To mark UKDHM I talk with Ben Lunn on his composition ‘T-4’, commissioned by Drake Music and set to be performed at DaDaFest. The work explores the history of Aktion T4 and how it parallels today’s austerity.
Read more here:
Step into a world of sound with Sonic Pixels. Wander through the stunning Victorian shopping mall, trigger speakers in real-time and experience what it feels like to be right at the heart of sonic compositions.
Working alongside Cornbrook Creative, my latest sound piece is a feminist interpretation of Barton Arcade.
Built in 1871, you might think of Barton Arcade as typifying the luxury culture of the nineteenth century, with a carriage entrance and raw iron gates. It is certainly not considered a particularly radical space. However, like many other similar arcades it was once one of the few places women could move freely without being chaperoned by a man.
Historian Erika Diane Rappaport explains that it was during this period that ‘a family’s respectability and social position depended upon the idea that the middle-class wife and daughter remain apart from the market, politics, and public space’. Shopping itself may have been fetishized into women’s greatest pleasure, but for many middle-class housewives in Victorian Britain, shopping was their first taste of real freedom and therefore marked the starting point for their push into public life. Barton Arcade was a place in which, for the first time, women were able to share ideas and meet in public without being accompanied by a man.
Whether it was the Women’s Emergency Corps meetings, Pankhurst’s shopping trips, or female pick-pockets, my piece will explore the secret history of the radical female shopper. Using archived materials, and “found” sounds, I will re-imagine the groups who met here; the conversations that may have taken place and bring to life the stories of the women that occupied this space.
Our new animation, The Toilet is on tour! A few weeks ago, the tour began as Dr Jenny Slater (Reader in Education & Disability Studies) and I travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland for our animation’s WORLD PREMIERE.
Over the next year, we will be taking conversations of toilets, disability, gender and access to grassroots disability and queer arts and activist spaces internationally to different spaces, including film festivals and activist groups.
This blog post summarises the event:
Read about the fab time I had at Metal Culture’s Change Maker Artist Lab – for artists interested in being or feeling ‘other’ in whatever way that meant to them.
Resisting (rebel against) an increasingly dominant binary or ‘normal’ and ‘other’, ‘disabled’ or ‘non-disabled’, ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ etc.
Good news! Around the Toilet has been awarded further funding from AHRC Connected Communities to continue the project. We’ve called the next stage of the project: Arts, Architecture, Activism & Access: Taking Around the Toilet to New Spaces (or ‘New Spaces’)….
The design of toilets have been based on a historical model of the ‘ideal’ (hu)man, and continues to ignore the diversity of their users.
You may have recently read about Italian creator, Maurizio Cattelan’s 18-carat solid gold toilet installation at the Guggenheim Museum, but he’s not the only artist using a toilet as an inspiration for their art. I have been commissioned to make a soundscape about toilets and utopias, which I have recently finished working on.
Constructed from a collection of toilet themed audio stories, anecdotes and interviews from the Around the Toilet project – this slightly potty sound collage is currently being animated by graphic artist Sarah Smizz.
Our combined piece –Travelling Toilet Tales – will be presented as a film exploring toilets, place and utopian imaginings to be shown at events and exhibitions, and available online at aroundthetoilet.wordpress.com.
Sure, toilets don’t usually spring to mind when talking about utopias or sound-art, but the landscape of public toilets is far from ideal for many people. Using sound and animation, Travelling Toilet Tales illustrates how the design of toilets have been based on a historical model of the ‘ideal’ (hu)man, and continues to ignore the diversity of their users.
My personal interest in toilets came from the complexities of accessing toilets as a parent with a physical impairment. Part M of the building regulations advocate that accessible toilets should not have a baby change table. This is primarily because the baby change table can impede access for wheelchair users if it is put in the wrong place, or left down. But like everything in life ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ and when my child was young I found the best ‘fit’ for me was accessible, private toilets with baby changing facilities – where I could take care of my child and also go to the toilet myself.
Interestingly, two of the storytellers spoke about difficulties they had accessing toilets with young children, commenting on the need for both an adult toilet and baby change unit in the same space. One storyteller described the joy of finding a baby change toilet that had a dropdown table, free baby wipes and a seat for breastfeeding.
“It really made me feel accepted whereas in other spaces you just think I’m not meant to be here.”
For her, coming across a baby change table felt like finding gold dust. And the idea of a suitable toilet being like ‘gold dust’ was common theme throughout the piece. We all have our U-toilet-opias.
