced in the 1980s, fighting the struggle to organise and get our voices heard. In truth it feels like we have stepped back further in time into the climate of Victorian England when lives were cheaper than ditch water.
Without the backing of the Church of England last Saturday's protest would have been deemed illegal. The Rev David Ison gave us the parable of Jesus' curing the blind, which was something many of us would have taken umbrage against, but his heart was in the right place, comparing the story of the plight of disabled people now to that of the struggles of disabled people in Palestine 2,000 years ago.
The efforts of those engaged in the event focussed around handing in a letter titled The Downing Street Demand to David Cameron. The letter supported by the British Medical Association and signed by the Reverend Ison calls for an end to work capability assessments.
10,000 Cuts and Counting also gave a platform to the WoW petition, which is seeking another 40,000 signatures to bring it up the 100,000 needed to bring a debate about WCA into the House of Commons.
Please urge everyone you can think of support WoWs demands and click on this link to sign the petition.
I have been preparing for the memorial event in Parliament Square this coming Saturday and have re-read Karen Sherlock’s story on Bendy Girl’s ‘Benefit Scrounging Scum’ blog. Karen’s story is sadly not unremarkable – judging by the numbers of disabled individuals who have undergone intimidation and dehumanisation as a result of ATOS’ Work Capability Assessment.
From the stories I’ve heard it is pretty much a lottery as to how you get treated by ATOS – but Karen’s story as documented from October 2010 as her impairment issues worsened – is a terrifying reflection on how uncaring and disconnected our society has become.
The process of total and utter dehumanisation Karen recounts as she documents everything she went through in the last months of her life is shocking to read. The levels of bullying to which ATOS are prepared to go demonstrate a slow stripping away of any confidence and dignity to ensure Karen is disabled by the Work Capability Assessment.
As she says in an entry from February 2012 – just a few months before her death: “What frustrates me most is I know how ill I am, but they do not seem to care, and they probably still won’t even after reading [my story].”
The slow drip-by-drip passive aggressive approach of the bureaucrats Karen has to deal with – laced with persistent contradictions – followed by more and more forms – encountering rejection after rejection… all in the pursuit of some recognition of her status as a disabled person and a few pennies to fill the family coffers.
If anything is a testament to the broken state of the Welfare State and that the Work Capability Assessment is not fit for purpose - it is Karen’s testimony.
The plan for Saturday’s 10,000 Cuts and Rising memorial event to all those who’ve died is to have some of these testimonies read publicly to raise awareness. The hope is that with a focus on the WoW petition – that the number of signatures will force the issue of a parliamentary debate on the Work Capability Assessment.
A broader part of the strategy is to gain support from MPs and to propose an alternative to WCA. It’s too late for Karen Sherlock and the ten thousand plus others who’ve died within six weeks of being declared fit for work – but the process of government sanctioned intimidation of the most vulnerable individuals has to stop.
The Disability Arts Movement used to be a political movement, challenging discrimination and promoting ideas of the social value that our experience brings to the world. Now, it seems that impetus for using art to change society is in a lull. A bigger question for disabled artists is how to reinvigorate the kinds of questions that Disability Arts posed in the 1980s and 1990s.
Over the past week or so I’ve been working on helping get a memorial event together to mark the devastating impact of the Work Capability Assessment on the disabled community.
Sometimes awareness of adversity can bring together the most unlikely bedfellows. I’m not sure who made the first move but campaigners from Occupy London - famous for camping outside St. Paul’s, have been meeting with Michael Meacher MP and the Cathedral’s Dean - The Reverend Dr David Ison - to organise a ceremony of remembrance and solidarity for those who have had their lives devastated by the austerity programme, including more than 10,000 people who died within six weeks of undergoing the Atos Work Capability Assessment between January and November 2011. These figures were released by the DWP. Up-to-date figures have not been released under the freedom of information act.
I’m pleased to say I’ve been able to muster a few disabled poets and performers to take part at the 10,000 Cuts and Rising event in Parliament Square and help us to raise awareness.
Graeae’s Reason’s to be Cheerful star John Kelly will MC on the day and the enigmatic Sophie Partridge has agreed to read a testimony from the ATOS Stories. DAOs own rhyming rapper Bonk and the irresistible Penny Pepper have also agreed to perform in a spot after the handing into Parliament of the War on Welfare (WOW) Petition which calls an end to the Work Capability Assessment. If you haven’t signed yet, then please do so by clicking here – as we are hoping to get the number of signatures up to 100,000.
In a recent meeting Michael Meacher told us that he had received over 2,000 unsolicited emails from people telling their tales of discrimination at the hands of Atos and the WCA. On the day there will be a 2 minute silence to remember those who’ve died, after some reflective ‘prayers’ from the Dean, calling for a new deal for disabled people.
The Press have largely been pretty unhelpful in recent years, but one or two journalists have raised their heads above the wall of misinformation to counter the lies. Ros Wynne-Jones has written an article in the Daily Mirror today about the background to the event which is to happen in Parliament Square on the 28th September from 12am onwards.
Lastly I’d urge you to look at Liz Crow’s InActualFact website of bite-sized, but well-researched facts. Tweet them. FaceBook them. Counter the misinformation, which has allowed the terrible state of affairs to go unnoticed.
There’s something about the word catalyst that I find exciting and inspiring. It’s evocative of hope and change but also science and chemistry. The Arts Council’s Catalyst programme “offers organisations the opportunity to move their fundraising and development expertise onto the next level” Through a consortium project DAO, Salisbury Arts Centre, The Point Eastleigh and Stopgap Dance Company are using this programme to attempt exactly that. Each organisation has its commonalities and differences, meaning that many of the fundraising challenges we face are very similar but exist in the context of a unique set of circumstances.
The Point, utilising its excellent facilities, hosted our first day together as the wider consortium of staff and board members. Fundraising consultant, Rachel Beer, who has been working with each organisation on brand and development of a case for support was on hand to offer insights as an impartial observer. The explorative, getting to know each other session was hung together by a group of questions, which we agreed were fundamental to addressing in order to move this experiment into innovative income generation forward.
Firstly, a look at the wider motivations for giving highlighted some common understandings that those of us who spend a large proportion of our time in fundraising were already of. It was unsurprising to hear that the arts tend to be sidelined as non-essential, that crisis and aid appeals are the most successful and that we need to make it as easy as possible for people to give. I found it particularly intriguing to hear that even people working in the arts don’t often give to the arts on a regular basis, in fact those crisis and aid charities, cancer and animal charities appeared far more frequently on the list of supported causes. In many cases that sense of giving so much of one’s time and energy was sufficient personal support for the arts. Where people do choose to donate hard cash was centred on well-explained campaigns at point of sale for tickets to performances and events. Even then, if the combined ticket and booking price were not seen to be good value for money, or the campaign was unclear then a donation was unlikely.
These facts might be more helpful for the venue-based organisations that actually sell tickets. So where does DAO fit into the concept of individual giving? Who would be compelled to donate to DAO to support our work? How do we inspire them to do so? It was fully recognised that to nurture individual donors requires a significant investment in human resources to develop those relationships. How can we make this work at DAO with just two people working just three days per week? Perhaps the simple answer here is that we can’t? Perhaps it doesn’t make financial sense to invest time in this type of income generation?
A spark of something – hope? Imagination? Inspiration? Emerged when we discussed sponsoring friends to take on challenges. The JustGiving model. It’s not a new idea, people have been doing ‘sponsored somethings’ for years. What came up in the discussion was the idea that we are more likely to support a charity because someone we know is willing to take on a challenge for that cause. Just last week another leading disability arts organisation raised over £4700 through its staff and volunteers taking on the London to Brighton cycle challenge. I can see how this method of fundraising might work for DAO. As Rachel says, we need to work on our brand and present clear messages about our purpose, our vision and mission in order to make a persuasive case for support. One step at a time.
