Sophie Partridge interviews Katherine Araniello about her Unlimited 2014 commission: The Dinner Party. It was just another Wednesday in the life of a Crip Arts Activist; chatty Chihuahuas, parents expected later... they got down to business!
I've known of Katherine for a long time, but only recently got to know the woman behind the myth that is Lady K! Irrespective of funding, she has made an impressive body of work.
But now having been commissioned to be part of Unlimited 2014 she has a team of people around her to assist with the project, leaving her to concentrate on the ideas underpinning The Dinner Party, with simultaneous presentations of the work planned to experiment with ways of addressing the challenges of touring the work. Katherine elaborates:
"Using cutting edge BrightSign technology it will be possible for me to do a performance in London but have another version happening anywhere in the world. So this is the experimental element of the project. It’s about using technology in a creative way and creating an equal playing field, for any artist unable to travel – whether it be for financial reasons or because of cultural restrictions or physical barriers – to compete alongside their peers.
It’s very exciting to be leading the way in bringing something so innovative to the Contemporary Art world. The technology is going to make artwork accessible to many people and could easily be a way of empowering oppressed groups. Unlimited has really opened this opportunity up for me as the technology is still in the initial stages of development so is not cheap - at least not yet.
The Unlimited commission has allowed me to handpick an independent producer. Andrew Michelson comes from a Live Art background and has also worked with other disabled artists. He knows what is happening outside of the disability arts world as well as inside it. I think that if you only work with disabled people, your work becomes static. It’s important to come out of that cosy environment if you’re going to move your career forward.
Critiques around my work often address it from a disability angle e.g, social issues around disability. As you know, I use subversive humour to give alternative representation as to how society views what’s considered a marginalised group. I believe if the work is interesting it warrants the same level of critique as any work might. But critics can find it hard to review work by disabled artists, especially when it is specifically about disability. They can have a sentimental view, which looks at the work from a medical perspective. So, I've tried to create work that can't possibly have that reading.
It’s important to me that the work will be seen by a wide spectrum of audience at the Southbank Centre. It's good that audiences will have the opportunity to see something alternative and different. Most people will not have had the opportunity to see work like this often, if at all.
It won’t be the same as making a piece of live art on the street or in a centre for Live work. The context is going to mean the Dinner Party may be seen as theatre rather than Live Art, but the reality is that it’s more important to me as a disabled person that the Southbank is accessible. I managed to find a creative way to make the Purcell Room more accessible for wheelchair-users! So I’m not going to reject the opportunity of making work for the Southbank Centre because it might not quite fit the Live Art remit.
I sit very comfortably as a disabled person within the structure of Live Art. The artist creates a formula, where everything you see is real: for example the alcohol is real, the dog is real and the people are not actors. There are still elements of performance – the dinner party has a beginning and an end – but what happens will be spontaneous and unpredictable. You can integrate any part of yourself including personal assistance. Boundaries are limitless and without constraint.
People often think that Live Art involves the body, whereas my work is more about using humour to convey subversive ideas. I was involved with demonstrations in the 80s and 90s; campaigning for accessible transport, against Telefon challenging the attitudes that charities had towards disabled people. At the time it was dehumanising to be treated as if you were a child. So I was very involved with the Disability Movement at that time.
All of that experience has influenced my work and until this day I am still very conscious of, for example, Lord Falconer's Assisted Suicide Bill and the closure of the Independent Living Fund… all these things that are making life very troubling for disabled people.
The Dinner Party has one guest reflecting on assisted suicide. Many people find it hard to see the consequences and think people should have a choice over the 'Right to Die', but if the Lord Falconer Bill goes through, people don't consider how threatening it will be for many disabled and terminally ill people."
Katherine Araniello will be hosting two simultaneous performances of The Dinner Party Revisited at the Southbank Centre in the Purcell Room and at Toynbee Studios as part of Unlimited on Tuesday 2nd September 2014 at 7.30pm.
Click on the link to book your tickets: The Dinner Party Revisited