Storytellers described the indignity of being forced to lie on the dirty toilet floor due to a lack of adult changing facilities, restricting what they eat and drink and being harassed for using the wrong toilet. Organisations like Action for Trans Health and Changing Places are campaigning about these issues. But for many accessing the toilet is such a tricky and unsafe endeavour they are essentially barred from public spaces. There is, in its most literal sense ‘no place’ for them to go, making greater toilet access high on the utopian agenda.
While the storytellers came from very diverse backgrounds, many stories overlapped with common considerations of embodiment flowing throughout the piece. It’s interesting that widespread publicity around the “bathroom bills” in the USA focused on conflicts between religious freedom and equal rights for the trans community. Yet, Travelling Toilet Tales shows how gender-neutral toilets are not just a political issue for the trans community. They also benefit parents, particularly fathers, or disabled people who may have personal assistants of a different gender. A person with a learning difficulty, for example, talked about being told off for using the wrong toilet because he was struggling to read the signs on the toilet door.
“Society hasn’t grown up that much.”
Toilets, and toilet design are issues that impact upon us all. Pensioners describe feeling isolated and staying at home because they fear being “caught short”, whilst lorry drivers restrict what they drink during their working day. One of the most interesting narratives I edited was from a female truck driver, who regularly has to urinate between the load and the unit of her lorry because of public toilet closures. An issue I’d not really considered. Gillian Kemp, who runs Trucker’s Toilets UK and Public Toilets UK, explained that providing public toilets is not a statutory requirement. As a consequence, many local authorities often close public toilets when faced with budget cuts.
Making a bigger splash…
Toilets have traditionally been considered to be an abject ‘bog standard’ space, or a taboo topic – but this piece radically redefines the issue and blends the everyday with the fantastical. From the imaginary toilet of a child to the inventive use of wet tissues instead of a lota, Travelling Toilet Tales takes the audience on an interweaving journey embracing disability, age, faith, gender, class and labour.
Travelling Toilet Tales will be premiered at the Utopia Fair between 24 – 26 June. Somerset House, London – a partnership with the AHRC and the Connected Communities Programme
Thanks to the Around the Toilet team, with special thanks to the Principal Investigator, Dr Jenny Slater.
Images by Sarah Smizz
For many, accessing the toilet is such a tricky and unsafe endeavour they are essentially barred from public spaces.
Nobody thinks of toilets when they talk about utopias and yet the landscape of public toilets is far from ideal for many people.
The Around the Toilet project has recently been awarded two funding grants by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). This will allow us to continue the work we started in 2015, carry out new research over the next four months, and participate in the 2016 Connected Communities Research Festival Utopia Fair in London in June, where the outputs of our research will be exhibited.
Our first project, ‘Travelling Toilet Tales’ (led by Jenny Slater) will be an exploration into the ways in which everyday journeys are planned around the un/availability of a suitable toilet. We will be making an animated film based upon people’s experiences of these ‘toilet journeys’: journeys that can’t be taken due to a lack of a suitable toilet, journeys that are re-planned due to a lack of a toilet, imagined journeys based on an ideal world with the best possible toilets… or something else entirely!
This project is a collaboration with Gemma Nash from Drake Music, an organisation working in music, disability and technology, and Sarah Smizz, the graphic artist who drew the stories told in the Around the Toilet workshops we facilitated last year. Our collaborators will transform the toilet tales provided by our storytellers into a soundscape overlaid with animation. This will be presented as a film exploring toilets, place and utopian imaginings to be shown at events and exhibitions, and available online. Details about where you can view the film will be announced in the forthcoming months.
We are also very pleased to be working with Morag Rose of the Loiterers’ Resistance Movement, who will be facilitating a city walk in Manchester around the theme of public toilets and urban space.
Our second project, running in parallel with the first, is ‘Servicing Utopia’ (led by Lisa Procter). Working alongside MA Architect students, Niki Sole and Suki Sehmbi, we will be facilitating workshops which ask attendees to engage with and construct a digital ‘Toilet Toolkit’ (the main project output). The digital/visual toolkit will be aimed at architects to promote the accessible design of toilet spaces.
We will also be making an animated film over the course of the project, documenting insights from the project workshops with architects to illustrate key themes relating to toilet and accessibility.