The true value of working as a consortium is becoming clear through the process of sharing our ideas and experiences. Sometimes our methods may not match as each organisation operates within a unique set of circumstances, but the overlaps in need and ambition will pave the way for an interesting and hopefully successful collaborative future. For me, Catalyst is a chance to change the way we do things, to hope for a successful future but also to use the science of brand and fundraising to achieve that change. In recent years the emphasis on partnerships within the arts has grown into an essential element of how we exist. I approach our next session with curiosity and excitement as a consortium, together we explore ‘Making the Ask’.
I found myself wondering what David Morris - one the key people involved in the creation of the Liberty Festival - would of thought of last Saturday's event? In 2010 the festival was dedicated to his memory and the festival banners had his words: “Together we can change our world” – emblazoned across them.
True, last Saturday was a good day out. I was grateful for the opportunity to see old friends - some of whom I hadn't seen for years. And there were some stunning performances. I really enjoyed seeing Marc Brew and Rachel Gadsden's Collaboration 'Cube of Curiosity'. Brew's visceral presence as a dancer - literally breaking out of a box in his wheelchair - was aptly complemented by Gadsden's role in the performance as a visual artist, recording his impression on the box made of a canvas using stylised expressive marks. Their scratch performance showed great potential for development.
I was also pleased to see Graeae's 'Limbless Knight' had moved on a pace since its outing at the GDIF Festival earlier this summer. The narrative behind the theatre/ dance performance was much more cohesive as the testimonies of the disabled soldiers - 'the limbless knights' - were integrated more reflectively into the script. This time there was also a bit less pinging of 'knights' on sway poles, which for me detracted from the important message Graeae were trying to get across in the show, that as a society we need to decide whether or not we value human rights?
In 2011 I wrote an editorial proclaiming that Liberty was no longer a festival about disability rights. I raised concerns that the branding of the festival had become anachronistic: it having become a fun, family day out, rather than an event that attempted to challenge or to educate. This year the subtext of the festival - with Liberty having been subsumed by National Paralympic Day - it was clear that the over-riding message of the idea of 'liberty' was that as disabled people we have all the rights we need. The argument follows that we should stop complaining and die quietly - or at least out of earshot of anyone with power or influence.
I've nothing against disabled people doing sports and have much admiration for paralympians. However, I agree with Penny Pepper who wrote on her blog that "this is how the government wants disabled people to be. Get sporty and then you can get work…" The work ethic was the principle behind the creation of the Paralympics at Stoke Mandeville under Dr Guttmann. So, when you consider how much Access to Work and other policies designed to give disabled people the opportunity to work, have been cut back, it really is hard not to be cynical about the underlying message being promoted to the public.
And judging by the audiences, very few people were there for disability art. The tiny performance and music stages had maybe 50 people or so attending each show, in comparison with the thousands we've been used to at Liberty Festival's in the past. The main act on the music stage - BBCs winner of 'The Voice' - Andrea Begley, didn't even realise she was performing at the Liberty Festival and kept referring to it as National Paralympic Day.
Disappointingly, she did a series of cover songs by bands like Semisonic and Bruce Springsteen, rather than presenting herself as a folky singer-songwriter. It seemed that the dilution of the event had even subsumed the will to present something original.
Where will 'Liberty' go next. Butlins perhaps…
I recently ran a critical review of BBC Three's Don't Call Me Crazy season. It received a plethora of comments presenting opposing views, either castigating or applauding the programme makers. I made the mistake of just giving the programme a cursory glance. There is so much exploitative tv relating to a broad range of impairments including mental health, which sets out to manipulate the viewer down the same old path of tragic and brave storytelling.
The usual format is to lead the audience towards making sentimental emotional responses and critical judgements about how terrible / gifted / extraordinary the 'subjects' of the documentary are. The tried and tested approach leaves a taint in the air which tells the viewer how much better off they are being 'normal.'
Having finally watched the second programme in the series (originally broadcast in early July) I changed my mind about Don't Call Me Crazy. What came across, watching it in a reflective state of mind, was the ordinariness and humanity of the young people whose stories were being told.
Because the narrative voiceover was kept to a bare minimum the viewer was able to feel the individuals response to their predicament, without judgement. Yes it is highly distressing and uncomfortable programme-making, but that is the point. What it isn't is entertaining, in the way that the majority of tv documentaries are, that attempt to be 'educational'.
Because of the amount of room given for the people involved to tell their stories, I take back my previous comments about this being voyeuristic television. What Don't Call Me Crazy doesn't project is the usual narrative telling us how lucky we are not to suffer a similar fate because of our inherent weakness or defect. 'Crazy' implies someone or something cannot be explained, but the predicaments presented here are understandable because we are allowed the room to see the world from the viewpoint of the individuals, their families and the Unit staff.
How much opportunity the three girls were given to consent to how they are portrayed, only the programme-makers know, but it's patronising to say that their consent to being filmed was invalid because they are in distress. The support they give to each other through the most harrowing of times is evidence that they aren't 'crazy', but are living through circumstances that would topple most people.
How do you respond, for example, to an individual who refuses to eat because s/he believe, in their heart of hearts, that food is just 'wrong'? What comes across through the support of the other patients and the professionals involved is that a consensual reality is up for grabs. None of us know the truth, because we are all alone and the best we can do is to try to communicate - be it ever so fragile and ever so tentative a thing.
I came away from watching the programme feeling that it had challenged the stereotype that being vulnerable and in a life threatening state of distress means you aren't equipped for any future quality of life.
BBC Three's mental health season continues this evening with Inside My Mind to be broadcast at 8pm. I shall watch with more of an open mind, this time.
In the run-up to taking Bedding Out to the Edinburgh Fringe from 9-10 August, Liz Crow has been busy taking the many thousands of messages in tweets made during the last performance in April at Salisbury Arts Centre and formatting the conversations as a downloadable resource divided into topics ranging from talking about labels and identity, the reality of our lives as disabled people, the welfare system, propaganda and campaigning. You can find these if you scroll down the Bedding Out page on the Roaring Girl website and find the link labelled Twitter Conversations.
Reading through the tweets you see peoples' identities emerge in a context of dealing with the contradictions that current welfare reform faces disabled people with. There is a strong sense of isolated people making connections and expressing outrage at having to deal with having been demonised more and more effectively over the past few years.
So, for example @MYHeardRadio begins a conversation by saying “we've moved away from the fragile dignity afforded by the care/welfare system, towards justifying our existence?” “How has it happened” s/he asks “that in the UK folks think it's actually OK for sick and disabled people to need to justify and 'defend' their needs?”@Kitschmonkey responds with a statement affirming a right to existence: “Identity becomes eroded through illness, and further by how we are viewed by public. I am not a victim. I am a whole person.” @RGPLizCrow follows the thread with a statement about the kinds of games disabled people get caught up in as a result of the pressure to present a contradictory sense of self. “I wear a public self that is energetic, dynamic and happening, I am also ill. I conceal it carefully,” she says. @tippyscarecrow adds to this by saying “It's hard to get a balance: wear a mask and have a life, versus the knock-on effects of impairment. Many people only see me in my mask.”
