Award winning documentary maker and disabled writer Richard Butchins’ first video work 213 Things About Me is due to be exhibited in Edinburgh as part of an Unlimited showcase by leading disabled artists at Summerhall. Colin Hambrook talked to him about the making of the work.
'213 Things About Me' was an Unlimited research and development award, that Butchins further developed into an installation piece. Essentially it’s a portrait of a woman the film-maker knew for 16 years who took her own life in 2013.
Butchins says: “I made the film essentially because I thought it was a crying shame that someone who was so intelligent and so talented had no support. She was living in America and it’s more difficult there for disabled people, but even here in the UK there's so little support that any contribution disabled people can possibly make is often submerged by getting daily needs sorted.”
“After Cate was first diagnosed with Aspergers we were having a conversation on Skype and I asked her to write a list of her traits. It was that standard thing where you ask someone to say five good things about themselves and everyone finds that really difficult because you immediately feel you have to qualify whatever you say. So I asked her to write a few things down because I thought it might be a useful focus for her.”
“When I spoke to her a week later she said “I did that list. I’ve got 213 things.” What she had to say was touching, funny. moving and sad. It was all sorts of things: far too long to be in the piece, but it frames the artwork. It's both an exploration of how society presents to someone with a developmental disorder and it is also a tribute to a woman who came to the logical conclusion that her life was over - and so she stopped it. Given the parameters of what life had presented her with I can’t argue with her conclusion, but nonetheless it was an unnecessary death and incredibly sad and painful to her friends and family.”
On one level 213 Things About Me is a personal statement. It is a film about how people who have a logical perspective on life find a lot of things that people do and say difficult. But on another level, in the way that the personal is political, there are undertones.
Butchins says: “I have a big thing about the naming of things - and the way authorities reposition and change definitions. So, for example, many years ago some bright spark in Government took the word ‘refugee’ and reclassified that group of people as ‘asylum seekers’: so they are no longer people looking for refuge but suddenly become a group who are looking for something from us. The same thing has happened with disability. By removing the words ‘Disability’ Living Allowance’ and replacing it with Personal Independence Payment ( PIP ) and Employment Seekers Allowance what they’re doing is removing public sympathy for a group of people who might otherwise have it. So you are no longer a disabled person who needs support, overnight you've become a scrounger.”
“And now Aspergers has been ‘unnamed’ and replaced by ‘Autistic Spectrum Disorder’ a whole group of people have been disenfranchised and lobbed in with a group of people with a very wide range of other traits. In one sense we’re all on the autistic spectrum: on a philosophical level none of us truly understand what anothers’ interpretation of the world is. So we’ve created a language and have an tacit agreement about what things mean, but for anyone who looks at the world in a highly logical way, there is just sheer confusion.”
“After she died Cate’s mother and sister allowed me to have access to her writing. And she’s very good at explaining what it’s like to be a woman with Aspergers. So I took bits of text that I thought explain how she felt about having Aspergers in a way that I thought other people might understand. For example she says 'I am a robot in a world of animals, and worse yet I am a robot who has no concept that she is a robot.' She talks further about her frustration with authority: 'Just like my report card said ‘does not play well with others.’ But ‘does not apply herself’, I thought was a little misguided… all I do is focus and apply myself'.”
The eight minute film has an audio narration comprised of diary entries and email messages that gives a narrative to what’s going on. There are extracts of home video and film of Cate making music alongside some fairly abstract images. The video will be shown on one screen and underneath the screen there is a plinth with some of her possessions. Butchins adds: “It wasn’t something I thought about in the process of making the film, but it has ended up being presented like a shrine with some artefacts in a case that were important to her.”
Unlimited are working with Summerhall (Venue 26) to present a programme of visual arts and mixed media installations by disabled artists at the Edinburgh Festival this coming August. They’ll be showing a wide range of artists in the Meadows Galleries including:
- 213 Things About Me, Richard Butchin,
- Infinite Psychic Love Explosion, Lea Cummings, project ability
- Fragmenting the Code(x), Aidan Moseby and Pum Dunbar, our
- Does It Matter? World War I Shorts, A series of 5 films from Channel 4 OD’s Does it Matter? created by Artsadmin in association with Unlimited (Resemblance, Claire Cunningham, Ghosts, Simon McKeown, Oh, What a Lovely, Lovely Ward, Katherine Araniello, Breathe Nothing of Slaughter, Tony Heaton, Soldiering On, Jez Colborne).
- A series of works for screen – Between Land and Living, Nicola Canavan, extracts from Him, Shelia Hill, Katherine Araniello’s ‘The Dinner Party, Revisited’, presented with a life-sized inflatable Katherine Araniello.
- An Unlimited Impact funded work by young dance artist Craig Simpson working with Janice Parker.
- The first full showing of Bekki Perriman’s The Doorways Project, one of our round 2 commissions, illustrating the real issues of homelessness.