This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

> > Richard Downes

More Yoko No 6 - Engaging with the Medical Model

The room has four walls. One leading outside is full of windows. No art stands there. The other three walls hold a collection of photos in horizontal line. Each of the photos are the same as the one before. It is a blurred photo. Probably a portrait of a man who wears glasses. It is hard to tell. The piece is called Vertical Memory and is dated 1997. But you said it's a horizontal line and its called vertical. Why is that?

Each photo represents an event in life. In life we grow tall - well, some of us do. We grow upwards. The movement is vertical. We stand against a wall and have our inches marked off for us as children. Yoko is marking off something else entirely. As she grows she grows in line with medical and caring interventions. It is these that are marked out horizontally as she herself grows towards the sky.

There are three main characters. Care attendants, Priests and Doctors. Don't be surprised to find holy men conspiring with your death within the medical model. Who else will administer those last rites.

Yoko didn't like the care attendant, Shosi, who held her hand on the walk to school. She found his attendance an embarrassment. Her preference was for freedom. Later, in wartime, in penury, malnourished, feeling faint and next to fever a doctor tells her to close her eyes. He bends over her. She feels uncomfortable. The medic kisses her. These are portents for the medical model. Confinement, threats, abuse. Then there begins a list of removals. Appendix, tonsils, wisdom teeth. The list that is taken never seems to meet with gifts that are given back. A psychiatrist enters the room. Yoko has a real problem. She is not dating. She should be dating. Her value is found in matrimony. I am guessing there is a cultural imperative here. Dating is normal. Not dating is time to call the doctor.

More is taken. Yoko's tale is told in part by failure to deliver a child too. She miscarries, she has abortions. Is it Life With The Lions or The Wedding Album that records a foetus heartbeat prior to another miscarriage. Do you hear the heartbeat playing in the gallery, or the hawk, are you praying for or circling over Syria and all the children dying there today, the mothers who will not deliver, the partners who will not share fruit. Yoko records the birth of a son and daughter.

Interestingly 4 artists appear. They do not differ at all from those engaged in the model under discussion here. Are they working within the professions or is it their values that are the same. Is it about unkindness, cruelty, invasion, removal, disrespect. I must return one day to read the words applied here.

Towards the end Yoko refuses to take a last confession from a priest and whilst a doctor might close her eyes at the end as in the beginning Yoko protests you cannot take my mind and of cause remembers all the beds she laid in during this horizontal record railing at the last; "What percentage of my life did I take it lying down?"

And of cause this blog should end there with dissatisfaction and protest but I remain male and must have the last word. It always struck me as somewhat fallacious that the social model would be railed against by feminists on the grounds that it was constructed by men. I never understood the criticism that the social model failed to encompass pain. It was my feeling that the model could cover all and speak of everything. I have tested this model on the grounds of race and believe that it could and should apply to age. It will guide me the more steps I take into that sphere. I never thought to test gender against the other models. But Yoko has taken me there as a woman speaking to a man.

In front of the windows 5 exhibits: A Family Album demarcated by High Heel Shoes, A Letter and Envelop, A Coathanger, Thread and Needle and A Mind Box. Bronze sculptures covered in blood (well red paint). It strikes me now that these pieces belong with the memory. The coathanger is bent out of shape to act as forceps or abortion machinery.

What was in the letter who was it from? How much did she bleed after the event? How would the needle and thread be used and what was in the mind box that it should bleed so profusely now?

I want to open it. They won't let me. I find myself before it considering my own anger and my own sense of loss. I find myself more moved today, all these weeks after the event, by the composition within the four walls but I was more moved by the box on the day than i can imagine now. Its funny that.


Posted by Rich Downes, 26 July 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 27 July 2012

The Revolution Starts Here - Just As It Started There Before

Can I get something off my chest please.

I just don't like the sub heading being used by the Southbank to push Unlimited. I don't like it so much my mind refuses to capture it but I think its; "The Revelation Starts Here...".

I don't like it because it sounds a little bit holy moly for my taste. Its biblical man.

Anybody else here remember the campaigns against Maurice Cerrulo and the like. Healers. Pah!!! It strikes me as being almost anti disabled people.

