Sinead O’Donnell reviews ‘Pathways to Practice’ - a one day symposium exploring and celebrating visual artists’ practice and development through the Arts & Disability Ireland and Fire Station Artists' Studios ‘Studio Award for an Artist with a Disability’
The symposium was hosted by the Lewis Glucksman Gallery in Cork, on 28th February 2013.The morning session began with short presentations from the studio award recipients: Noëmi Lakmaier (Austria/London), Anna Berndtson, (Sweden), Ruth Le Gear (Rep of Ireland/ Berlin) and Hugh O’Donnell (Northern Ireland). Each artist described their idiosyncratic approaches to their practice before, during and after their residency experience, displaying the shifts, turns and outcomes that the residency had on their professional practice.
Noëmi Lakmaier’s feelings of isolation as a resident artist in a city that was foreign to her didn’t seem to deter her artistic process: in fact she used those emotions as material. The outcome merged her sculptural practice with live performance creating a situation of controlled encounter such as in ‘We are for you because we are against them (a dinner party for eight guests)’. First presented at the LAB, Dublin City Council Arts Office, gallery space the work has since toured to various locations and events.
Anna Berndtson with a background in theatre and dance developed photographic site based actions, videoed public interventions and durational visual performance. One was ‘Working Lactans’ at Mill Street Gallery and Studios, Dublin. I witnessed the performance live and in this durational performance Berndtson performed a tightly domesticated and ritualistic 10 hour work over 3 days.
Ruth Le Gear’s work approached the existing archaeological, megalithic and mythological sites in Ireland. Placing herself into these landscapes and recording her investigations. Her work observing the body in photograph, sculpture and video exposes process as methodology. Le Gear’s work now has moved toward the co-existence of art and science, she mentioned during her presentation her collection of human tears and attempts to make the tears into crystalized forms.
Hugh O’Donnell used his residency to develop the areas of drawing, collage and photography in his work. During this time he presented these processes in his live works. His final work entitled ‘Aixelsyd doesn’t harm your health’ was a performance that reflected his adult diagnosis of dyslexia and recognising that it is part of his being, part of how Hugh is and it doesn’t harm your health!
Aaron Williamson a London based academic, curator, writer, filmmaker, performance artist and international trickster presented his work in conversation with Patrick Murphy Director of the RHA Gallery, Dublin. Williamson described the work he made while on residency at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. This work was presented as an exhibition commissioned by DaDaFest 2012. Williamson responded to the Walker Art Gallery’s Victorian art collection identifying his findings under the guise of the ‘Eavesdropper’ and blogging his daily thoughts and findings.
For his final exhibition Williamson made a 3 day performance from 10am-5pm each day. An unsuspecting audience encountered Williamson as a live exhibit, standing on top of a plinth in the public gallery with a mask attached to his head that was made of tights with mannequin’s eyes attached. The poses that he constructed were reflections of the characters within the painted collection in his surroundings.
Williamson also screened the work Barrier Man made during DaDaFest 2008 and shown as part of ‘Niet Normaal’ in which he diverted the ‘normal’ movement of people and traffic in the street in Liverpool city by using the simple materials of a yellow hi-visibility jacket, orange traffic cones, several reels of red and white barrier tape, and a camera man. The audience came across the work accidentally which caused confusion but this was taken well. It was an action that defined the invisible barriers and physical obstacles that disabled people experience every day.
Closing his conversation Williamson screened his bold and dynamic collaborative work with Katherine Araniello as the duo DAG (Disability Avent Garde) shaking up the room into a wrinkle of laughter with their subversive use of humour projected through their performance art interventions, video and film.
The next panel approached the pilot mentoring programme as part of the ‘Studio Award for an Artist with a Disability’. Chaired by Katherine Atkinson from Create and following up on the residency panel of artists presenting their work earlier that day, the artists now opened up their experience of the artist to artist mentoring programme.
Within the residencies each artist was coupled with an emerging artist based locally or nationally in Ireland. Artists identifying as disabled mentoring other artists that identify as disabled. Their artistic practices didn’t necessarily have to be the same discipline. The mentored artists needs and requirements like those of the residential artists were all different in approach depending on their practice discipline, stage in their career and areas in which they wanted to develop further such as proposal writing, methodology awareness and development, as an outcome of the mentoring programme the artists were merged into the Dublin mainstream arts scene and given the attention and support they deserved.
The future plan for Arts & Disability Ireland and Fire Station Artists' Studios ‘Studio Award for an Artist with a Disability, is that the studios will now merge the ‘disabled’ studio residency into their mainstream residency programme. The residency will not be advertised as a disabled artist opportunity but will automatically provide an equal opportunity for non-disabled and disabled artists together with an access grant and support from disability equality trained staff.
Fire Station Artists’ Studios through the experience of the past ‘Studio Award for an Artist with a Disability’ is an excellent model of how art organisations can lead the way in understanding artists who identify as disabled and what access they require and how the artists can be supported. All of this being possible by learning through practice and adapting to each artist’s needs as they went along over the years and advised under the guidance of Arts & Disability Ireland.
The pilot mentoring programme will be replaced by a Mentoring Programme which includes a panel that will be paid to mentor selected disabled artists. The Mentoring Programme will be open for submission and applications will be available in early April 2013. For more information go to www.firestation.ie.
I think that Fire Station Artists’ Studios and Arts & Disability Ireland’s approach to representing and supporting disabled artists through residencies is solid because they are not creating a ghetto. It’s really positive that we are all together and that we all stand together in solidarity in the arts.