Reimagining Creativity

 

August Natterer My Eyes in the Time of Apparition (1913)
August Natterer
My Eyes in the Time of Apparition (1913)

Recently I’ve attended two MMU led events that I found particularly interesting, both of which broadly examined ‘human’ ways of being, notions of creativity and human flourishing.  In connection with the first of these events – Theorising Normalcy And The Mundane – I have been working with the fantastic Drake Music Innovation Lab North  on my Beyond Vocal Norms sound investigation and research project. I’ll be blogging about Normalcy and Beyond Vocal Norms later this month … so watch this space.

Extending the concepts of creativity and value…

In the meantime I will focus on the second event – VCHF (Value, Creativity and Human Flourishing) – and its relevance on music making for people with significant learning disabilities. VCHF brought together artists, academics and activists to re-examine and extend the concepts of creativity and value within different arts practices. The two day symposium had a particular emphasis on what these concepts mean for people with learning disabilities, dementia and mental health problems. Concepts around creativity are of particular interest to Drake Music’s research into bespoke instruments, and how these developments invariably challenge perceptions of what musical expression is and how music is made.

The symposium featured nine internationally acclaimed speakers, and I will reflect on two sessions that were of particular relevance to many philosophical discussions we have at Drake Music. Drake Music has a core belief that everyone can fulfil their creative and musical potential if given the right opportunities.

One of the aims of the Drake Music Think2020 Education project is to explore more meaningful and inclusive frameworks for measuring musical development for those with profound and multiple learning difficulties.  This can be difficult as mainstream definitions of creativity often excludes people with learning disabilities, dementia and mental health problems.  Currently Drake Music Associates try to overcome this difficulty by using both the Sound of Intent framework and the Youth Music Quality framework, both of which work beyond the limitations of the ‘P-Scales’ for music education.

Co-production and human flourishing …

One of the speakers, Julian West, discussed these concepts, amongst others, in relation to music making with people living with dementia.   West is a Creative Music Leader, Oboist and Consultant, and has spent 14 years working on music projects with older people. He is currently working with Spitalfields Music on an innovative project called LivingArts. LivingArts explores and celebrates the creativity of residents at a care home in East London. West and a small team of artists and musicians visit the care home each week enabling residents to express themselves through music, movement and visual arts. Manchester Camerata have been running a similar project at an early dementia centre, with huge success.

Musicians by Kate Munro, LivingArts
Musicians by Kate Munro, LivingArts

The overall aim of LivingArt was to challenge public perceptions and improve wellbeing for people living with dementia, through the creative arts.  In order to meet this aim, West describes the importance of working beyond conventional ways to measure outputs, and making musical expression and co-production a core value.

The LivingArts group were invited to bring various objects to make sounds with – a particularly successful object was an old typewriter that a participant found engaging as he used to work in an office. They also had a dancer who integrated walking frames, and other disability related equipment during her session there. This all happened with the participants taking a leading role in the creative process with no pressure of defined outputs, therefore providing value for all taking part. West describes how this project also helped the artists to re-examine their own perceptions of creativity and co-production.

Like West and the LivingArts team, Drake Music associate musicians continue to re-evaluate their notions of creativity, and creative potential within the field of music production.   This can be particularly challenging in a culture dominated by the language of the ‘medical model’ and ableist notions of who is ‘allowed’ to be creative, and for whom.

 Who is ‘allowed’ to be creative? …

Tokyo panorama by Stephen Wiltshire
Tokyo panorama by Stephen Wiltshire

Conference organiser, and speaker Dr Lucy Burke, discussed these notions in her talk – Human Trouble and the Cognitive Difference. Dr Burke is Principle lecturer in English at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at MMU. Prompted by Oliver Sacks essay The Autistic Artist, her session explored the ethical and ideological implications of particular concepts of creativity, personhood and the human.

In the Autistic Artist, Sacks examines a 21 year old called Jose who can allegedly only copy draw and deemed to be ‘retarded’. Sacks recognises that Jose’s artwork demonstrates the powers of imagination and expression, and describes his work as both verisimilitude, animated and richly expressive. It could be said that Sacks is being quite progressive by inferring that Jose’s ability is more than that of the stereotypical ‘idiot savant’. However, he also describes Jose’s work as child-art and primitive, whilst paradoxically deliberating whether Jose could gain a meaningful life through being employed to draw. Burke argues that Jose’s work is put under the kind of scrutiny rarely experienced by neurotypical artists. Jose’s art is ‘not allowed’ to be understood outside of the lens of diagnosis, or beyond the belief that personhood is fundamentally interconnected with work and labour.