The films, toilet toolkit and other outputs from both projects will be previewed on 24th-26th June at the Utopia Fair, Somerset House, London, a public event showcasing a range of academic and artistic projects that engage with the subject of ‘utopia’. This year’s theme takes inspiration from the 500th anniversary of the publication in 1516 in Latin of Thomas More’sUtopia. From March to June 2016 the Festival is supporting activities across the UK bringing together researchers and communities to creatively explore diverse perspectives on community futures and what ‘utopia’ means for communities in the 21st Century.
We’re very excited to get started — please keep an eye on our progress by checking the blog and twitter, as usual!
Jen, Lisa, Emily and Charlotte
Originally published ataroundthetoilet.wordpress.com on March 15, 2016.
Over the past few months I been a member of the design team for Box Society – a Full Circle Arts and Playfuel collaborative street game project. Playfuel aim to “bring together theatre performance and urban geography”, and together we have been making a light hearted but thought provoking game which addresses disabling barriers and #everydayableism.
The ‘play test’ for Box Society took place in March 2016 with Proud and Loud theatre group, and the public game will be premiered in Manchester City Centre this summer.
Watch this space for further information about this fantastic new street game!
To read more about the background to this project please see Jade Coles blog post here.
As today marks the start of UKDHM (UK Disability History Month from 22 November to 22 December), I sum up and reflect on my interview with Lorraine Gradwell, MBE.
Known to many as a leading disability rights ‘veteran campaigner’, she has worked within the disabled people’s movement for over 35 years.
Lorraine, now in her 60s, came to disability politics through her involvement in paraplegic sports – particularly the Manchester Disabled Athletes club in the 1980s.
It was here that she met the highly influential disabled activist, Neville Strowger. She and Neville became close friends and, with others, worked together to set up GMCDP (Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People) – one of the first organisations of disabled people in the UK. In its heyday,
GMCDP was instrumental in creating positive change for disabled people both in Manchester and throughout the UK. Lorraine was their Deputy chair, then Chair, then development worker and eventually their first team leader in 1987. She was later CEO of Breakthrough UK (1997 – 2013). Though now semi-retired Lorraine is a Member of the co-production group at Coalition for Collaborative Care.
In her role as GMCDP’s team leader, Lorraine campaigned around a number of issues – the Disability Discrimination Act, the role of big charities, independent living and accessible transport. She also helped to set up the Equalities Unit in Manchester City Council.
Lorraine and her team’s lobbying made Manchester the first city with Black Cabs that were accessible to disabled people. Campaingers persuaded Manchester City Council that one hundred new licenses were to be issued to Black Cab licenses on the condition that the cabs were made accessible.
“We used to get cab drivers coming in and talking to us about the campaign . Some drivers got the new license but didn’t make their cab accessible which ended up going to the court of appeal in London – to uphold Manchester’s stipulation”
June worked with the Irwell Family Housing Association to get an agreement that the funding for ‘local authority carers’ would go into a trust that was managed jointly between her and the Irwell HA. At that time, it wasn’t legal for a local authority to give funding directly to an individual, whether they were disabled or not. June was one of the first users of direct payments – before the legislation was even in place.
With pioneers like Lorraine, Neville and June, Manchester was building a strong reputation as good place to live if you were a young disabled activist.
“The slogan ‘nothing about us without us’ was never as well established as was in Manchester where Lorraine’s insight and campaigning methodology was embraced wholeheartedly.” – Baroness Jane Campbell
Lorraine and I discussed the contrast between the ‘rights based’ campaigning of last twenty years, and the current ‘benefits based’ campaigning.
Lorraine can see why campaigns around benefits and austerity are needed, but feels they need to focus more on societal structures, rather than disabled peoples perceived vulnerabilities.
She doesn’t think that it’s helpful for a movement to be making their ‘vulnerability’ a central plank of their campaign – it’s better to talk about our fundamental rights and the need for those to be addressed.
For me this has a particular resonance as my current photography project, Hanging in the Balance, is about being made vulnerable due to the current austerity measures. – in this context is it OK to embrace and focus on our vulnerability?
Like me, she welcomes the push that DPAC (Disabled People Against the Cuts) have made towards getting a UN investigation into the governments sanctions. She says, “All the rights based issues have gone on the back burner a bit … six, seven years ago it was very much about rights …it was about inclusion, barrier free work, independent living, etc. All that has gone by the wayside in just a short period of time, and it alarms me how quickly it can get unrolled.”
In the area of employment, for example, she says the perceptions around disabled people have taken a massive turn for the worst. During her role as Chief Executive of Breakthrough she sat on the Disability Employment Advisory Committee – a government body that focused on matters to do with disability and employment.
