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16 December 2006

Light Being is a new sculpture by Paul Cade. Colin Hambrook looks at the piece within the context of disability arts

Sculpture of human figure covered in pinpoints of light

We have reached a critical time in the development of Disability Arts. There is a lot at stake. As some disabled artists get work and recognition in the wider Arts arena, there is a risk of us losing the plot. The fear that we will step back into the days when the phrase 'tragic and brave' was synonymous with disabled people, is a nagging thought.

However, occasionally something comes along that allays that fear, with its sheer mix of originality and precocity. Paul Cade's sculpture, Light Being, is just such an object. Like a lot of good ideas, it is in essence fairly simple. It consists of a life-size plaster cast of the artist in a sitting position, illuminated by a thousand or so fibre optic lights. The lights radiate at equidistant points around the cast, which is mounted on a mirror.

In a previous sculpture, Sanity 4 Vanity, Paul used syringes as a metaphor for the fragile balance between life and death. In Light Being, the syringes have been replaced by points of light. The effect is a sublime statement about impairment, from the standpoint of someone questioning the negative ideas and attitudes imposed by non-disabled people. In the context of a darkened room, it radiates a literal aura, giving off an incredible sense of peace and bliss that draws people in, with an intensity that radiates a calm, spiritual atmosphere.

Paul describes the making of Light Being as a deeply profound experience. The process of being cast in plaster took him back to a time when he was manacled to a floor in a jail in Utah, USA. At the time, he was going through a psychosis brought about by the drug Interferon, prescribed for leukaemia. ThroughLight Being he has transformed the difficulties that arise from living in a society that is frightened of disability; one which turns away and discriminates, unthinkingly, because of its lack of reflection on the deeper meanings of life.

What he has created is something that resonates with a beauty and a power of the affirmative. It describes a state of transcendence that western artists often look for, but rarely attain. William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience comes to mind. In a contemporary vein, the video works of Bill Viola examine life and death, from an artistic viewpoint. In sculpture, Anish Kapoor's Ghost and Antony Gormley's Angel of the North carry a sense of the point at which the material and the ethereal body become indistinguishable. Ghost is a reflection of light within a large hollowed-out block of marble, which gives the illusion of a three-dimensional human form. Angel of the North makes a statement about the power of imagination. It is possible to take wings and fly, if we will it, no matter how physical and heavy we feel ourselves to be. Light Being takes these ideas another step. It puts us in touch with the immensity of the light, which shines through each atom. Impairment can, and often does, bring us closer to this kind of experience.

Paul Cade's sculpture Light Being is on display in a group exhibition, Habitat, at the Phoenix Gallery, 10-14 Waterloo Place, Brighton, BN2 OJP until 22nd April 2006.

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