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> > > Exceptional & Extraordinary: Unruly Bodies and Minds in the Medical Museum

18 April 2016

Unique film, dance, performance and comedy commissions draw on museum collections to explore our problematic attitudes towards difference.

photo of a metal hand

'Hand': artefact from Blythe House

Since humans first appeared on earth no two have ever been the same. Yet somewhere along the way, certain bodies and minds came to be highly valued whilst others became viewed as problematic: as deviant and unruly, deficient and requiring adjustment towards a perceived idealised norm.

Following Mat Fraser’s astonishing and award-winning commission Cabinet of Curiosities that toured UK museums in 2015, Exceptional & Extraordinary invites four artists to explore behind the scenes of eight of the UK’s most renowned medical museums. 

In collaboration with experts in medical history, disability and museums – they are currently producing a series of thought provoking new commissions that examine our attitudes towards difference and aim to stimulate debate around the implications of a society that values some lives more than others. 

The subsequent ticketed performances and film will tour throughout June 2016 to all eight partner museums, with different groupings of the commissions so that every performance is unique to each venue and with many of the performances supported by after-show discussion panels with invited experts as well as opportunities to view and handle some of the objects that have inspired the artists.

Initiated and led by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) at the University of Leicester, Exceptional and Extraordinary is a collaborative project involving four artists: film-maker David Hevey, comedian Francesca Martinez, dance company Deaf Men Dancing led by Mark Smith, artist and playwright Julie McNamara and eight museums.

‘Museums hold enormous potential to stimulate debate about important contemporary issues and, at a time when disabled people are unfairly bearing the brunt of government cuts, we believe it is important to be exploring ways of harnessing that power to ask challenging questions’.
Professor Richard Sandell, Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) at the University of Leicester.

‘We are delighted to be working with such an exciting mix of artists and experts across the fields of museums, disability and biomedicine. The unique process behind the project reflects RCMG’s established commitment to collaborative practice as a powerful means to address pressing social concerns.’
Jocelyn Dodd, Director of the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) at the University of Leicester

Work and performances will be on show at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS); the Science Museum; the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds; the Royal London Hospital Museum and Archives; Surgeons’ Hall Museums at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh; Museum of the Mind; Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability. Project advisors are Tony Heaton, SHAPE and Katherine Ott, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Funded through a Large Arts Award by the Wellcome Trust and a Grants for the Arts award from Arts Council England, Exceptional & Extraordinary is an ambitious project that aims to engage visitors to all the partner museums, professionals in the field of biomedicine and the broader public in a reassessment of widely held assumptions surrounding physical and mental difference, disability and contemporary (often negative and discriminatory) attitudes towards disabled people.

The commissions will offer new ways of seeing that will be used to question and stimulate public, biomedical professional and media debate around the social, cultural and ethical implications of medicalised ways of understanding difference that pervade biomedical professional practice as well as shape broader public and societal attitudes towards disability and disabled people.

For further information please visit the website for the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) at the University of Leicester

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