It seems strange to have to justify the presentation of a piece of work in terms of the artists disability, especially as art or achievement is usually presented in terms of ability. This is certainly an important part of the discursive disability issue.
However, within the context of creative programmes for people with disabilities at the point where they struggle to create and achieve without support, the post-programme achievements highlight the importance and effectiveness of the support programme. Because of the disability tag, it is too easy to dismiss participant and programme in an uninformed and unfortunately stereotyped view, held in the absence of the context, a context that has been professionally appraised, programmed and reviewed. Such dismissal erroneously calls into question the needs of the participant and the professionalism of the programme and its staff.
Documentation of a programme in media based presentations give quite literally, a snapshot of the activity. In terms of evidence that the event took place and what went on, the environment and atmosphere at the time, this is all very well. Video clips of workshopping ideas, photos of whiteboard plans, and audio and video presentations of finished pieces still do not convey the significance of the process taking place and the results and the value they may have for the participants in the long term.
Working with group participants over the long term has enabled me to understand this. A high functioning teenage boy on the autistic spectrum, who I worked with over a five year period at WAC Arts, lay on his back during my first assignment with him, bashing his arms and legs on the floor in anxiety at the imminent arrival of a group he was about to interview on camera for a web based project. Five years and more later, he is about to start studying social policy at university, whilst maintaining his knowledgable passion for music. He continues to correspond with me on subjects relating to our shared interests, identified during and in the nature of the programmes on which we worked together.
The contact I continue to have with students who have moved on from the remit of my professional role in their lives has helped me to contextualise my own work in disabilities over the long term. The work I have done and the work I have been involved with, since I often work as part of a team, is visibly, and I am pleased to say, sometimes audibly baring fruit. This, I feel, is the true evidence of my work, rather than media-based project documentation, of which I have plenty.
Chris Cooper, another student I worked with for some years at WAC Arts, is exhibiting a sound art installation at the Kentish Town Health Centre in August 2014. Although Chris has had support in putting the exhibition together, and in creating the piece, my involvement as a professional in Chris's life, ceased when I moved from London to Vienna in 2014.
The correspondence I now have with Chris is no longer held within the confines of an education programme. The support I give him may be categorised in terms of mentorship, un-appointed as it may be, but this is Chris's choice, on his own terms, and my responses to him are my choice, on my own terms. The professional relationship has evolved into one of two artists discussing one of the artists work. And so I say, it seems strange to have to justify the presentation of a piece of work in terms of the artists disability.
"I believe that every move I made I would like to think it is something that I believe that I am working on. What I mean is from what I seen at YPFI and organisations like WAC and Actionspace I feel that it goes towards building something. It was my choice to involve media in my work and an exhibition like that to start it off. I feel it is something I feel it is ambitious to work towards in another exhibition but something that is still possible is my hope." Chris Cooper, artist. July 2014.
This piece is from Chris Cooper's audio installation at the freespace Art gallery in Kentish Town, London in an exhibition entitled Repeat Depictions - an artistic collaboration between artists Chris Cooper & Lisa Muten. The artists have been based at freespace since May 2014 exploring the impact of a specific architectural context on their output. i had no part in this exhibition or Chris's work for it. What I'm trying to say is (as Chris would say), that my work has already succeeded.
Below, a recording of the BBC's visit to the WAC Wonder Web Radio studio, whilst a live webcast was in full flow. I feature in the radio programme, in an exchange that demonstrates an aspect of the relationships within the group as whole, but Melanie Ancliff, the Deputy operations manager at WAC Arts, sums things up superbly when she says: "Many of the young people, before they joined the project, were every isolated. Many of them were being bullied at school, and now, you know, we've got young people in there who are now, very confident, competent public speakers."
Above, a WAC Wonderweb Radio show from 2011.
Travel was the theme of this half term project. The subject was workshopped during which time lyrics were written. The recording involved each group member.
Below, Jason hits the mic in his first ever singing at karaoke or anywhere else. Thirty yers in the making, that moment.
Above, a Soundbeam session at Wonder WAC. All the sounds are being generated by sonar, beaming along the trajectory of the white tape on the floor, or by head switches or foot trigger pads. And theres someone playing the paino...
Kit plays the wheels of Steel from his flashy new wheelchair.