It's the art and artists who tend to be marginalised at so many conferences, but on Saturday they took centre stage at Access All Areas, a symposium created by the Live Art Development Agency (Lada). The two-day programme examined disability and how live art lies at the forefront of disability art practice, thinking and theory. Maybe it's because disability itself is so marginalised in mainstream culture (as indeed is access to art by the disabled) that Lada was so stringent about refusing to divorce theory from practice, talking from doing. Live art has always been about breaking the rules, so it's particularly well positioned as a platform for disabled practitioners.
So many symposia simply invite talking heads to deliver papers that you might just as well have read in the comfort of your own home. Not here. In many cases, such as Kim Noble's account of his depression (including the making of a new Pret sandwich featuring "ham, anti-depressants and mayo"), the Disabled Avant-Garde's response to the word "sick", and Sean Burn's reclamation of the language of lunacy featuring a "nutcase", marbles and several walnuts, the presentations became performance. Never for a moment during discussion could you forget what was being talked about.
Indeed, you were constantly aware of the hacking and pounding sounds coming from behind a curtain where Martin O'Brien was undertaking a durational performance. Mucus Factory was inspired by his cystic fibrosis and presents his body as a medical specimen on which he brutally performs the physiotherapy necessary to clear his airways of mucus and keep himself alive. Even the titles of the sessions were taken from artworks, including Raimund Hoghe's Throwing the Body into Flight and Bobby Baker's Pull Yourself Together.
With the art centre stage, the programme allowed for the emergence of some challenging issues that are not frequently voiced or dealt with honestly. Which comes first: the disability or the artist? Does the work of disabled artists have to foreground disability? Is it the artist's task to upset people? When does interest become voyeurism? How do disabled artists use their bodies to create work over which they have control, and which does not simply demand that they make a spectacle of themselves? The latter was brilliantly demonstrated by Pete Edwards, who has no control over his body because of cerebral palsy, but who showed in a short presentation that he was totally in control of his art. Dancer and choreographer Caroline Bowditch commented that she often preferred to create work in an intimate setting because it gave audiences permission to look upon the disabled body.
Another key issue raised was how to create a context for work that ensures it is accepted as much as mainstream art and has equal legitimacy, rather than just being tolerated. Is the answer, as Matt Fraser put it in a filmed intervention, a matter of "thrusting the disabled agenda hard and erect into the arse of mainstream arts", or are other strategies necessary? What are the responsibilities of the disabled artist and what are those of the able-bodied audience who often respond to the work like social workers? Accounts by the choreographer, epileptic and dancer Rita Marcalo of well-meaning attempts to dissuade her from trying to induce a seizure as part of a performance pointed this up beautifully.
In the end, the day provided no firm answers, but plenty of food for thought about a different way of considering art and disability. It was humorously encapsulated by Graeae's artistic director, Jenny Sealey, recalling an encounter with a woman who was astonished to discover that Sealey was deaf and declared: "But you don't look like a deaf person." The final questions raised by Access all Areas were what does a disabled person look and sound like, and what does an artist look and sound like?
Monday, March 7, 2011
The Guardian in the UK. In the picture, Raimund Hoghe’s Throwing the Body into Flight provided the title for one of the sessions at Lada's Access All Areas symposium.
Posted by BA Haller at 10:42 PM