The frustrations of bearing a fractured identity emerge through the conversations time and again. @IsabelleClement observes that “when the private becomes public it helps to illustrate the existential panic disabled people can end up feeling in the brave new world of Tory welfare reform.” #BeddingOut explores the knife edge disabled people are living on, having to deal with being tick-boxed as part of the process of justifying existence, setting out to be a platform to counter the lies and misinformation established in the press. According to a TUC-commissioned poll published earlier this year those who know least about benefits are the most hostile to claimants. @RGPLizCrow argues against the cynicism and despondency in the face of the immense power struggle that faces us: “If we say 'nothing we say makes a difference’ we've lost the battle,” she says.
Whilst the press claim widespread benefit fraud the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) statistics report fraud at 0.7% across all benefits, with DLA fraud at 0.5%. The battle is reflected in articles like that in the Daily Mail claiming 75% disabled people are 'faking it'. At the same time according to a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, published in November 2012, tax evasion is over £120bn. Government ministers are misrepresenting official statistics for political gain according to the Guardian. We are fighting an ideological battle to counter spin on the costs of the benefits system.
Online statistical data from the DWP shows that the cost of benefits to the economy works out at a tiny percentage of GDP and less than ten percent of total taxes. Getting on for one-third of benefits goes in housing benefit, profiting landlords, raking it in as a result of the inflation of house prices by successive governments since the 1970s. DWP statistics show that still more of that money goes in subsidising employers who pay their staff less than a living wage.
A new ideology has emerged in the wake of the Paralympics as disabled people have gone from being marketed by the media as 'superhuman' to being labelled as 'scroungers' living the life of riley on others' hard-earned taxes. From remarks like those of @DACymru it seems that the Social Model of Disability has been appropriated and remodelled: “The Work Capability Assessment is a prime example of the Social Model being twisted and used against us.” Anti-charity rhetoric has been reinterpreted as meaning that disabled people don't need support to be able to get on with living with an impairment. Further to this @bluehook asks “…what happened to the equality impact assessment?” Government rhetoric emphasises the will to get disabled people into work at the same time as taking away the means of facilitating the possibility of being able to do so by cutting the Access to Work programme. Within a very short space of time the agenda for inclusion has been turned on its head.
Fears arise through the conversations: @lisapeacefrench states “What frightens me is that welfare reforms are CAUSING discrimination and stigma.” With the proposed disbandment of the Independent Living Fund in 2015 there is a question about the reintroduction of institutions. @DebzCaulfield states “#BeddingOut highlights the agenda for austerity cuts, ie putting disabled people back into institutions." "This must not happen,” she asserts.
What comes across through the messages is the need to share experience and to find solutions and ways of making our voices heard. @Onlyfluffyone applauds the use of social media: “From my bed I have witnessed a small revolution begin.. @RGPLizCrow has started it.. We need to carry it on.. Time for more #beddingout.” @DADAAorgau describes #BeddingOut “as a quiet act with a loud social impact” affirming that “quiet acts can have loud consequences.”
I'd urge you to have a look at the site and take part as Liz Crow prepares for Bedding Out in Edinburgh
Friday 9th August 10.00am – Saturday 10th 4.00pm
Hunt & Darton Cafe, 17-21 St Mary’s Street, EH1 1SU
Conversations around the bed Fri 1pm, 5pm, Saturday 10am, 2pm, with BSL interpreter and notetaker
Conversation on Twitter Fri 9pm, Sat noon
In April 2013 Crow produced Bedding Out as a 48 hour durational performance for the 'People Like You' exhibition at Salisbury Arts Centre. Having piloted the installation piece (as a DAO Diverse Perspectives commission) at the SPILL Festival held in Ipswich Art School Gallery in November 2012, Crow had time to consider how to up the level of engagement created in response to the live art installation. Through a livestream the performance was watched in over 50 countries; had a continuous twitter feed comprising of thousands of messages, with extra twitter conversations laid on to cope with demand.
In a bold statement the artist placed herself in a large bed located on the altar stage of the converted church in front of a beautiful stained glass backdrop. Each day, members of the public were invited to Bedside Conversations, gathering round the bed or perching upon it to talk about the work and its politics. One of the purposes of the piece was for the artist to illustrate the contradictions of the private and public self of disabled people - having to put on their best 'performance' for employers and funders, whilst having to present themselves at their worst for benefits assessments. Crow said of the work: "This is not a work of tragedy, but of in/visibility and complication; a chance to perform my self without façade."
When you consider the media frenzy of newspaper reports and television documentaries since the recession, focussing on fraud and ‘dependency culture’, often presenting grossly inaccurate statistics or highlighting individual stories as representative of a 'bigger picture' then the need Bedding Out addresses for showing the complexities of the lives of disabled people becomes more pertinent.
In the conversations that arose through social media, compiled by Liz Crow (Roaring Girl Productions), Nick Dilworth (My Legal Forum) and Dawn Willis, the anger, disenfranchisement and resolve of disabled people comes to the fore. Something extraordinary unfolds as facts about living on benefits and stories of disabled peoples' lives as they really are and what it is to be a benefit claimant, come into focus showing why it matters so much to speak out.
The edited tweets from the twitter conversations will soon be available as a resource. You can currently find the conversations that transpired from the last Bedding Out on www.roaring-girl.com
What strikes me fundamentally from the material accrued by Liz Crow is how much of an attitude of total disregard for the lives of the poor by the wealthy and powerful, at its height during Victorian times, has resurfaced. How can a country that places itself above others as an example of a civilised society tolerate the authorities making demands that people prepare for work, whilst they are in the throes of dying. This has been the reality for at least 1,300 sick or disabled people, who have died (over what period) shortly after having their benefits stopped. What a terrible indictment of the cruelty of the administrative systems set up to assess work capability and what an ignominious disregard for human life.
Coming a year after the Paralympics, with all its hero, can-do rhetoric, we are seeing the full extent of how the sports agenda has been subverted and manipulated to demonise disabled people, who have been turned into a contemporary folk-devil as part of an ideological drive to divide and rule. The scrapping of the Independent Living Fund, due to close in 2015 is the next hangman's drop waiting to descend on disabled people...
In April 2014 DAO will be ten years old! We've had a mix of plentiful and lean times through those years as we've gone from project to project. DAO has come a long way since my first meetings with Kwabena Gyedu at the Arts Council in 2001 and the institution of a Disability Arts microsite on ArtsOline.
After DAO became independent in 2004, I never in my wildest dreams imagined the journal would keep going this long. Much of DAOs success in surviving has been down to a productive and supportive relationship with the diversity team at the Arts Council national office. So it is with great regret that we seem the team reorganised with the departure of Sue Williams, Tony Panayatiou and Hassan Mahamdallie. Individually and collectively they have been key to the development of the service DAO performs.
The Creative Case for Diversity has been a key piece of progression in advocating for a qualitative appreciation of the value of the arts made by 'diverse' artists. In essence it is simply a mechanism for widening an understanding of how arts which reflects a broader base of communities within society is going to have more reach and more profound effect on audiences, looking to see the world reflected through the arts. It's not rocket science!
So for example when Sarah Holmes’s vision to make New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich a theatre “with and for the people” she firstly collaborated with Theatre Royal Stratford East and Graeae to produce a tour of the award winning musical “Reasons to be Cheerful”. The next step for The New Wolsey Theatre was to employ an 'agent for change' to assist them as they “reach out to people out there with a disability who’ve thought ‘I could never work in a theatre’.”
Ali Briggs’s posting has been about kick-starting links to new audiences at the theatre - to move beyond the tick-box idea of creating 'special' performances for disabled people. It's about an understanding that collaboration, involving a diversity of experience and interest, provides the fertile ground on which organisations can change, grow and stimulate creativity.
