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An Artist’s View of The Out of Ourselves Exhibition

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Last month we featured a review of the highly
invigorating “Out of Ourselves” exhibition.
SIMON SMITH, whose work was Included,
now gives us an artist’s eye view of the event.

Starting on a practical and well wheeled (I mean well
trodden) subject, the most common and most ironic
criticism of the Gallery was its poor access facilities.
The temperamental lift (which had to be operated by
a member of staff) was mistaken for an exhibit on a
number of occasions, but was fine if you were an
archeologist. The gradient of the ramps inside the
gallery must have been designed by a company
called “Psycho Paths” who get their kicks from (no,
not Route Sixty Six”) but counting the skid marks
from our of control wheelchairs. L.D.A.F., didn’t
design the Gallery and were simply taking advantage
of an opportunity to use the gallery. Better an
exhibition with crappy access than no exhibition. But
it does leave rather a bitter taste when an organisation
such as L.D.A.F. can’t set an example.

The exhibition was called “Out of Ourselves” which
was supposed to be sattrising the stereotyped image
of the disability art exhibition. Unfortunately the Joke
may have been a little too obscure for most people
but then most of the work was obscure. For ex-
ample a lot of people were floundering on the
meanings behind Tony Heaton’s “Six Circles’. This
was a set of five blocks of wood, basically a ring
made from placing five tree stumps On an imaginary
circle. They were placed in such a position that a
groove cut in the tops of these stumps when aligned
correctly formed the sixth circle. also the wood had
been deemed “no good” by the wood’s suppliers and
the flaw in the wood was set up to form the letter “I”.
“This is all very well if you’re in the know but…….”
I would imagine hearing  the viewers get as far as
saying “I think it’s about wholeness”, but then,
out of feeling unsure of their interpretation, would
leave their enquiry into the work half baked. Originally
L.D.A.F., had  intended there to be a catalogue in
which the artists would give some assistance to the
viewer. Tony Heaton had for example written at length
about his work, explaining that the Six Circles were
allegorical of society, that the ghettos in society (and
disability is one such ghetto) should not be ignored
because each ghetto is an integral part of that society’s
make-up. Of course people were reading “other things”
into the work, such as the association of wheels and
wheelchairs, or the concept of there being no need of
a physical completeness to be whole. “Other things” that
Mr Heaton accepts as the viewers prerogative to
attempt a discovery of the artists unconscious intentions.
But for many people these ideas were unseen or ignored.

This leads me to ask several questions. Is there a
connection between disability and the work in a
disability arts show? Is it enough to say that because
and artist has a disability that it is disability art? Does
presenting non disability art make a sham of the
artist because it indicated that the artist cannot
survive, as an artist without a disability would, in the
outside art world? Does grouping people together
and showing non~disability related work begin to look
like a stand against misrepresentation and more like
the patronising exhibitions put on by Mr and Mrs
Bigot who “like to do their bit for the spastics”? And
finally does the subject matter override the quality
(or lack of it) of the work?

It Is my assumption that the answer to these questions lies
in the context of the exhibition and the type of audience it
is aimed at. Regarding the “Out Of Ourselves” exhibition
it is my personal belief that some work was out of context
regarding its subject matter and some regarding the quality
of its form. who am I to say? what criteria am I using to make
such comments? The Importance of criteria cannot
be understated here. Because It really comes into
play when as an organisation one starts to present
oneself to a mainstream audience or a non-disability
audience. When we come together (instead of being
put together) to present our art as a “political”
gesture, and to try to develop our audiences understanding
of disability, then we must present ourselves
as competent otherwise we shall encourage a
patronising attitude to the work. But what criteria
shall we use to judge what is competent? This whole
subject area begs the question that If (big IF) the
mainstream contemporary art world can make
decisions on quality, then what’s to stop us?
Maybe one thing is a super Sensitivity we have to the
concept of discrimination, we are so hurt by it that
we’re petrified of applying it to ourselves or our
fellow artists. In my eyes this attitude of being overly
cautious when it comes to even constructive criticism
does a lot of people a lot of harm and comes from
an idea that some people can’t take it (that life has
dealt them enough problems already!). In some cases
this may be true but with sensitivity to an individual (so
as not to destroy their incentive to continue) I think
we could all be a bit more constructive, critically
speaking of course.

One of the thoughts that struck me after the “Out of
Ourselves” exhibition was that the Disability Arts
movement needed a spearhead group of artists from
all the fields of art, a group that could survive in the
mainstream, as an artistic branch of the
disability political movement. With artists such as
Lucy Jones, Nancy Willis, Tony Heaton, and Adam
Reynolds, who already have their feet in the door
of the mainstream art world, we are not at a loss for
artists, some of whom were not given a fair show at
the Diorama and others who did not exhibit in it.
I saw some of the Work presented but not exhibited
and was angered at the tack of opportunity to show
such interesting and well made work. Amongst these
was Andrew Lisicki’s drawing of a figure in a room.
This was done with scribbled lines and was making
a point about people saying I can’t draw a straight line,
about technical competence. There was a painting
called “vulnerable” by Mike O’Flara (?) depicting
the vulnerability of an old blind woman. And Gill
Gerhardt’s “Mummy look at that funny” and the
list goes on. The point I’m making is that for a disability
arts exhibition where the target audience is able bodied it
should be taken into account that for some visitors the journey is
hard and long so to arrive to find only a small number of works was
disappointing. Quality, not quantity, I hear you call, but what I’m
saying is that we could have had them both. However, to be fair to
the organisers some of the blame goes to the spectators. Some people
were hungry for more but didn’t give what was available the time
It deserved. Had they done so and had there been more literature to
help them I believe they would have felt better about the exhibition as a whole.

Finally, as I originally stated, this exhibition has been
provocative, in a positive sense. It has helped the
organisers to understand what is desired in future
and just as importantly, it has brought the artists into
a closer contact with one another. Unlike so many
other disability art shows in the past I feel confident
that this one will be followed up. Disability art is
potentially full of the most profound subject areas,
and the artists are available, if they so desire, to work
in this field. I don’t think that we will be fighting for
the opportunity to have our say ‘when the eloquence
with which we speak attracts the audience of its own
accord. A good deal of the work at the Diorama
spoke with such eloquence.