Music therapy or music education? …

Dancers by Kate Munro, LivingArts
Dancers by Kate Munro, LivingArts

The Autistic Artist case study reminded me of the way musicians with learning disabilities and/or autism still experience harsher artistic scrutiny and barriers to creative expression. The authenticity of their musical abilities are either considered a symptom of impairment and therefore disbelieved, or used to somehow validate their initiation into the work-based notion of personhood. And whilst this validation can be empowering, the superhuman or curative disability narrative often accompanies it. Music therapy, for example, is often based around the notion that people are broken and need fixing. On the other hand music education is becoming less about the actual learning experience and more about the potential monetisation it can offer.

How do we measure music potential and value against mainstream definitions of creativity ? Leave a comment with examples of your own experiences of good or bad practice. Also If you’re interested in these kinds of philosophical discussions visit www.valueandcreativity.wordpress.com.

Blog commissioned by Drake Music.

How do we measure outcomes against normative values about what creativity actually means?

 

 

 

Clock (c) Mreadz
Clock (c) Mreadz

 

Art is ‘not allowed’ to be understood outside of the lens of diagnosis.

 

 

 

Two Fishes (c) Mreadz
Two Fishes (c) Mreadz

 

Toilets, Utopian Imaginings and finding the Potty of Gold

Changing Places Selfie Campaign

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.

Travelling Toilet Tales …

 

political toilet roll!

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.

Finding U-toilet-opia…

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.

Cartoon about the shortage of Changing Places Toilet for ddults who need a changing table. S.Smizz

Overlapping waters…

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.”

The idea of gender starts at school.

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.

changing norms

 

 

UKDHM 2015: In discussion with Disability rights pioneer Lorraine Gradwell, MBE

UKDHM
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.

BackgrounD

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.

Trailblazers and Cabbies

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.

Access statement for black cabs

“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”

independent living

She also worked with Greater Manchester Housing Disability Group and the academic June Maeltzer, to set up the first informal independent living scheme. 

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.

Baroness Jane Campbell (left) Lorraine Gradwell, MBE (right)

“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

The current climate

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.

DISABILITY AND WORK

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.”

KEEPING DISABILITY RIGHTS ON THE AGENDA

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.DPAC

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.

 

Hanging in the Balance – Nash and Selway

In the summer of 2015,  I collaborated with contemporary and historical photographer, Michele Selway, to produce ‘Hanging in the Balance’.

Made in association with Forge Woodland Residency in the Whirligig Woods, ‘Hanging in the Balance’  symbolised the devastating impact austerity is having on disabled people in the UK.

Using wet plate processes in the remote woodland area, we photographed disability related paraphernalia (such as wheelchairs and walking sticks) hanging ominously in the trees. The emptiness of these images, along with the antique process used, creates a haunting double negative.

Suggesting a post apocalyptic scenario, these images depict the deep sense of threat and despair many disabled people feel about their future: A future that hangs in the balance.

On tour…

‘Hanging in the Balance’ toured across Wales in association with Disability Arts Cymru between October 2015 and June 2016.

Wet Plate, 1 of 5
Wet Plate, 1 of 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow Gemma’s board #hanginginthebalance on Pinterest.

Follow the project at #hanginginthebalance

Artistic technical support –
Cheryl Marney,  Jana Kennedy and Kris Gjerstad

 

Disbanners – creative activism with Full Circle Arts

bannerAs part of Full Circle Arts creative activism season, I attended their Disbanners project, which is happening in collaboration with the People’s History Museum in Manchester, and designer Ed Hall.

Disbanners is a fantastic project working with disabled people across the North West to design large scale banners addressing issues of disability and austerity. The project is a great way to give a voice to those most affected by the cuts to services and benefits that help Disabled and Deaf people to have independence.

As Chris Hammond, Chief executive of Full Circle arts is quoted as saying: “It’s not my impairments that make me vulnerable, it’s this Government

Designer Ed Hall lead the workshop at the People’s History Museum on Thursday. Hall is Britain’s leading designer of marching banners for trade unions and other campaign groups, and is, by his own admission, an odd sort of career into which he stumbled more than 30 years ago (by training, he is an architect). He has worked closely with Turner prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller to create banners for his show ‘Folk Archive’. Thanks to this on-going collaboration Hall ‘s work has been exhibited worldwide, including being shown at the Venice Biennale.