The ConDem Coalition immediately disbanded those types of committees, with no real replacement. This represented a change in ideology, and the shrinking of the public sector – which has had a massive knock on effect on disabled peoples’ organisations.
Lorraine points out that Breakthrough’s ethos was very much around providing the support to disabled people who could work, not about forcing ill people into work.
The current government doesn’t seem to understand the relationship between being disabled and work. She feels that the way disabled people get portrayed as being either a burden or a scrounger is nothing more than a big scapegoating exercise.
This, she feels, is very dangerous particularly alongside the whole push towards assisted suicide and the creeping privatization of the NHS. Assisted suicide fundamentally changes the relationship between doctor and patient overturning two thousand years of the Hippocratic Oath – do no harm.
She recalls reading about a woman in Oregon being refused cancer treatment by her insurance company because it was expensive, but they said she could have assisted suicide because that was cheaper. A health service driven by financial decisions and what would be cheaper is not about helping people at all.
“It’s not being sensationalist to describe it as state sanctioned killing, and once you’ve got state sanctioned killing, where’s it going to go? In Belgium assisted suicide applies to children. There’s no stopping it once it’s on the statute books.”
From NHS provided health to access to work schemes, disabled people are once again fighting at the front line. Though the recent cuts may have had a direct impact on the capacity of both Breakthrough UK and GMCDP, they both continue to campaign, and provide much needed support for disabled people.
I am aware of criticisms levelled at veteran campaigners from younger disability rights activists, but perhaps rather than blaming them for perceived failings within their campaigns, we should champion them for their drive and continued commitment to ongoing change and to keeping discussions about disability rights on the political agenda.
Lorraine Gradwell’s book of collected works ‘A Life Raft in a Stormy Sea’ is available to purchase online.
Original post written in 2015.
Sadly, Lorraine Gradwell died on the 3rd September 2017.
On Saturday 3rd March 2018, Jackie Driver, Chief Executive of Breakthrough UK, and Jenny Gradwell, Daughter of the late Lorraine Gradwell, launched the Trust Lorraine Foundation. The Foundation is a joint project between the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and Breakthrough UK to increase local disabled people’s representation in elected office.
Last month I took part in a series of protests against the harshness of current austerity measures, including the largest march I’ve ever known to take place in Manchester. Organised by the People’s Assembly, there were representatives from; TUC, PCS, CND, Junior doctors, Bread and Roses Choir, Green Party, National Assembly of Women, Stop the War Coalition, Unison, NUT, GMB, RMT and FBU.
I bumped into numerous people I knew during the protests – including previous social worker(s), my daughter’s schoolteacher, friends who are lecturers, nurses and so forth. All a far cry from Boris Johnson’s, ‘mob of assorted crusties with nose-rings’.
The volume and diversity of people attending was staggering – many times during the march I felt emotionally overwhelmed by the breadth of those affected by current austerity measures.
Predictably the press coverage of the protest focused on the behaviour of a minority of aforementioned ‘nose-ringed crusties’. And whilst this kind of sensationalist reporting is commonplace, it’s interesting that the hateful taunts of a few Conservative party members were not considered so newsworthy. Perhaps because they were delivered in a more controlled way than the cliché egg throwers, or perhaps for other reasons.
The majority of protesters were very well behaved. And whilst I’m not justifying physical threats or the use of foul language from the minority, I find it incredibly hypocritical that politicians complained about GMP’s handling of ‘hate crimes’ against the Tories.
I overheard one politician aggressively bellow “good” in the face of a protester’s outcry that her disabled friend had died after his ESA had been cut. The protester was neither swearing nor physically threatening; she was however very upset by this shocking response. I also witnessed a young Conservative disdainfully blowing kisses at significantly disabled protesters whilst also making snide comments about ‘paying for their benefits’. (Hence the title and mockumentary below)
The politicians in question may not be taunting with physical actions, or using bad language, however there is something inexplicably disturbing about a person of privilege and wealth mocking protesters in this way. Disabled people, for example, were demonstrating about cuts that enable them to carry out the most rudimental tasks – reacting to their cry by blowing kisses is vile.
Even worse is to tell protesters that it is ‘good’ that a disabled person has died because his or her benefit has been cut. To my mind this is a despicable and unjustified verbal insult, encouraging the worse type of hatred against disabled people.
There is something inexplicably disturbing about a person of privilege and wealth mocking protesters in this way. Disabled people, for example, were demonstrating about cuts that enable them to carry out the most rudimental tasks – reacting to their cry by blowing kisses is vile.