Artist, Practice, Disability.
My disability is not my wheelchair. This might seem like an obvious statement. My wheelchair is my ability; my ability to move around with a degree of freedom and ease. Yet my wheelchair is the reason I am perceived and treated as a disabled person. The wheelchair is the reason I can be physically present in a situation where I am perceived as emotionally or intellectually absent. And wheels might be the only reason for my exclusion.
This iconic solution to the problems which arise out of my disability raises its own issues, not least of which is the problem of prejudice, misplaced sympathy and total lack of empathy.
The role in any constructed society of individuals whose diversity highlights their presence, is to ask questions; to take nothing for granted. In rising above the personal in my journey of conflicts and longings, I seek to add my questions to the body of the whole:
Who are you?
Asking the artist, who?
prompts a recital of yesterdays
requiring an array
of pigeonholes for the past.
And I am always beginning,
beginning and believing.
A fluid self that is. Now.
I do not recognise the stranger
I will meet tomorrow;
the self I make and remake
in effort to realise
someone who is more than me.
We live in a society that is confrontational. Our political system is based on confrontation, we equate confrontation with fairness and equality. And, in the practitioners of this confrontation, we accept that honourable and devious occupy the same space.
We base our judgement of character on the virtues of physical attractiveness and media compatibility. We judge ourselves and our friends based on values that we absorb from a culture that none of us wholeheartedly supports.
And in this bubble there is no place for disability.
I would change that. I once had aspirations to affect political change, but came to realise I had no stomach for the arena. Of course, believing that an experimental point of view or a temporary U-turn adds character and possibility in an artist, does rather disqualify me in terms of political credibility. Also, I have no need to mother you. Change yourself.
I would encourage you through art. I make art that is both Disability Art and Performance Art. In my opinion Performance Art is frequently Disability Art made with the unacknowledged gaze that dwells universally within the human psyche. The gaze of the disabled self we mostly fail to acknowledge or increasingly openly deny.
Marina Abramovic is one of my inspirations. As a disabled person I identify strongly with her work. As an artist I admire her courage. In making links between my work and hers I learn so much more about my own creative practice.
Kouros and Koure, the soft-sculpture figures recurring in my exhibitions to say something specific about disability, actually say a lot more when echoing her work ‘Imponderabilia’. In my 2013 exhibition ‘People Like You’ they stand facing each other at the base of a small flight of steps, with the irony of enough space between them for a wheelchair.
The Con.Text conversations which inform their own resulting textual and visual art, acquire increased relevance as Disability Art when viewed in the light of ‘The Artist is Present’.
As the cornerstone of ‘People Like You’, the research and performance conversations: ‘Creatives in Con.Text’ encourage you to meet the performance artist present in your life and to engage with your own disability issues.
Think you don’t have any? Nothing obvious? But then how do you understand disability?
In a conversation with a visitor to ‘People Like You’ I am offered:
It makes me think about disability
it makes me think that the real disabled
are the people who do not open their eyes,
the people who do not even try to live life.
A Fluid Self
There is an element of conditionality about my adoption of the label ‘disabled’. One reason for its adoption is expedience; it facilitates my movement around a world geared up to progress on legs, whilst I am wheelborne.
Wheels inform, but are not the sole contributing factor to my ‘disabled gaze’ and resulting Disability Arts practice, but here I would argue that the disabled label does not actually apply to my artist.
Frustrations of my progress and integration into the created geography of ‘the real world’ serve to inform and motivate the artist-activist aspect of my arts practice; the pacing that sees me out of sync with the commercial demands of the artificially manipulated financial business of society, serves to incubate and nourish the inspiration and evolution of the concepts and ideas on which my practice is based.
As artist, I pace myself around the pain and disruption; I embrace my mobility, I work with and through the physical possibilities.
And my inner voice, whilst susceptible to the creative’s see-saw of certainties and doubts, is nevertheless a positive reinforcement of my value and potential; Being artist is a state of mind. A state of mind that is far from being confined, restricted or otherwise disabled by the disabled gaze
So who am I? Like Anais Nin I see myself differently each day. In a defence of the Fluid Self she declared she was always creating a world of her own; I was brought up in a family that consciously created a world of its own. I was offered no history, no roots, no precedents, just encouragement to explore the fluidity of self within the paradoxical straight-jacket of this family creation.
I was brought up to be free from any bias of gender, or indeed any other form of, inequality. I was created to fulfil the dreams of my father and filled with the notion of potential.
However, with hindsight, I see that I am the product of women; Gini BirthedatterHelgadatter; a long line of women subsuming their identity to that of their husband to create a new performed identity from within the relative safety of marriage and family.
What is offered by one hand is denied by the other.
Identity, composed partly of memory, is like a Rubriks Cube and living has taught me more than a few of the 43 quintillion possibilities for its creation, recreation and presentation. Being artist has opened up the intriguing notion of a totally white cube. A cube that is both a chaos of complexity and an ordered completeness, a paradox, that defies time and space to finally offer me a blank canvass. A white-light state where the colours of my inheritance and experience are wide open to being now; the present.