As part of DAO’s Electric Bodies project – Disconsortia, produced by Vici Wreford-Sinnott – brought twenty disabled artists from the North East of England together at the ARC arts centre in Stockton. Writer-in-residence Lisette Auton reflects on the two-day workshop that happened on 6th and 7th November 2019
The purpose of the two day event was to discuss disability arts, its history, and the community or lack of community that has evolved around the genre over the last 20 years. We brought Allan Sutherland into the mix to read sections of transcription poetry taken from life history interviews with disabled artists who have been embedded within the disability arts movement, as a prompt for discussion about the value of nurturing a disability arts community.
Some people knew all of the people. Some people know no people. Some people were in between. Some people were a part of disability arts since its inception, some people are just finding their way in. We had two days together to decide what comes next, if something comes next, do we want a next, and if so, what it may be.
What follows is a poetic response picking up on words and actions of all the disabled artists and allies who were in attendance over two days at ARC Stockton, North East England, summing up our time together.
Twenty disabled artists gather in ARC Stockton, an arts centre in the North East of England. Some people know all the people. Some people know no people. Some people are in between. Some people have been a part of disability arts since its inception, some people are just finding their way in. We have two days together to decide what comes next, if something comes next, do we want a next, and if so, what it may be.
PART ONE – WE BEGIN
Tables in a square. A stage. That quiet. That not knowing what is to come.
Hum of conversation.
Coffee, tea, shall I open the biscuits?
Hello, welcome, loos.
He crawls under the table, pops up in the middle, places the dictaphone centre stage.
Tell us all your delicious bits. Conversation bubbling nationally. Isolated as artists.
A lot to learn from each other.
This is the opportunity to discover what may be possible.
Safe space. We need to take responsibility for this.
Learning from each other.
There will be different views. That’s what makes this exciting.
Mirror ball sparkles in amongst the purple above as twenty disabled artists and their allies places themselves in an imaginary swimming pool.
Why are you where you are?
I’m here and right over there. It’s that word: disability. That’s a big conversation.
Can we sit on the edge of the swimming pool?
We mill, swim, sign, scoot, sit, stand.
Drawing and writing has always been endemic to my being.
Smashing the barriers down.
Don’t always want to write about disability. Want to write about boys and getting pissed.
I’m not thinking I’ll write about disabled issues, it just comes out. It’s embedded. It’s a part of me.
Still thinking… Still thinking…
Most of us have got out of the pool!
Sorry – I don’t know the language.
That’s okay – it’s a safe space here.
Building… Building… Building…
I want a disability voice. A real place. Rather than an assumed voice.
– We don’t see you as disabled.
– I identify as disabled!
– I think they think they’re being nice.
– We accept you because we like you. Not the others. Fuck them.
30% of people are born disabled
70% of people become disabled
Disability is not a bad word. It’s liberating. There’s nowt wrong with me, mate.
Disability Top Trumps.
Disability as a deficit.
I can do everything if the world is accessible to me.
That might make me look at the word again. Challenge myself.
He scoots under the table again.
I can remember the cuts vividly. We dissolved.
It’s really messy. There is no perfect model. Constantly feels like piecing something together.
Where the consensus is. The commonalities. Where we can have a voice.
PART TWO – BARRIERS
He scoots again.
Art is about the right to fail.
Hit those heady heights.
Ways for us to come together have been eroded. Fragmented.
We all have common barriers. To be united by a greater force is better than being in groups.
Saying “We are disabled” was a massive step forward.
Constant scratch of pen. Hum of generator.
Cups and sauces. Glasses of water.
Two stray grapes on a piece of paper.
Wearing glasses doesn’t make us a community.
Capitalist. Fighting. Who has the most need?
A deliberate move to split communities. Pit them against each other.
We need to spread the positivity to those who don’t see themselves as disabled. Who hide.
We can’t be all to everybody. We have to make a decision.
What do you prioritise?
– Who wants the disability? Oh they’re left.
– You have ‘em.
– No it’s fine, you have eleven, we’ll just play with 9.
This is quite terrifying, because I might fail.
I find that hard to answer.
No idea if I’m right or wrong but I want to learn more.
Tell me later…
Such a need for us to fight our corner. Fight for ourselves.
Find ways to break through that isolation.
Being excluded can knock you back decades.
I can’t go along, there’s no interpreter.
I don’t go for a drink with anyone.
A clique is not a community.
You don’t have to explain. Being that person is okay. You’re not that weirdo.
The collective nods, gasps, shakes of head,
recognition built us as a community in that one moment,
in these shared moments. Shared
exclusion. Empathy. Feeling it raw, deep.
Going beyond the verbal and actually doing something.
Fuzziness around boundaries.
Accept creativity in all its guises.
He pulls the tables apart, walks through.
Backstage selfies. Audience cheering.
Take to the stage. Claim our place.
Crip culture, crip art, crip cabaret.
Solidarity, understanding, power, ours.
Fighting together through art.
Have you found the best bag to carry a top hat in?
Lights. Music. Magic.
PART THREE – REFLECTIONS
Fire alarm shenanigans. Loos in the dark.
Camaraderie. No gaps. Laughter.
Disability Rights Movement as a Civil Rights Movement.
Turning lights out for the projector.
If you turn off all the lights I’ll have to get my mobile phone light out.
You don’t have our permission.
Some more words.
Reflections after bombardment.
Do I tear myself in two? Or average myself out and put myself in the middle?
Felt an absence.
How did I not know about this? How did I miss it? What do we do next? I’m in.
Such a gobshite.
Only she can get away with that.
I back it.
I second it.
Saying what we want to say the way we want to say it.
Listening with intent.
Listening with solidarity.
Play, spinning plates, labels, laughter,
make together, create together,
talk together, be together.
Disabling scissors. Camera clicks. Comradeship.
I can. I will. I am.
PART FOUR – IGNITING THE SOLUTIONS
The future is making.
We are creatives, artists, with specialisms.
The future is doing.
I’m happy to help.
I have hammers.
There is a commitment. Working towards stuff.
Festivals. It’s time.
We need visibility. Go big or go home.
We will make a plan.
It was vitally important that we were all here together, in this moment, supporting, listening, learning in our beloved North East. That it was recorded. That our voices are written in ink. That this is all of our voices. There was a beginning here, the difference between the moment we met and us now as we leave. You can feel it in the room. We are exceptional disabled artists and there is strength in numbers and connections. In this room. There is a something, a power, a wealth of possibilities. It must not be lost. It must ignite.