I think the disability arts community has been embroiled in a struggle to get and to promote access - at the cost of properly debating the quality of the aesthetic behind the Arts. There's long been a complaint amongst artists, performers and those in sector generally that there is a lack of critical debate. Simply, there is not going to be any talk about the art, if you get sidelined persistently by the continual ongoing struggle for access and for money.
For that reason I think the creative case - spearheaded by Tony Panayatiou, Sue Williams and Hassan Mahamdallie at Arts Council - has been a courageous attempt to to look at how far we've come and how far we need to go in platforming arts that engages with everyone.
Now that Sue, Tony and Hassan are no longer within the organisation it is more vital that people to pick up the banner and think about the kind of society we want to build. Unless we champion diversity within the arts, for ourselves and for infrastructure of bodies that support the Arts, we'll see a further diminishment of the range and vitality of work being produced and platformed. Further cuts and the threat to the Independent Living Fund, make it even more critical that we work to preserve our voice.
'Opening Up Creative Culture' - Colin Hambrook discusses audio-description and the work of the RNIB Cultural Inclusion department
I have long objected to the idea - encouraged in art school - that visual artworks, should by definition, only be able to 'speak for themselves' - and that any written or spoken text interpreting a painting or a photograph simply 'got in the way' of the viewer's imagination. Words, when used creatively, and in an accessible way add layers enhancing the viewer's experience of the artwork, rather than telling people what to see.
Yesterday, Zoe Partington, Cultural and Inclusion Arts Development Officer at the RNIB, presented the end of a three year programme of work looking at what galleries and museums can do to encourage access for blind and partially sighted visitors. She presented 'Opening Up Creative Culture' - a series of films about sharing learning about audio-description, which confirmed my thoughts on the potential of the medium to enhance collections, archives and heritage, both ensuring access to culture for blind and partially people, but also for giving anyone, another way in, to appreciate the arts.
The series of twelve short films - available on youtube - contain various perspectives. Gavin Griffiths talks about the importance of having access to culture and the nuts and bolts of what information he wants to hear when accessing art as a blind person. Audio-describer Louise Fryer gives an articulate and animated overview of what excites her about audio-description and the subtleties that make it an engaging experience.
The films come alive when interrogating the specific. In one of the films we get an in-depth look at what words you might use to interpret the smile of the Mona Lisa. In another Paul Fordham from Punch Records talks about how his perceptions of creating a contextual language changed during a project, working with RNIB and spoken word artist Evoke to produce audio-description for 'By the Rivers of Birminam' - an exhibition of work by photographer Vanley Burke, held at the mac Birmingham, last year.
From a position of not understanding why you would want to audio-describe an exhibition, Paul goes on to talk about how he came to realise many more layers of meaning in the photographs, and how listening to the result felt like he was discussing the work with a friend, as he walked through the exhibition.
At the Tate Modern event we got live pieces from Louise Fryer and from Evoke responding to a photograph from the exhibition, of a young black boy in his Sunday best, taken somewhere in the dusty back streets of Birmingham in the late 1960s. Louise gave us a functional description, which was nonetheless creative through her carefully considered choice of words, giving us precise and subtle details of all aspects of the image.
Through poetry Evoke was able to give us an emotional connection to the image and to add layers of meaning which took it from the specific to a universal appreciation of a young lad on the brink of a life to come. By keying into his posture and facial expressions you got to know the photograph itself, but also got an understanding of the cultural context. Through his words Evoke was able to convey something of the time and place, of the life expectations and of the value of telling stories through pictures as well as words. You can hear examples of these descriptions on Punch Records website
Lastly Zoe Partington introduced us to a CultureLink publication she has been working on at the RNIB. Shifting Perspectives is a well produced, glossy guide to opening up museums and galleries for blind and partially sighted people. The book identifies approaches to key aspects of service delivery which can help improve access to museums and galleries venues, collections and archives. Shifting Perspectives gives an overview of strategies for overcoming barriers of access to museums and galleries - both intellectual and physical - for blind and partially sighted people. It discusses the work done with seven different cultural organisations in working with blind and partially sighted people to produce a range of accessible environments.
Unfortunately the Cultural Inclusion Team at RNIB is to be closed due to RNIB focusing on strategic priorities in the new business plan and reduced resources. Zoe has worked in this field for over 20 years and will continue to develop creative solutions to museums and galleries across the sector. She said "the films are a fantastic resource via modern digital networks to take this forward and reach modern audiences and utilise the funding given by Arts Council England to the best economic and cultural value possible in light of recent cuts in the arts."
To contact Zoe for further support, advice or information on 07803607008 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
'Shifting Perspectives' second edition is available to buy through the RNIB online Shop or by phoning the helpline on 0303 123 9999.
The Disability, Arts & Diversity Symposium: 'From the Personal to the Universal' at Salisbury Arts Centre last week, promised to be "an in depth look at Disability Arts and activism from the viewpoints of artists, producers, presenters and policy makers."
There are myriad implications for Disability Arts and its activist role in the wider social context, but to my mind the Symposium itself did little to address the issues. I wonder if somewhere along the way, the glory of Unlimited has gone to our heads? Many of those commissions address discrimination through talking about marginalisation, through telling personal stories and creating social engagement - through for example asking a wider public about their attitudes to the wheelchair - and all in all, like most art on public display, through entertainment.
But to my mind none of those works are actively challenging the status quo. All of the work comes from a middle-class elitist response to the barriers placed in front of disabled people. If it wasn't would it find a home in the Southbank Centre, or Salisbury Arts Centre?
In his address at the symposium Hassan Mahamdallie (Senior Strategy Officer, Arts Council England) talked about Standpoint Theory - based on the idea that those who are marginalised have more to give because we have to understand the centre as well as our own position in the scheme of things, whilst those at the centre don't have to understand anything beyond their own viewpoint.
We are seeing this now with the clash of class consciousness over the decision to spend £10 million on Thatcher's funeral - as if the whole country has a duty to mourn this one person. For those in the ruling classes there is no consideration of the worth of the millions whose lives were destroyed in one way or another through policies that directly demeaned and challenged our very existence.
Mahamdallie went on to talk about work that makes a virtue of being an outsider. Yes, I would say the work of Outside In, the work shown in the People Like You exhibition does that. But does it have an activist role? Who is art as activism for? We have the Disability Movement to thank for galvanising us to find artistic ways to protest through organisations like the London Disability Arts Forum in the 80s and 90s. The clarion call of disabled artists like Johnny Crescendo and Ian Stanton were a lynchpin for activism. Where and who do we have to turn to, now?
Liz Crow's 'Bedding In' to my mind, took an activist stance in giving a voice to those disabled people who are not seen and not heard. But where was the context in looking at how we develop approaches to giving a platform for the dispossessed? I would have cited the cartoons of Crippen or the visual poetry of Vince Laws in taking an agit-prop look at what's going on in the real world. I would have talked about the work of the Atos Stories Collective who are attempting to challenge the media and by writing plays about individuals experiences and getting the monologues out there.
Who would you cite?
You would expect that a symposium on Disability Art as Activism will centre around the role that the arts play in addressing political issues. There is still time to get involved in disabled artist Liz Crow's live marathon public sleepover taking place in Salisbury Arts Centre.
Liz takes centre stage in a large bed. Her purpose is to talk about what bed-life means for us as disabled people. She highlights the contradiction between the demands of the Benefits Agencies in making you present yourself as the worst you can be in order to qualify for benefits and the demands of being an artist to be the best you can be in order to win commissions, apply for funding etc.
