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Anne Teahan: Sharing Cultures: Disability and Visibility - disability arts online
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Anne Teahan's last reflections on seeing 'Revealing Culture' in Washington DC. / 14 July 2010

Chuck Close portriat of a woman

Chuck Close 'Fanny /Fingerpainting', 1985 from the National Gallery, Washington DC - oil painted with fingerprints.

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With only the afternoon left in Washington, I decide to cram everything I can into my last day, push through the tiredness and accept the inevitable energy crash later.

I dip into the National Gallery and the Hirshorn: I see Yves Klein on fuzzy black and white 1960s film, still dragging his naked-women paintbrushes across canvas on an endless loop. I get diverted by a room of Alexander Calder mobiles, exquisitely lit and spaced and find that an hour has gone by and I am still watching the shadows while I allow a dizzy spell to lift.

I take masses of photographs: steel, glass and concrete backdrops to 20th century giants, including a subtle portrait by Chuck Close, made entirely of fingerprints.

Everywhere there are fountains. Small ones to drink from and an amazing glass wall of shimmering water within the National Gallery.

Early evening, I cab to the ultimate monument, and symbol of human rights, The Lincoln Memorial. Despite the gigantic Abraham Lincoln statue (many times life-size) and its elevation high above the city, the effect of all that white stone is strangely cold.

Perhaps the whiteness only comes alive as the backdrop to larger events: it’s easy to visualise Martin Luther King’s speech to many thousands of freedom marchers packed along the length of the Mall; or Obama’s inauguration. So many Washington sites have a parallel life on film in a kind of collective newsreel.

Before leaving the next morning, I buy a Washington Post, (headlining with the BP oil spill) to get a last taste to take home.

In a few short days my central focus has been an exhibition exploring themes of disability, visibility, communication, politics and much else. Beyond this, I have tried to rely on my own instincts and impressions of the wider complex of Smithsonian galleries – and of Washington itself.

It seems to me that everything within ‘Revealing Culture’ has a clear connection with the complexities and contradictions of the wider world. If there is anything distinctive or ‘special’ about this work, it may be the intensity. None of it was ‘casually’ made. All the participants have an intimate knowledge of boundaries and restrictions. Art is so often about working within and pushing against limitations – some of them chosen by the artist – some of them imposed from outside.