By Colin Hambrook
Caroline Cardus' Go Make! residency at Fort Brockhurst, Gosport is the fourth in an ongoing series of bursaries for disabled and deaf artists, awarded by Dada-South, in partnership with English Heritage.
Once a Victorian Fort, with full moat, drawbridges, parade ground and central keep, Fort Brockhurst is now primarily a museum store and a relatively untouched vast space full of potential to explore ideas of exclusion, defence and barriers. This is a fantastically unusual site which is not regularly open to the public, with lots of interesting areas to explore.
Caroline Cardus was delighted to present a multi-sensory installation piece on Saturday 13 September 2008, produced in response to her residency at the Fort. Heritage Open Day visitors were invited to experience the installation, take part in a creative session and hear Caroline talk about her work and the project.
Fort Brockhurst seems an unlikely venue for disability art-making with a group of local disabled punters. What inspired you about the building, its architecture and its history?
When you visit Fort Brockhurst, there’s immediately a feeling that it’s an eclectic and mysterious place. There’s all this empty space which was built to have people in it, but there aren’t any now, so there’s a feeling of loss, or lack. Maybe that appeals to my melancholy side. It was built to be used, but was never used to it’s full potential. I found that interesting too.
It’s also very inaccessible. A challenging place to send a disabled person and then ask them what they think! In fact, when inviting disabled people to take part in the workshops, some of the feedback was "Why would we want to go somewhere that isn’t accessible?!" which was a fair point.
I like to make work that considers the barriers people encounter, so having workshops in a space that has lots of them seems like a logical starting point to explore those feelings. Maybe if we held them somewhere nice and accessible instead, we’d be too unattached to everything. I want people to feel frustrated for this one so we can explore how to represent those feelings.
What kinds of results are you hoping to get from this residency, firstly for yourself as an artist, secondly for the people who come along for the workshop; and thirdly for the partnership between English Heritage and Dada-South?
I’m not looking for happy endings necessarily. It won’t be like The Way Ahead, which was a quite positive project because it put the people making the work in control of giving instruction through signage. There’s still a lot of barriers everywhere for disabled people, so as well as looking ahead I think we have to look at the reality of now.
So, in this residency, I want to communicate how these barriers feel; and although it’s logical to assume much of that won’t be positive, I hope its appeal will be that anyone, disabled or not, will be able to understand the impact that has on the people it affects.
Disabled people are forgotten about and ‘designed-out’ of spaces a lot of the time, physically and emotionally. Even if the act of design isn’t directly agressive, the feelings it provokes are very strong. I don’t think people can really understand that if they’re not affected by it.
For my own art practice, I want to relate directly to this space, something I’ve begun to think about more intently since working with the Architecture Inside-Out project. So often I go into a space and it doesn’t fit who I am or what I need it to do.
I feel like a lot of spaces that speak to me as a wheelchair user are effectively saying ‘Not you’ at every point they are difficult to use. Also, the only other people who can get any sense of that are other disabled people.
I want the workshops to explore that sense, to find out if we have that as common ground - can other people hear these voices from inaccessible spaces? Or are the spaces saying something different to different people? Do we cope in or react to them differently, and where do we go with that?
As for the partnership between Dada-South and English Heritage I’m really pleased English Heritage wants to work with disabled people. I have a good feeling about this collaboration because it feels like an acknowledgement we exist, and have existed throughout history.
The invitation to collaborate doesn’t feel like a ‘box ticker’ because English Heritage are aware the fort isn’t accessible, yet I’m being invited in with a group of people who are part of access groups in the local area in a residency to explore that.