The most striking comment Liz made during the symposium was a reference to her daughter's observation that there is a strong parallel between how disabled people are being treated and how witches were treated in the 17th century. If when you were ducked in water you drowned it meant you weren't a witch. If somehow you survived being held under water, you were a witch and were killed anyway.
This is so similar to the situation for far too many disabled people, literally fighting for life in a situation where making demands for allowances to be made for impairments means being told that because you are capable you don't need support. If you don't make demands for support you will die anyway. An average of 32 people per week are dying. At the same time the media report that 75 per cent of disabled people are 'faking it' and the DWP report that the instance of fraud is 0.3 per cent. Given these figures it's no wonder that instances of disability hate crime are on the rise.
As an artistic icon, bed-life is so often associated with either sex or death, with little middle ground. To my knowledge bed-life has been used only once before as a political statement in the peace protests of John and Yoko.
It's a somewhat spooky phenomenon to put yourself on display in bed in a large converted church. But that is exactly what Liz is doing. She's taking her bed to work in order to have conversations about disempowerment and isolation. The live performance is being streamed at www.roaring-girl.co.uk/
You can join the conversations now taking place via twitter using the hashtags #beddingout #truefacts #truestories and @RGPLizCrow
The new look DAO has been live a few weeks now and we are keen to get your feedback on this and all aspects of DAO. We started doing an annual survey last year. It's really important that we hear from you so that we can continue to make improvements and deliver the content that really matters to you. We also use quotes anonymously from the survey as evidence of the need for DAO in our funding applications so good honest feedback really does help us to survive in challenging financial times.
It doesn't take very long and if you complete the survey you will be entered into a free prize draw to win a £40 online retail voucher of your choice (no cash alternative).
The survey is open until 12 noon on Tuesday 7th May. Please tell your friends and colleagues so that we can gather as much feedback as possible.
In his book Future Perfect, Steve Johnson makes the observation that "as a news hook, steady incremental progress pales beside the sexier stories of dramatic breakthrough and spectacular failure".
Here on DAO I believe we buck that trend. Whilst we plotted the highlights of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad we also, through our smaller news stories and ongoing blogs, aimed to cover those incremental but no less significant steps in the arts world from a disability perspective.
This year, we follow the progress of our own Diverse Perspectives commissions, our regular bloggers and other disabled artists without the huge backdrop of 2012. Life goes on and we (and by that I mean the disability arts community) are still striving forward, furthering the debate and increasing the profile of artists in the UK and beyond.
Today, quite appropriately, is International Women's Day and we see the opening of People Like You, the exhibition at Salisbury Arts Centre in which DAO is a main delivery partner. Led by LinkUpArts, it features three incredibly talented female disabled artists, Gini, Sue Austin and Liz Crow. It has been a privilege to work on the exhibition, it's catalogue and the accompanying symposium 'From the Personal to the Universal' which takes place on 10 April.
Steve Johnson talks about peer progressive networks as a means to communicate and progress as a society and I think Disability Arts historically is a great example of that. He says "Most new movements start this way: hundreds or thousands of individuals and groups, working in different fields and different locations, start thinking about change using a common language, without necessarily recognising those shared values . You just start following your own vector, propelled along by the people in your immediate vicinity. And then one day you look up and realise that all those individual trajectories have turned into a wave."
Now the first wave is well and truly over but there is a new struggle, a new fight and with that the possibility of renewed unity, whilst valuing the nuances within disability arts and diversity more generally and opening it to a wider audience.
People Like You offers a great opportunity to talk this through, open up the debate and DAO is right at its heart. We hope you are able to join in, whether that is in person or online, to be part of another incremental step that otherwise might go unrecognised and perhaps be involved a new wave in the disability arts movement.
People Like You is on show at Salisbury Arts Centre until 14 April. For details got to DAOs listings pages at www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/Events
Colin Hambrook introduces the new look DAO and invites you to attend a symposium on disability art and activism at Salisbury Arts Centre
We've been working hard during the last six months on the new design of DAO, which we launched earlier this week. Big thanks to everyone who has sent us feedback in the last few days.
Responding to our last readers survey in March 2012 we decided to move away from the handmade feel and produce a bolder design which highlighted art form to make it easier to find features on specific topics within the navigation.
We're working hard on identifying bugs in the older pages and tweaking anomalies that have appeared as a result of the changeover. Please continue to highlight anything you think looks amiss and let us know what you think of the new look by emailing me via email@example.com
DAO is currently working in partnership with LinkUpArts and Salisbury Arts Centre on an exhibition called People Like You. We are very excited about the symposium 'From the Personal to the Universal' which focuses on the role of disability arts and activism. This takes place on 10 April, towards the end of the exhibition. There are limited places so if you plan to attend make sure you book well in advance. The same goes for Liz Crow's Bedside Conversations which were a highlight at SPILL Festival, Ipswich last year.
For those writers amongst you there is an opportunity to come on a brilliant half day course with Marian Cleary in Writing Interviews on 9th April. This will be a great opportunity to brush up on technique and attend the symposium the following day for free!
Further details are here: www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/Opportunities?item=3870
When I was in junior school I remember we were reading David Copperfield and the teacher used to break off from the reading to tell us something about Charles Dickens. I hated those diversions. I wasn’t interested in Dickens only in what he produced.
To this day I still find it irritating that people feel the need to tell me about the man/woman behind the work as if this has any bearing on the end result. But I came to realise that this wasn’t merely a preference on my part. Whilst I accept that an artist’s life and views inform a work of art, I find it unacceptable that the life of the artist explains the work. It negates the fundamental aspect that art, as a discourse, relies on for its effect. That is the role of the audience. It stops us from giving our own interpretation and instead suggests that we view the work from the artist’s intent. In other words our role as an audience is reduced to passive acceptance, when we really should be engaging with a work. Trying to understand it
This becomes more problematic when we look at the art of identity. Identity politics really took off in the 1960s and 1970s. Black groups, women’s groups and gay groups used art as a means of propagating their demands for equality. So too did disability groups.
To some extent other ‘marginalised’ groups have managed to blend in with the ‘mainstream’ over the decades. Yet many Disability artists see themselves outside the mainstream. Some seem happy with this  even seeing it as a virtue.  Others feel the need to get Disability arts into the mainstream.  Yet to some extent Disability Arts still remains in the ghetto. The Edward Lear Foundation have this to say: “The primary audience of disability arts is other disabled people” and Lambeth Council promotes “access to the arts by disabled people as audience and participants”. In other words Disability Artists appear to be preaching to the converted.
But is it important that we, as an audience should understand the life of the disabled artist in order to appreciate the work?
As an audience we need to interpret a work in order to fulfil our role. But we do not do this from the standpoint of the artist but from our own understanding and experience:
“We can think of interpretations as having two poles, one personal and individual, and the other communal and shared. A satisfactory interpretation is located in both pole but may lean more strongly toward one pole than the other. A personal interpretation is one that I have formulated for myself after careful thought and reflection. It is an interpretation that has meaning to me.” 
Few of us would attribute Vincent van Gogh’s assumed depression to the desolation of An Artist’s Bedroom. We might see material poverty, or just intimacy. What difference does it make to the work of Alice Schonfeld, for example, that she has diminished capacity resulting from multiple strokes? Does it make her sculptures any more awe inspiring than they already are?
Though artists with disabilities may find inspiration in the lives of Schonfeld or even the Cubist Maria Blanchard, the Surrealist Edward Hurra or Matisse, for the audience the inspiration comes from the work itself.
I am not convinced that disabled artists cannot move out of their comfort zone or are discriminated against by the mainstream. The Niet Normaal: Difference on Display exhibition in July 2012, in Liverpool was packed with mainstream audiences. The artist Katherine Araniello, reported that at an exhibition for Access All Areas “the venue filled up with artists, curators and critics from the mainstream contemporary art scene...” 
