Tony Heaton reviews this wide-ranging, exploratory exhibition, which has been touring the south-west.
After visiting this exhibition in two separate locations, Slimbridge the Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre, Gloucestershire and at The Faith House Gallery, Holton Lee, Dorset, I was left feeling that the primary importance of this show is that it gives a high profile platform to disabled artists, and that their work is both seen and studied within a wider context, largely due to the provision of supporting materials including teaching packs and the DVD, which includes artists statements, but also due to the diversity and potential audiences related to the locations.
It was also good to be able to hear the artists talking about their work, their rationale and their methodology and to see images of the works on the DVD playing within the show.
Often disability arts exhibitions simply offer a platform to show work for a set period of time without a lasting legacy (this is usually due to a lack of funding and support for the sector), but in this case the planning that went into this touring show means that artists will have something more tangible to assist them in promoting their work for the future.
For me the strongest work within a disability arts context was by James Lake and Jon Adams. Lake positions his figures forcing the viewer to move round them, reminding us of the immutability of disability, when our places are determined by someone else removing a chair from an auditorium therefore deciding and highlighting a space for a wheelchair and limiting the choice for the wheelchair user. Adams just speaks so clearly and poignantly about the oppression of a hidden disability like dyslexia.
But it would be unfair to just single people out and much of the work deserves comment. The work by 'Artists First' has a strong identity and the sense of colour and form brought to mind drawings by Picasso, particularly from the 1930s and slightly pre-dating Guernica. Marion Mitchell's sculptural maquettes were animated and had a wry humour about them, a series of assemblage by James Aldridge (also at Disability Arts ), juxtaposing fabrics, materials, clothing, made intriguing and mysterious references to the stuff that is inside of us.
This exhibition proposed that it should encourage debate and discussion and it should certainly succeed in that. In addition the project commissioned artists to deliver workshops, thus giving opportunities to emerging disabled artists to take part and develop skills from contact with more established artists. This is vital if we want younger disabled artists to have the opportunity to develop their creativity and meet and dialogue with others.
Anyone who thinks disability arts was specifically about a period in recent history will find work on show here that moves disability arts forward, questioning the phenomena that is disability.
This exhibition has toured to four venues, so if you want to see it your last chance will be John Creasy Museum, Salisbury Galleries, Wiltshire, 10 February - 3 March 2007, Monday 10.00 am - 7.00 pm, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 9.00 am - 7.00 pm, Thursday & Saturday 9.00 am - 5.00 pm.
On the Next Level - Space Between, has been developed by Art Shape, alongside four partner organisations, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, The Brewhouse, Holton Lee and John Creasy Museum.
To find out more go to the Artshape web site