Ju Gosling reports on Common Pulse a bi-annual festival and symposium curated by Durham Art Gallery in rural Ontario, focusing on ‘important current developments that are taking place in the Canadian art and culture scene’. The theme for 2013's festival was Intersecting Abilities.
Organised in collaboration with OCAD University and supported by a range of academic and state funders including the Ontario Arts Council, the festival showcased the work of artists who also have a strong identity as disabled people.
As the curators Ilse Gassinger and Geoffrey Shea state: “Disability gives us unique voices and diverse perspectives, the very core of what we expect art to bring to our lives, challenging us, individually and collectively, to expand the way we think about the world and the people we share it with.”
The month-long festival in September showcased art and promoted inclusion through exhibitions, artist residencies, multi-disciplinary performances, film presentations and a symposium. Visitors — many of whom traveled from Toronto, a two-hour drive away, as well as from the surrounding area — could also participate in creative workshops, mentorships, artists' talks and educational programs.
I was privileged to be the only European guest speaker at the three-day symposium that concluded the festival, and which involved disabled artists and artist-academics from across North America. I presented the work I had carried out during my artist’s residency at the National Institute of Medical Research and the resulting Abnormal national exhibition tour, as well as discussing the future of the Disability Arts movement and the work we are doing with the Together! organisation in East London.
However, Brits were strongly represented across the programming, with Gus Cummin’s photographic work included in the exhibition of digital lens-based work on the outside of the gallery. Liz Crow’s ‘Resistance’ was one of the highlights of the Friday night film programme ‘Flashback / Flashforward’, which also included Cummin’s ‘Another Version 2013’, my own ‘Opening Doors’ and Candoco’s classic ‘Outside In’. I also performed my spoken word piece ‘What’s Normal Anyway?’ on the Saturday night.
One of the most engaging parts of the symposium was the presentation by curator Amanda Cachia of her special issue of the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, an online exhibition titled ‘Cripping Cyberspace: A Contemporary Virtual Art Exhibition’. This consists of four specially commissioned pieces, including Brit Katherine Araniello’s animation ‘Sick Bitch Crip Dance’, a still from which is used on the Journal’s front page.
Cachia is, to the best of my knowledge, the only contemporary arts curator who is both disabled and keen to use her identity as a disabled person to champion disabled artists. Her accompanying essay ‘Disabling’ the Museum: Curator as Infrastructural Activist describes the reasons behind her practice, and is a fascinating read.
In all it was an intense, stimulating and deeply interesting event, and deserving of its own place in Disability Arts history. There were plenty of opportunities to engage with other artists on an informal basis too, and the rural setting — Durham has a population of just 5000 — made it particularly special.