So is there any future for Disability Arts? Do Disability Arts have anything to offer the wider community? I think it does. Like many historical art ‘movements’ Disability Arts provide us with a unique perspective, potentially a fresh evaluation. It is here that I feel that Disability Arts can make their greater contribution. If we understand that the material for an artwork is the experience, creativity and vision of the artist, then we can see that Disability Art has much to offer an art world that is becoming increasingly tired.
For me Katherine Araniello sums up this approach when she says:
“I am not interested in regurgitating lame stories from direct experiences in which I have found myself in humiliating situations as a result of being physically different, that is, in a wheelchair. It is repetitive listening to people’s negative experiences about disability – it does not boost my morale and only serves to pigeonhole difference and place disability even deeper into a box. But negative experiences can generate a fantastic archive of material and, when regurgitated through art, serve as a catalyst for me to produce work that destabilises the way in which we think about and perceive physical difference.” [ibid]
1. See 'The last remaining avant-garde movement', Melvyn Bragg, The Guardian, Tuesday 11 December 2007.
2. See ‘On Our Terms’ Women’s Art, No.47, July/August 1992
3. This statement on the intention of the DaDaFest in Liverpool, for example: “DadaFest is not about doing nice things for disabled people. The politics behind it have been to get disability arts into the mainstream.“ Disability Now
4. ‘Interpreting Art: Building Communal and Individual Understanding’, Terry Barrett, Contemporary Issue In Art Education. Gaudelius and Speirs (eds). Prentice Hall, 2002
5. ‘Difference is What Makes Cutting-edge Art’, Katherine Araniello, Access All Areas: Live Art and Disability. Lois Keidan and CJ Mitchell (Eds.)
A guest editorial from Q.S Is in response to Colin Hambrook's article on medication and mental health
I read your DAO editorial Colin and found it very illuminating. I'm personally, not an advocate of medication either. Actually, I've been asked to write a book by an organisation called KAOS, based in Brussels, which will include essays detailing my own personal strategies and methodologies to deal with issues of the mind, along with accompanying artwork. I have no proof, but I think making art and writing helped me recover from psychosis and stopped a recurrence of episodes.
I think the main demon remains society, the people within it who judge you for having a ‘different sort of brain.’ I am working with an interesting psychiatrist, Dr Erik Thys, who is neither for nor against medication. He's also a practicing artist and musician!
What I did notice, working with people diagnosed with 'schizophrenia', on my latest scroll project was that they seemed 'changed' on long term medication. They had a certain manner and way of talking and moving, the physiological effects were self-evident, but they remained wonderful open people. I would go as far to say that all of us who have experienced psychosis were ‘naked in the room’ not literally, but psychologically. Psychosis strips the mortal bare of everything. They also found working on the scroll to be immensely beneficial to them mentally.
Interestingly, most people have no idea that I have ‘mental health’ issues. Oh how I hate that term. Nor do they have any inkling that I have experienced ‘multiple psychotic episodes’ - oh I how I loathe that expression too. The problem with both these terms is that they are extremely loaded with erroneous stereotypes and any admission of either is tantamount to professional or social suicide (tacit or overt), which is why people remain silent and then break down behind closed doors or end up exploding mentally and causing a wave of destruction personally or otherwise.
I would argue, in my case, that my brain is just fine, it’s a curious, probing mind, and society has slowly pricked it leaving tiny lacerations that have not properly healed and psychosis was probably one too many lacerations that created cracks tantamount to an earthquake. This is a better description of what has happened inside my head. How can we assume that pills can erase the devastation caused by a brain earthquake. It is ludicrous?
I really appreciate your drawings. Tracey Emin once referred to my drawings as Brain Drawings and I think yours fit that description too. I’ve been examining them very closely, studying the details and there are so many parallels with my own style of drawing, the maniacal attention to detail the recurrence of certain mark making. I found the same visual parallels with the work of the Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, which makes me wonder if psychosis unlocks certain creative doors in the mind that are closed off to others. It is the same with the poems; the visual motifs that recur within them are very familiar.
There is an intensity in your/our work that can only come from experiencing psychosis, and the mark making serves as an alternative form of medication, by distracting the mind, by using the hands, by creating something on a piece of blank whiteness and transferring the memories that continue to haunt and refuse to budge.
Coming through the other side of psychosis can be lonely, some people don’t come ‘back’ but if you do return to the ‘real world’ it can seem more hostile and unforgiving than before. Psychosis is traumatic and unless you have experienced it, no one can begin to fathom what you have been through, you try to explain it, but each person’s experience is unique because psychosis transports you to a parallel universe where you reign supreme and everything is heightened. I see those details in your poems, but the experience remains unique to you, just as mine is unique to me and it’s hard for other people to access such an alien world.
I think there are parallels in what we are both trying to do and there are not many people on the same page, not many people who want to go there. You are brave by putting your poems online, by putting your mind out there and not feeling ashamed of what you have been through. I hope one day to find the same courage.
It's a relief though to know that 'you are not alone.'
The problem is no one wants to talk about psychosis properly. In certain programmes I have listened to on the radio it's dealt with superficially (my personal opinion) or as something novel/intriguing/freakish/voyeuristic, perhaps it is just not possible to distill the experience without alienating the listener with all the immense detail and nuances.
Psychosis is tantamount to a complex painting that you can’t fathom in one sitting. It takes years to penetrate the layers and work out the very first brush stroke of a painting that has no form and yet encompasses the universe that all our minds are capable of being.
Here's wishing all DAO readers love and peace over the festive season from the Criptarts and all of us at Disability Arts Online
Trish and I would like to take this opportunity to wish all DAO readers a very happy, peaceful holiday and to thank all our contributors and trainees for their continued support and engagement this year.
We had a tremendous time covering the work resulting from the Unlimited commissions and the Cultural Olympiad. There was a huge amount of excitement once all the commissions reached the Southbank Centre, as reflected on the Unlimited @ Southbank blog.
There are more treats to come with further developments from some of the existing work!
Plus we are planning a new look DAO to be unveiled in early 2013!
I've been mulling over the range of comments that were entered in last weeks online debate as posted in DAOs editorial. In response I have to say, first off, that we have stop thinking of disability as a physical attribute. Disability is a state of inequality brought about as a result of oppression within society. This is often to do with physical barriers and lack of physical access, but it is also because of attitudinal barriers.
What I would like to emphasise to those who would trivialise mental health issues and deny them as being a disability issue, is that what they have to take on board is that we have been living in a war of attrition with psychiatry ever since chlorpromazine was announced as the wonder drug in 1955. At that point in time the so-called pharmacological revolution introduced the concept of mental illness resulting from a chemical imbalance in the brain, with glib ideas about how the brain works, used as if 'chemical imbalance' were a known pathology.
Over the past 57 years anti-psychotic medication has caused unwritten, untold damage as the power relationships maintained by the medical model of psychiatry remain underpinned by the large pharmaceutical companies, who continue to dole out the idea that their drugs can and do 'cure'. The arguments the psychiatric profession proffer correlate with the kind of arguments enforced by witch-finders in the 300 years or so of the state persecution of witches.
