This is the first in a series of compulsions. It will be shown at DCA - maybe in a variety of guises - but it is currently on display as a text based intervention at the Art House, Wakefield in my solo exhibition - Promise Me
(I wrote the following in response to my work at DCA on the a-n website but I now feel it should also be here.)
People with disabilities negotiate space differently depending upon their impairment. -
Before I go any further I need to make a necessary comment about language - the disability world is fraught in terms of language - all I need to say is that my terms may be incorrect but my heart is in the right place and I am talking from within the circle rather than without - Phew! Back to the art!
So people negotiate space differently. For wheel chair access we can see that it needs to be a minimum of 75cm for a door. But for hidden impairments? I engage with my space differently to a blind or deaf person perhaps - the ‘feel’ the psychological aspect of the space is paramount for me. Where are the doors, windows, high ceilings, do the walls move, is that wall actually a door? And yes in the case of DCA that wall actually IS a door and therefore messes with the ranking of the room (see earlier post) - and therefore messes ever so slightly with my head. All these and more impact on wether or not i even enter a space or how i feel about those spaces. And i’m not even in the gallery yet!
Galleries are not known for their riots or public disorder or as unsafe environments - but that depends entirely on your perspective. Big spaces can be intimidating, small spaces can be claustrophobic - one size doesn’t fit all. All i know is that i need to create a safety matrix as i go around the varying spaces.
I haven’t even got to how relevant is contemporary art, generic gallery visitors, stereotypical disabled people and their lack of interest in culture because they are too busy being isolated on their sink estates in their low achievement high rises. Well wake up to the real world - that’s a stereotype - there’s plenty of high functioning socially engaged disabled people too. What about them and their cultural appetite. Where do we go?
Why don’t people with disabilities engage with contemporary art spaces.The people of dundee are being quite quiet on this one at the moment.
I learnt to print only a few years ago - spurred on by my love of letterpress. At that stage i didn’t own any letters or presses or drawers or any other printing paraphenalia. Then i did a short course at a University. This lead me on to doing an Artist Access to Art Colleges - 100 hours access to a uni art department. That first course was like having a whole new world opened up to me. That’s the thing with print. Each process opens up a whole new world, sometimes a new universe.
So i never did go to art college. And when you say you’re an artist people assume that you did, that you trained in the rarefied atmosphere of academia. Sorry to disappoint. My route to art has been circuitous. Maybe thats more common for disabled artists or artists who identify themselves as having a disability. But then we fall in the handy classification of the ‘Outsider Artist’ - ‘Art Brut’ - ‘Raw Art’.
When you say you’re an artist people assume you to have a practice such as painting or sculpture or drawing. My practice is Text and i use lots of media, techniques and processes within that. I did the printing because i was wanting to make a specific work and didn’t know how to execute it. So I learnt. That’s how i work. If I conceive a work that i do not know how to make i go away and learn the technique.
So being in the print room on a residency based in there a lot of people expect me to be a printmaker. I can print but i wouldn’t call myself a printmaker. However this week i re-learned how to print - and what a revelation. I learned in a print room that had changed little since the 60’s. The nitric acid was just out in the room. The washing area was not sealed off - often splashing works close by. The exposure unit was a tilt table and a timed light - this too was just lose in the room. Don’t get me wrong, i had many a happy hour there. I learned what i needed to learn - in fact one print i made there got taken into the government collection. But looking back i didn’t really learn printing.
This week i went back to basics - though it was hard to unlearn everything. Every print room has different cultures, different ways of doing (the same) things. Marie Ann took me from the separations to the printing - on huge beds -and what a dream. The whole process is so much easier and smoother and less bother - yes things can go wrong - things do go wrong - but it has reawakened my passion for print.
And I had forgotten what camaraderie therecan be in the print room, how generous people are with their time and knowledge. Unfortunately not every print room is like the one here at DCA. What a fantastic resource with great people who work in there and visit there.
Oh - and I don’t regret not going to art college - it has left me hungry and inquisitve with a child-like wonder when i see or learn a new process or technique - and i would hate to lose that.
I have done many residencies in the past. However this is the first one that has required being ‘in residence’ in the city not just driving to and from, sleeping in your own bed at the end of the day.
I am a very sociable person, i like talking to people. i like observing from a distance as a scientist in the field - but i also like my space. Now i am going to go on a rambling curvy trajectory here so bare with me. In a professional capacity i am relatively confident, on a personal level i am relatively shy - preferring to talk on an individual basis or very small groups at a push - i don’t function well in big groups. I say this because it’s not always clear in my own mind what i am at any particular moment when in residence and say in the cafe - is that me time or am i still on the clock as it were?
Also, how do you get that meaningful human contact, that warmth of conversation from a familiar face - i can’t just ring a friend and say meet you in 20 at de Vie ( a great cafe in newcastle). But of course you can get the warmth of conversation from strangers - tho sometimes i think because people know you are only here for a few weeks there is a lack of incentive for investment as you’ll soon be gone - plus they already have their own lives going on. I know i am ar risk of over analysis here and it’s nothing personal - people have been friendly enough and sometimes it only takes one conversation to get you through to the next day with a glow from the kindness of a stranger. And i know i chose to be here, i applied to do it, it’s what i do, it’s what makes me me - but that doesn’t mean to say i find it easy.
Similarly the whole personal space thing, the familiar, I have certain things that keep me grounded when i am at home. I hate to admit it but even i have routines. Having a dedicated space to work and live in. Somewhere to go and collapse and recharge. How do you get that living in a strange town in a B and B or flat? It’s making me think about connections, mechanisms and processess when you don’t have all those things, the stuff, around you. It’s making me think a lot.
The above is a very personal thing but it is not restricted to me. Whilst some issues facing people are issues of physical mobility or disability mine is a more psychological one. Regardless, or because, of my diagnosis i negotiate spaces and sutuations on a much more psychological level. And just because you can’t see my struggle doesn’t mean i’m not. For instance in the cafe at DCA i have ranked all the tables as ones i can sit at and ones i couldn’t even think about sitting at. Of the ones i can sit at i have ranked them in order. Depending on how well i am affects how far down that order i can go before i would be unable to stay and have to go somewhere else. I do that ranking instantly, almost unconciously. It is about safety, not necessary physical (although that may be part of it) it’s a psychological safety. When i approached DCA for the first time i had the same issues going on. How do i approach the door, the front desk, get down those huge stairs into that daunting space at the bottom. And so on.
I think people are atuned to being aware of physical disability - afterall you can see it - but what about other invisible disabilties. Just because i am ‘well’ or ‘well enough’ doesn’t mean to say i am well and without my disabilty. I have learnt coping strategies to mask it. We all do. But for me there isn’t a day goes by without me self monitoring my moods and how i am on all different sorts of levels. Self monitoring, working and exhaustion don’t go hand in hand. Something has to give. So on my last visit for instance, tiredness reduced my ability to self monitor, i failed to be adaptive to my situation and therefore had a small public bipolar ambush - which thankfully didn’t cause to much of an after shock.
So there is loads to learn for me here. Loads to do. Not just about how to do the residency, how to be resident which is perhaps work stuff there’s all the personal stuff. I wonder how much this was considered in the wider remit of the residency as it must have connotations for other disabled artists doing distant resident residencies - not all access issues are physical - i can’t be alone in this - this must be a common experience - i’d like to have a wider dialogue about this at some point.