During Thursdays workshop, the group were able to visit the Textile Conservation Room at the People’s History Museum. It was a rare treat to have a closer look behind the scenes and see the expert conservators at work. Their main role is to clean, support and help banners survive through a variety of intricate methods in an environmentally controlled studio.

Since industrialisation, banners have been a popular way of carrying a symbol, logo, slogan or any custom message. The word banner is derived from a Latin name “bandum”, a cloth used to make flags, and they have made a revival in modern times. From the Swing Riots of the 1840s to the Goth movement of the 2000s, banners often carry pictures of hope, love, change and the value of sticking together. It was a pleasure to work with Hall, and learn more about the ancient craft of banner making.

tagsLots of group discussion took place about the regressive effects welfare cuts will have on disabled people, with prominent disabled activists warning of disabled people falling into destitution and being subjected to humiliation.   In an earlier blog, I talk about the benefit system in Britain and the frightening prospect of returning to an era of handouts and poverty: “It wasn’t until the early 1970s that state funding was also given to help disabled people with the extra cost they incurred because of their impairment. These new benefits revolutionised the way disabled people participated and contributed to society”

The final outcome of the Disbanners project will be a large-scale banner designed by the group and put together by Ed Hall. The focus of the banner will definitely be around disabled people coming together and fighting back. This will be a useful resource for disabled activists and lobbying groups such as Disabled People Against the Cuts. As the American actor Morgan Freeman states: “Attacking disabled people is the lowest display of power I can think of.”

As the American actor Morgan Freeman states: “Attacking disabled people is the lowest display of power I can think of.”

 

 

 

From the Swing Riots of the 1840s to the Goth movement of the 2000s, banners often carry pictures of hope, love, change and the value of sticking together. It was a pleasure to work with Hall, and learn more about the ancient craft of banner making.

Beware the Beginning – Interview with disabled artist and anti austerity activist, Liz Crow

Last month I was fortunate enough to interview disabled artist and anti austerity activist, Liz Crow.   I first met Liz twenty years ago through disability activism, and have been following her artistic career spanning the last fifteen years. My own recent work ‘Hanging in the balance’ is somewhat influenced by Liz – bringing the effects of austerity on disabled people visual representation through art.

Background

Specialising in film and live performance art, she is probably best known for her hour on Antony Gormley’s fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square dressed in full Nazi Uniform.   Her hour of brilliance took place at 10pm on a Saturday night, and was something she describes as being ‘one of the most terrifying’ live performance pieces she’s ever done. This controversial performance earned her eighth place in the Guardian newspaper’s top ten plinth contributions in 2009, and accompanied her Resistance project – a powerful film about the Aktion-T4 programme of murder.

Liz Crow

As a disabled artist myself, I was curious to find out more about her journey, and discuss her views on the current austerity situation in the UK.

Liz has been a disabled person since she was ten years old, but it wasn’t until she experienced discrimination at university that she began to question her identity and rights as a disabled person. As a medical student, with an undiagnosed impairment, she faced layers of institutionalised discrimination and was eventually forced to leave. This situation led her to attend a disability equality session run by two disabled women where she discovered the social model of disability. Liz states “in about 20 seconds flat everything changed for me, absolutely the course of my life changed that rapidly because I could suddenly make sense of the last ten years”.

Following this moment of political epiphany, she got involved in disability equality training, and joined a variety of disability rights networks, including London Disability Arts Forum.

Liz describes herself as being quite artistic as a child, interested in drama and performance. However, she says, “that kind of got knocked out of me in teenage years, probably quite a lot to do with impairment and discrimination”. In the late 1990’s, her passion for arts resurfaced after she read a book about female anti militarists. One of the women featured in the book was Helen Keller, and Liz couldn’t quite believe that this was the same Helen Keller she had learnt about at school.   The Keller she had learnt about, and subsequently loathed, was famous for being a tragic but brave figurehead.   But it was clear from this book that Keller wasn’t just this all American icon, but a radical socialist who was way ahead of her time, tracked by the FBI and supporter of women’s rights.   Liz knew she wanted to get that story out to people, so she approached a film maker; Anne Pugh, and together they made a film about the real Helen Keller.

From making ‘The Real Helen Keller’ Liz has gone from strength to strength, producing hard hitting and thought provoking work about a range of difficult subjects. Much of her latest work has been in response to the austerity narrative and the scapegoating of disabled people.