Once submitted to the ducking stool, it was proof of your guilt and allegiance to evil if you rose to the top of the water; and of your innocence if you drowned. Similarly, under the rules of psychiatric intervention if you admit to being ill and take your medication, then you are getting 'better'. If you refuse and deny the professionals' reflection on how you 'present', then you are ill and therefore need further medication. No-matter that psychiatric medication itself has been proven to cause chemical imbalance and to shrink the actual size of the brain. The terrible thing is that like many, addictive illicit drugs which alter the brains chemistry, the impact of neuroleptics is devastating if, once introduced, they are not taken away over time and with careful consideration. What we are living in is a state of institutional abuse at a national level in which millions of individuals in the west are being systematically poisoned in the belief that this is somehow for the greater good.
I went to the Open Paradigm conference last Friday. US Journalist Robert Whitaker (author of Mad in America) talked through psychiatry's own statistics on how dangerous and ineffective psychiatric medication is. He discussed the statistics for how neuroleptic drugs intervene with brain chemistry; how preventing the brains production of dopamine is like driving a car with the brakes on. He discussed the rates of low age expectancy for individuals on neuroleptics long-term, the long-term brain damage through brain shrinkage, tardive dyskinesia and akithisa, which are a physical manifestation of a brain trying to produce dopamine naturally, when the transmitters are being blocked by the 'medication'. He also discussed the financial costs of disabling people through making them incapable of functioning in any capacity for work or study. He discussed the statistics produced by NIMH and all the research into neuroleptic drugs from the introduction of chlorpromazine in 1955 to statistics around the current 'wonder drug' clozapine. He was passionate and took on board how very upsetting the information he has gleaned would be for the 120 or so people in the room, many of us whom were survivors.
In a constructive response psychotherapist Nick Putman talked about his experience of the Finnish Open Dialogue psychiatric model which was introduced as the method of treatment in the mid-1990s. West Lapland has gone from being the country with the highest incidence of 'schizophrenia' in Europe per capita to the country with the least incidence. Why? Because the Open Dialogue method advocates medication as the very last resort. It advocates looking at psychosis as a breakdown in communication between people, rather than a breakdown 'in' people. It advocates setting aside the traditional power relations between doctor and patient through a process of mirroring.
Open Dialogue is in accord with other developments in psychiatric care, such as the Soteria project developed by Loren Mosher in Canada. Now there have been moves to establish a Soteria house in Brighton, East Sussex. The root meaning of psychiatry is care of the soul. Yet the medical model approach defines us by our symptoms of anxiety, depression or psychosis. It puts us in the control of the professionals and the government puts itself in the position of protecting the public from the ‘mentally ill.’
The beauty of the Soteria and the Open Dialogue approaches are that they offer potential for a paradigm of care which takes the notion of the individual being in a state of 'division'; of having a divided self; and looks at unravelling how that person has entered into a state of division from other people.
I don't know how we move forward to creating a fairer society, one which breaks down the barriers which disable us? But to say that "the mainstreaming of mental illness is a greater problem than the genuine problems that need support and assistance" is to ignore hundreds of years of persecution and to lay a foundation for an argument that will lead us straight back to the gas chamber.
I am an old clock. Tick Tock Tick Tock I call myself a disabled clock because the experience of impairments that I had over time is one of discrimination. The response of society to my impairments led me to a less than useful places where I was brutalised by watchmakers, not clockmakers, with callouses – later it meant restricted employment opportunities – and later still to mental health issues. Tick Tock Tick Tock .
I tried with varying shades of success to mainstream, to throw the status of 'impaired' away, to forget, negate, the experience. It worked up to a point. Tick. I met the social model, standing firm, and took on the term disabled clock on the basis of my life story and the thinking that went with the model. I am very clear what the term means to me. Tock. It doesn’t surprise me that other people don’t know it, and don’t understand it. They have been denied access to the model as much as I had no working class access to a golf club in my time of manufacture. I don’t regret never having teed off in the 19th hole but it bothers me somewhat that society refuses to listen to the model. Tick Tock Tick Tock. Should I ever get big and become an artist clock then people may refer to me as a disabled artist clock. I have no problem with this. Let them call me what they will. Let them focus on me. Let them focus on the work. If I put it out there they can do with it as they wish. Was Van Gogh not as interesting as his paintings? Was the quality of his work any less for his experience of mental ill health? Does not the man or woman or clock and the life that they share inform the work produced? Tick tock tick .
But, what of disability arts work…. seconds out…. Does it have to be thematic, a piece of activism. What of the doodle that I’m drawing on my hands right now? What is that? What’s the point of it? Isn’t it just a pen consuming time, is it a bit of fun, something that I can just wash off but art nonetheless and from me, in its moment of existence, Disabled Art? Tick tock. This old clock is a good strong clock. It has survived the test of time. I have quality as a clock. I’m well made. I’m stand up to time and yet also for time. These are my qualities. My raision detr’e. But what if I was less of a clock. A cheap Taiwanese import perhaps. Would it mean that I wasn't a clock. Tick Tock Ticking off. Does not the sound it make give its beating springs pleasure? Does it not somehow achieve the same thing as I when it produces the wondrous sound of tick tock.
It certainly feels significant that I define. I self define. I define in accordance with the social model. But the trend that I’m asked to consider taking on is not to actively prove my status. To not say these are my impairments. This is where my springs have sprung. If I am slowing down in my advanced age, losing time, do I have to say why? I have always been proud to state my impairments, though perhaps the old one should now only be called a long lasting illness or some such schmuck. Tick tuck, tick tuck.
Should you not have noticed one of my hands is smaller than the other. I guess the point there is if I tell the time and tell it correctly and in the fine tradition that I adhere to, does it matter that my spring has sprung. My time telling is still strong. I have qualities. But let me make sure you know this too. So does my cheap Taiwanese import friend. But only one of us ticks and tocks. I take pleasure in his company. My Taiwanese friend and I share space on a mantelpiece with many other clocks. It’s a fine array. We are part of a collection, which extends beyond the shelf and indeed out beyond the room that we sit in. We are in a very fine house. Its called ‘Broad Church’. We all have place here. We all produce. We do it at our own levels, in ways that give us pleasure. There is no shoo shoo-ing here. Just appreciative ticks and the occasionally louder tock. Believe it or not one day the man who funds the collection, not the one who maintains it, had the idea that we should separate the tickers from the tockers. Silly Sod. Tick Tock Tick Tock. He said he didn’t like the tick, only the tock. Unbelievable.
I do look around at the clocks that I can see sometimes. Some like me, need support. Fortunately we are easily wound up. Low maintenance. Others have more sophisticated support needs. I’m really happy here. I have no desire to get off the shelf and see around ‘Broad Church’. But sometimes when taken down I feel the giddy thrill of being spun around and I can sometimes see into other rooms where other clocks live. Their situtations seem no better than mine. They seem to have no greater representation than I do. I guess that’s the problem with clock collections. We are all only clocks after all. Tick tock. We have no great need for access to the other rooms up on my shelf. The cultural mix is very good. Next to my Tawainese friend, there’s a Swiss, a Viennese. It is a very rich culture here.
I think I can say from personal experience that I am an expert, but clocks have changed over time. Look around. Youngsters are going digital. None of the digital clocks would have called themselves digital 50 years ago before digital was invented. Our understanding was limited. This new understanding seems important to me. It enhances the culture. Does not diminish it. Does not make a Tick a tic or a tock a toc. And on this I wonder how I would fare as a clock in the opinion of other Timesters. I wonder what sun dials, calendars and diaries would think of the sound I make. They've all been around somewhat longer than myself. I have presented my sound to them. They don't seem that interested. They do not give a tock. It’s no wonder they never sought to find out what makes us tick. I think I have said already, memory fades, that I am a good clock. I have talked about quality; I know this. But, should I have also said that sometimes I feel like a strong clock, a proud clock, even an angry clock. Yes!!!! Sometimes when pushed you can really hear my tick tock. What do we want? Time. When do we want it? Now.
