I’m not working with this as a blog, more a space where I am discussing current work; which today, 01/03/2013, means ‘People Like You’
‘People Like You’ is an exhibition opening in Salisbury Arts Centre, SP1 3UT, UK on 08/03/2013 and is the result of ‘Creatives in Con.Text’ one of my textart pieces which evolved from conversations held primarily at Salisbury Arts Centre.
‘People Like You’ – the exhibition, started somewhere else. Confronted in a small shop by a man who looked me squarely in the eye and announced loudly that “People like you should be taken out and shot” my first instinct was to bury it. It crept into existence as a project – focusing on hate crime – but the project didn’t really take off, something kept getting in the way. I was ashamed.
The instinct to hide from shame is incredibly strong, so poking about in it was hard work. First I needed to understand just what I was ashamed of. I had done nothing wrong, was quietly minding my own business, but in the small shop my wheelchair meant that I was taking up a little more room than your average person. I felt no shame about that, but I did feel personally ashamed to have generated so much hatred in a complete stranger. In trying to figure out why I should take this burden upon myself, the phrase ‘people like you’ gradually became my real focus.
I could relate it to work I was already engaged in: the Con.Text pieces, the soft-sculpture figures and the portraits, and I came to realise that almost all of my arts practice is about people like you, like me.
I doodled grab rails spelling the words and they became a title.
When the director of Salisbury Arts Centre asked for some concrete visual outcome to result from the Centre hosting ‘Creatives in Con.Text’ (part of the DAO Diverse Perspectives initiative) I offered ‘People Like You’
Exhibiting Disability Arts in the White Cube Space of Salisbury Arts Centre’s galleries has a certain resonance. This space, sitting lightly within the framework of a disabled church has at once an air of confidence, borrowing on the instant identifiability, associations and identity of White Cube spaces, and yet simultaneously offering uncertainties and confusions born out of the restrictions placed on its evolution.
The intricacies of the original building constantly intercede to mitigate the single-minded monologue of that bottom line solution, the White Cube; so one aim of ‘People Like You’ is to transcend the White Cube to achieve a multi-layered dialogue which does also span the history and the future of this original space.
In this way, I draw some parallels with the way the part of me that identifies as a disabled person, seeks to do more than merely exist.
Antony Gormley references the human body as meeting point for memory and transformation; It is also the confrontation of the personal and the universal.
At some point in my life my body was reduced to an empty shell. I described myself as a dry, dusty skin hanging empty in a wardrobe, waiting uncomfortably on those brief moments when I was taken out to be displayed as a trophy.
In the process of healing I evolved a version of myself as the Borg Queen. She was my alter ego, my party persona, my fancy dress – my artist was coming back to life as a cyborg. Finding freedom with the addition of wheels I awakened to questions and longings that have informed my arts practice ever since.
In 2005 I began my first version of Jessie. A soft-sculpture figure separate from myself, but expressing the strange longings that marked out my time of healing.
Jessie was me in bed and bed was where I breathed my way through pain. Jessie was me stretched out on the earth pushing down to some erie sense of communication with the long buried bones of the dead.
This early version of Jessie still needed arms and legs to express humanity, but with the construction of Kouros and Koure, these inhibitions left me.
These two figures were originally intended to be suspended, but circumstances kept their feet on the ground and it was not until I revisited Jessie that I finally found ways to release my figures from the ties of gravity that pulled them into the graveyard of the past.
Kouros and Koure are where I discovered how to construct a wooden armature and create life-size figures around it using textiles. I chose white muslin for the skin, a fabric that is both strong and delicate. The resulting figures, taking their posture from the classic Greek Kouroi, were part of the installation/exhibition ‘(it might be disability, but) its Still Life’ Shown at Faith House Gallery at Holton Lee Dorset, and Salisbury Arts Centre as part of the ‘Testing the Edges’ symposium in 2009.
I began on the Con.Text pieces because words, language, fascinate me. I enjoy conversing with people and am addicted to writing; text and image chase each other all through my arts practice. Text and drawing (I trained as a printmaker), are physically less demanding than the soft-sculpture, and words come so easily. I work to maintain a balance and working on the next generation of figures while immersed in the Creatives in Con.Text conversations allowed the figures to dictate their own responsive forms.
Jessie, Fons and Kosta are both younger and older, representing the past and the future. Without time and universal, but also unique and personal, they ask questions of a future where diversity appears increasingly problematic. The physical and emotional geography we construct to frame our coexistence in ever decreasing spaces demands ever increasing conformity – a simplification apparently necessary as counterpoint to the complexities of financial structures, political powers and ideologies that threaten to overwhelm us.
They make visible questions of the longings that thread through my arts practice from its beginning and of the questions that come alive in Con.Text conversations.
This is a growing body of work. Each piece has its own specific focus, putting artwork in the context of its venue, its audience, its occasion, and more. The name is a play on conversation and the resulting text/textart.
Conversations with artists and their audience, and with visitors to arts venues, are both performance and data gathering. I began with ‘View: the Con.Text’ and was quite scientific with precise questions and carefully noted answers, but soon discovered that people wanted to know more about the artwork, express opinions about other things they could link it to, and talk about their own feelings on art in general.
These ‘performance conversations’ added to peoples’ engagement and and joyment of the work on offer and I discovered that by not taking notes, by immersing myself in the conversations, I was able to edit this vast quantity of words into useable material much more easily.
‘View: the Con.Text’ 2011
The first Con.Text piece was created for the exhibition, ‘The View From Here’ featuring works by Martin Bruch, Juan delGado, and Aidan Moesby and was described as ‘an intervention by DAO blogger Gini‘
The edited texts were revealed daily on a screen and published on DAO (Disability Arts Online).
‘Underwater Con.Text’ 2012
The second Con.Text followed artist and aquanaunt Sue Austin as she developed her underwater wheelchair, evolved live performances and showed 360 film of the artwork that is ‘Creating the Spectacle!’
‘Creatives in Con.Text’ 2013
The third Con.Text first exhibited as three scrolls in 2013, plans are in place to publish this on DAO
‘Creatives in Con.Text’ is a work of three parts – the conversations for the major scroll took place before, during and after the cultural Olympiad 2012 and covered a visit to ‘Unlimited’ at the Southbank Centre. The minor scroll focuses on the intensly creative weekend of FLINT Microfest held at Salisbury and the Pound Corsham in November 2012. The secret scroll is a very personal response to a FLINT performance by Natasha Davis.