“I think one of the effects of austerity is a kind of unleashing of petty cruelty, though I am not sure it is even petty.”

“I wanted a really strong distribution across the different experiences of austerity. I wanted it to be a range of things; from zero hour contracts to NHS rationing, you name it. “

Recent Work

Her most recent work Figures was a mass-sculptural performance creating a visual representation of the human cost of austerity. For Liz ‘Figures’ was a particularly challenging, as well as interesting, piece because it involved working with natural elements and lots of physical labour.   A lot of the time she worked on her own and was quite isolated, invoking austerity symbolism, however Liz also worked with a team of people to help her get on and off the foreshore: “I really liked working with natural elements and natural materials. There are all sorts of creation mythology, globally, about human beings coming out of the mud and returning to the mud. I like the idea of the isolation, the idea of working with the tides and natural features, the contrast with that and the social structures that are doing so much damage.”

figures

During this process, the team needed to work in absolute harmony, which in many ways depicted the values the project was trying to put forward. She suggests this is something that society should be moving towards; cooperation, and interdependence, all those sorts of values that we need if we are to move beyond the austerity and the damage that austerity does.

Alongside the sculptures are a collection of online narratives of those adversely affected by austerity.   These narratives tell a chilling story from different viewpoints: “I wanted a really strong distribution across the different experiences of austerity. I wanted it to be a range of things; from zero hour contracts to NHS rationing, you name it”

At the most extreme there are people who have died, for example David Clapson in Oxford, who starved to death due to benefit cuts. However, for the most part these narratives show the emotionally draining fear about insecure futures.

One narrative that really stayed with Liz was about a man who was required by the Job Centre to go on a training course despite his son being in surgery on the same day.   Liz recalls him saying the course trainer said she couldn’t understand why he was really resistant to switching off his mobile phone.   Fortunately she asked him why and he told her his child was in hospital having surgery that day, about to go under anesthetic, and the Job Centre had told him if he didn’t attend the training he would be sanctioned. Although in this instance the trainer took pity on this man and made sure he got to the hospital, the situation represents an alarming shift in the type of inhumane behaviour that is now considered acceptable.

 

“I really liked working with natural elements and natural materials. There are all sorts of creation mythology, globally, about human beings coming out of the mud and returning to the mud. I like the idea of the isolation, the idea of working with the tides and natural features, the contrast with that and the social structures that are doing so much damage.”

 

“If you look back at history in Nazi Germany, it started at stage 1 and worked it’s way through to the absolute extreme. So when people are dismissive of somebody drawing those parallels… it is foolish to be so complacent.”

Beware the Beginning

Liz and I discussed whether she felt there were links between current austerity measures and the experience of disabled people during Nazi Germany.   She said that although there was a danger in making absolute comparisons, if you look at the values that permitted the beginning of those events – they are very similar. Quoting an expression, ‘Beware the Beginning’, and highlighting plenty of evidence about the 8 point scale of genocide she suggests the pattern is there. The 8 point scale starts off with the kind of insults that you might get in in the street (we have seen those escalate in the last few years) and then it builds up from there. It builds up through physical violence, it becomes increasingly institutionalised and early on ‘jokes’ made about certain groups. Liz argues that “if you look back at history in Nazi Germany, it started at stage 1 and worked it’s way through to the absolute extreme. So when people are dismissive of somebody drawing those parallels… it is foolish to be so complacent”. Continuing the link Liz suggests: “I think one of the effects of austerity is a kind of unleashing of petty cruelty, though I am not sure it is even petty.”

One of the most profound moments of the ‘Resistance’ project was visiting the cremation ovens of the death centres. There were portrait photos of all the people who had been killed there.   Liz says, “You look at them and they are all of us. All ages, different ethnicities, different classes, women and men. They are all there, and if you are there with other disabled people you see them in these portraits. The mannerisms, or facial expressions or characteristics of a person. For me it felt very profound that I was able to connect it to now. Looking around the group I was able to think ‘wow how many of us would have been here”.

Indeed, how many of us would have been there – Beware the Beginning.  Liz’s work continues to be at the forefront of disability arts in the UK, and with austerity becoming increasingly severe, her work serves a greater and more meaningful purpose, viewed by many of us as a necessary visual representation.

“There were portrait photos of all the people who had been killed there. You look at them and they are all of us. All ages, different ethnicities, different classes, women and men. They are all there, and if you are there with other disabled people you see them in these portraits. The mannerisms, or facial expressions or characteristics of a person.”