I have however started to wonder now, whilst writing this piece, whether it is a good thing for me to stay on the mantelpiece or even within this house called ‘Broad Church’. That's what debate does I suppose. I'm thinking about who else I could be useful too. It’s all very fine, sitting here, hour after hour, but it’s starting to feel claustrophobic. Like I said, I've not been in the other rooms, never mind outside of the house. What would happen if I did? Would anyone recognise my face? Am I simply pigeon holing myself? Should I be able to get outside how would I be in the wider world? It’s a thought. And it took time to get there. Tick Tock. I also have to consider now, because of an over heard comment uttered by a passer by. What is a clock? Am I a clock because I am a clock? Will I end life as a clock because I started life this way too? Is it the purpose of a clock to be a clock? Surely there will be no end to time. So when people face my face and see time, is it only time and what happens when they are no longer looking at time? So, many issues to chew over time with. Oh well!! Tick Tock. Tick. Tock.
Last week DAOs FaceBook group was the site of a raging debate about disability, art and identity. Between 19-27 November members of the group posted something in the region of 15,000 words in 122 posts. Responses were passionate. It was a valuable debate testing the validity, or otherwise of Disability Art, a Disability Arts Movement and of definitions of being a 'disabled artist'.
Many of the contributions question the social model ethic of 'self-definition' and the validity of art that is informed by identity. The debate was prompted by Katherine Araniello questioning "a trend in disability culture of becoming a 'broad church' to include a wide range of illnesses, and character traits which have been problematised through both self-definition and current political thinking that we are all suffering from trauma and mental illness."
I guess it depends on your perspective. From my own experience of mental health issues I have no doubt that mental health is 'disability' issue. The most disabling aspect being the lack of an arena to talk about the issues outside of a 'medicalised' approach.
There has been the biggest backlash in the Press in recent years against disabled people, and in particular disabled people with mental health issues, for receiving disability benefits. According to the report published by Inclusion London a year ago, the press have been putting out the message that the majority of disabled people are only pretending to be disabled people. We are not who we say we are, but simply fraudsters. The mainstream view ignores the understanding of the disability movement of disability as oppression - as standing for the barriers that society places in front of people.
So what has this all got to do with art? Many feel that the politics around identity get in the way of art; that identifying as a disabled artist takes away from the value of the work produced.
I've been asked by several people who took part in the debate to post the comments from the DAO FaceBook group so you can read the arguments for yourself and continue the debate!
Last night was the 21st Anniversary of Survivors’ Poetry. It’s not difficult to fill the Poetry Café in Betterton Street, London, but it was a suitable venue for what was for me, an emotional occasion. Being involved with Survivors’ Poetry through the 1990s was instrumental in my getting involved with the Disability Arts Movement.
Joe Bidder was then and remains to this day, an engaging mentor and advocate. Without him I would never have been able to move forward with the work I’ve done within the Disability Arts Movement over the last twenty years. At the event he reminded us how instrumental Arts Council were, then, through the vision of Bushey Kelly, in establishing Survivors’ Poetry. Joe reminded us how radical and effective the group was in establishing the first ever Arts Charity staffed and run exclusively by survivors of the mental health system.
Another founding member Frank Bangay recalled how much of the organisation of gigs and workshops, back in the day, happened from his ‘office’ in the local telephone box! Frank’s poetry always stirs with a spirit for understanding and compassion, arresting the listener with images of the healing power of nature. Accompanied on guitar by Alastair Murray and with a mean harmonica in hand he gave us his song of hope for England.
Frank has been a cornerstone of the Survivor Arts movement since the 1980s and continues to be a prolific writer and producer though his work with Core Arts. I’d recommend reading an interview with him by Xochitl Tuck published in the Spring/ Summer 2005 edition of Survivors’ Poetry Express.
Another founding member Hilary Porter, talked about her initial reticence, followed by her gratitude for everything that Survivors’ Poetry has meant to her. I remember her dedication to making the events and workshops all those years ago so welcoming. Her self-effacing, warm nature were an inspiration that kept the Survivors’ spirit alive through many years.
Razz has also been there since the beginning. He continues to bring an ineffable charm and enthusiasm to the performances and workshops he organises with Xochitl and takes part in at the Poetry Cafe and Tottenham ‘Chances’.
The event made me realize how much I miss the spirit of survivors performing and the gentle supportive vibe that is such a hallmark of what is so valuable and necessary to giving survivors of the mental health system a space to express ourselves and to cope in a world that can be so cruel and insensitive towards those of us who struggle in our daily lives.
Simon Jenner continues to keep Survivors’ Poetry going. The website contains some great live films of performances by various members of the group, including some of the wit and wisdom of the fourth founding member of the group, Peter Campbell, who unfortunately was unable to make the anniversary night. When Peter talks about the presence of God on Cricklewood station you just know he speaks truth. Go to http://www.survivorspoetry.org/the-poetry/performances/ for some real gems.
I often edit DAO from my bed. As someone with ME who has limited capacity for getting out and about responding to emails, publishing and sub-editing are frequently done between bouts of resting in bed.
So when Liz Crow sent DAO a proposal for a Diverse Perspectives commission for an artwork involving a live bed-in I was particularly intrigued. Her intention for the live performance was to make a statement about the immense contradiction between the public face of the artist as someone with an extrovert ego, capable of juggling demands from all directions; and the private face of the individual for whom every outing means a whole level of demand that has to remain hidden to justify any level of support from the state.
The performance also has a connection with Yoko Ono and John Lennon's bed-in staged as an act of nonviolent protest in support of peace, over forty years ago now. Knowing that their wedding would cause a huge stir in the press, the couple decided to use the opportunity to invite the press to their bedroom to talk about world peace.
There is something about the function the bed plays and the taboo that surrounds what happens in bed, that will make an interesting starting point for the emerging artwork. Bedding In is also an exploration of ‘the gaze’. The disabled body has long been subject to the fascination of others, with a long history of images of disabled people as subjects of tragedy and pity in circus sideshows, the poster child and medical demonstrations. The live performance will, in part, be about how the audience responds and how Crow controls the gaze she is subject to.
Each day, members of the public will be invited to join the artist in Bedside Conversations at Ipswich Art School Gallery until 3 November - gathering round the bed or perching upon it to talk about the work, its backdrop, its politics.
To find out more about Liz Crow's work go to Roaring Girl Productions
I wanted to write a quick update on where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. On 31 October Simon Raven produced a vibrant event at the Camden Arts Centre to celebrate the ending of his residency there as part of his Adam Reynolds Bursary awarded by Shape.
There was inevitably a Halloween theme to Simon’s ‘Ghost Writer Party’. People were dressed suitably as Dorian Grey, Edgar Allan Poe and there were several Miss Havisham’s knocking around.
Simon did a performance which involved washing bones that he’d found whilst mudlarking on the banks of the Thames to the tune of wild, dissonant music. There is a slightly macabre, effecting humour that runs through Simon’s approach to making work. The finale of the event was a prize giving of several of his paintings of Pugs in Space to the best dressed.
Simon says: “The residency at CAC has been a wonderful experience for me on every level and I'm thrilled to have been able to do so much and make a lot of work/new friends."
The South London Gallery, made a film about his residency and he also made a performance to camera for them, which will appear on their website at some point soon.
His next show is at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) on the Jubilee Campus, Nottingham University. A catalogue with an interview is being produced so I'm hoping to organize a review of the show when it happens.
I am looking forwards to seeing the films Simon made during his CAC residency. Watch this space for more news.