And this is so sad and I'll tell you why.

Its taken from a quote which is on the wall of the Spirit Level (Royal Festival Hall). It says something like; The revelation starts here.... we want a fully inclusive society for everyone.

That's real good. That's better. That fits. Makes sense to me.

The revelation is now clear. When we say we want a better world for disabled people we are saying we want a better world for everyone.


Posted by Rich Downes, 18 July 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 19 July 2012

Get stuck into Karamel Music for the last time this season

Rosely Funari is manager of the Karamel Club and she is is very serious. Every time she talks to me she talks to me about Disability Issues. I listen to her, she tells me what she is doing and then I buy a drink.

Her latest pride other than employing a disabled person is the new ramp and an access audit that says other than the gap between bars the loo is accessible.

She is so serious she won't even turn on the glitter ball because she was asked to turn it off once. I'm teasing her about turning it back on and she said she might next time unless someone asks for it tobe turned off because of an impairment issue. Rosely Funari is one of the many reasons i love the Karamel Club.

Another reason is the Karamel Music Club Nights. Free Music from Chris Sheehan's collective. An attentive crowd. Ian's very reasonably priced food. The mix of politicos and artists. Next time around, wednesday 25th January Chris is showcasing his mate Chris Difford from Squeeze, Norman Lovett from Red Dwarf and Kate Threlfall - for all i know probably a new act who excited Chris one night he was out on the town.

Oh and there is currently a great exhibition of Andrew Wiard's photos showing off all the best direct actions of the last 40 years, across the political spectrum.

Its a good line up. I'm going.  Rosely is very serious. She wants cheering up. Go tell her you like her ramps and toilets and to turn the glitter ball on.

Posted by Rich Downes, 17 July 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 19 July 2012

More Yoko No 5 - Heaven and Earth

Health and Safety Alert!!!!!

John met Yoko at the Indica Gallery. He climbed a letter to find a word that said YES. He was so pleased it wasn't anything negative and therein lies the roots of a love story.

It will never be repeated at the Serpentine for policies are used to stop you climbing the ladder. It strikes me that the ladder has a place between heaven and earth that some of us would prefer to have replaced by a ramp and why not.

It further strikes me that in this place there exist a number of references to the distances that lie between the earth and sky. Yoko manipulates them, inverts them, continues to have fun with them. This is the scope of her environment and ours. What can you do in this space?

 In the second chamber I find 'A Painting To Be Stepped On'. Yoko instructs; "Leave a piece of canvas or finished painting on the floor or in the street". Is the cut out canvas in front of me the original from winter 1960? If so how many times has it been stepped on, how many footprints has it borne. The piece looks like no more than a discarded rag. It is dispensable but it holds the history of all those who ever stood upon it - their pasts and their futures.

I feel nervous before it. I am challenged to respect it and walk around it or to respect it even more by putting my foot upon it. I choose. I plant my foot on the thinnest strip. It takes the full length of my big left foot but cannot sustain the width. I remove my foot. I am reminded how much I like to be grounded, have both feet upon the earth. I am more inclined to be here than in the sky, but admit that I sometimes dream of flying. I am reminided of a Laurie Anderson song: "everytime we take a step we are falling." Perhaps there is a point when we are flying too.

I put my foot back on the thin bit. It feels as if it is in a different place. I feel the gap between the canvas and the floor. It is small but it feels dangerous. There is no great distance to fall. I also feel previleged. I stand on a canvas cut apparently with japanese motifs which I am unable to recognise. I am challenged again. Do I invade another country in my actions. This limp old rag bit of canvas confounds me.

Other heaven and earth pieces exist here as I have said. I will not review the 13 upturned helmets which contain pieces of the sky, I will not comment on the 3 mounds of earth from different countries; say anything more about the ladder, or the card on the floor saying this is the ceiling; nor the card on the ceiling saying this is the floor.

And neither will I reflect on the potato cut game played with John and Yoko's feet that are now turned to show them walking together to the sky. I do wonder however; how much more time I will spend with More Yoko.

Posted by Rich Downes, 13 July 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 14 July 2012