17 December 2008
Vauxhall’s art laboratory, Beaconsfield, recently curated Late at Tate, an artist intervention in Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries.
The concept behind the evening was the idea of creating a terminal space, with an array of arrival and departure points, in which only the surreal applied. Was it dream or purgatory?
Katherine Araniello, disability avant-garde artist, was one of a group of creatives invited to take part. Her work is dedicated to challenging and subverting representations of physical disability. Much of her focus is on parodying complex contemporary issues such as assisted suicide, media representation, prejudice, ignorance and body aesthetics.
Using a variety of media including film, performance and digital prints she transforms these complex and serious issues to make works that are humorous and playful with a critical edge. Here, she discusses the process behind creating her character, Terminal Services, a cross between an air-hostess and a security guard.
My original plan was to approach random members of the public and ask them questions about their evening. The concept was quite straightforward. Treat the person as if they are disabled or treat a pair of people as if they are a PA and a disabled person. In addition, if an obvious disabled person came along, I would speak to the disabled person directly. I set up the following list of statements to try out on the public:
‘Hello are you ok? Are you looking for someone? Are you lost? Can I help you? Do you want me to see if I can find your friend?’
‘Do you know where the bar is?’
‘You'll have to buy her/his drinks for her/him.’
‘The specially allocated toilets for your friend are situated over there and if you need any help come and find me and I will take you there myself. I know the quickest route.’
‘I've been specially hired to help people like you. So please let me know if there's anything I can do to make your visit this evening more comfortable. The lifts are just over there.’
‘It's great to see you out.’
‘Is this your first time?’
‘We have very good facilities here so you should have no problem getting around.’
‘Did you have an easy time getting into the building? ’
‘Enjoy your evening. ’
‘Mind your backs – just bringing this lady behind me through, please make way for her.’
‘There is a disco, but it will probably be overcrowded but I can try to make room for you if you want to go.’
‘There is a private party going on in the Millbank Studio, unfortunately it doesn't have facilities to accommodate people like you.’
‘We do have First Aid here – that security guard over there will show you where it is.’
‘Please can you move over a bit to make room for this gentleman so that he can see the film. Thank you very much.’
‘We do have a band playing, (Bob and Roberta Smith – Apathy Band) they are very good but it might be a little noisy for you.’
‘I thought I'd better warn you that we do have some monkeys roaming around – so if they bother you please come and get me and I'll ask them to leave you alone.’
‘Do you have your VIP ticket on you? Okay I will take you to the VIP area - please follow me. (move over – please stand back so the gentleman behind me can get through easily, thank you).’
‘Do you know where the bar is? Okay follow me I will take you straight there.’
‘We do have a special salon this evening so if you would like to have your hair done please follow me and I will see if I can get you in. Are you okay to sit on the swivel seats or would you prefer to stay standing?’
‘Some of the lifts may be occupied by other people but if you need to use one please come and get me and I will make sure you have first priority.’
``Initially I found it difficult to approach random members of the public particularly as it was extremely crowded. The large gallery was filled with echo, making if difficult to hear or be heard. My co-terminal services partner asked me if I wouldn't mind escorting Jessica Voorsanger, who played Francis Bacon and Henry Moore alternately, throughout the evening. It was from this point that the work changed direction though the concept still held strong to its original identity.
I began trundling up and down the Duveen Galleries, shouting out through my loudspeakers: 'Mind your backs, make space for Francis Bacon the famous artist!' Henry Moore and Francis Bacon didn't speak, so every time either of them wanted to speak to someone in the audience, the artist would whisper in my ear and I would speak on her behalf.
And if the public tried to talk to her directly, she would whisper in my ear her 'in character' reply. It was an enjoyable role. As Henry Moore she shuffled along next to me at a really slow pace - holding onto my wheelchair as if it were a travelator. We would stop at random and she would point someone out in the crowd and whisper in my ear to ask them if they would like their portrait done.
She would then pullout a notepad and make a 30 second drawing and whisper in my ear for them not to sell it at Christies or Sotheby's. In the guise of Francis Bacon she did the same but drew with lipsticks and then smudged it with her elbow. Whilst escorting Henry Moore I began to deliberately steer towards people who were gathered in little groups, talking. I managed to shift people who were seated on the floor. I drove directly through crowds, who would then quickly stand up and get out of the way.
Because the place was so loud and so full of people, my original idea didn't feel right. It's far easier to work in collaboration and I don't feel that the concept was altered too much by hooking up with Jessica Voorsanger. Becoming her guide and translator was a positive and interesting role to take on; and less aggressive than my original idea. The work became more balanced as it was no longer focused entirely on me and the public but was also about challenging ideas about celebrity.