This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit disabilityarts.online.

Disability Arts Online

Part two of David Bower's account of Signdance's work in India 2009 part two / 28 February 2009

On reading the Hindu Times, one article seeks to illustrate the different ways people have of describing India. In so many words, one school tries to categorise India as having "a beginning, a middle and a full stop".

It basically tries to pigeon-hole India: the writer goes on to say that it is ludicrous to attempt or even want to do this. In my layman's opinion, I couldn’t agree more.

To me India is infinite, and the matrices multi-prismatic; all of life is here, the trials, the tribulations, the future, the past, the urgency of the present moment, 'the sham', the love, 'the drudgery', the enlightened, 'the broken dreams', the path, the power struggles, the equality, the inequity.

Everything is out in the open, for better or for worse; only those who close the door miss out on this chance to engage in the energetic, challenging, adventurous dance that we know as India.

Aside from obvious things like decent dentistry, what, I ask is modernity any how? And what, for that matter is time? The way we could shape our lives is endless; we could if we choose, re-invent our planet in a thousand million different ways. I'm always disappointed when someone says, 'that's just the way it is, it's called reality my son'.

As the Manic Street Preachers might say, "this is my reality, what's yours?" Seems like a wise retort to such a blinkered view.

Hence the mechanism of art; it's one of the greatest tools we have. It enables us to propose possible blueprints of how we are in the world, or how we could be, or we could bring to life, as earnestly as possible, what we were. Art can also activate and transform our very being, it can point a way to our future evolution.

As a Deaf artist, I have a particular interest in the nature of sound. In fact I feel compelled to examine the difference between myself and a hearing person. It's quite obvious to me that the ears don't just function as tools with which to hear. For example they also serve as an aid to adjust our body to atmospheric pressure, and they serve to assist our balancing process, a very useful thing to have in dance.

I'm convinced that our ears serve us in ways that science has yet to define. In the workshop we discuss this notion hueristically. My colleauge, Isolte, suggested that ears help us to sense a greater depth of three dimensional spatiality. Personally I tend to agree on this point.

To be sure, our Deafness has enabled us to develop a culture and a way of communicating that has heralded the evolution of a distinct language group. This development has somewhat been stymied by the 'well meaning' but nevertheless clumsy efforts of the scientific community.

For example, 'Lets teach the Deaf to be like the Hearing'. The result of this has been to create highly contentious factions within the Deaf community. With so called 'Big D' members of the Deaf dismissing 'Little d' members. Embarrassing innuendos mar any decent attempt at serious discussion. Big D connotates people who are 'properly deaf' and the latter connotates those who have had an oralist influence in thier formative years, and therefore illogically not 'true deaf'.

The similarities across the field are undeniable, the word mulatto springs to mind, a form of inverted rascism. These are real lives, with hopes, dreams and a heart. A divided world, squabbling sailors on an unchartered ocean.

I recall a time, where I was described, by a fellow deaf person, as not 'true deaf', to several people on the Isle of Wight. This led to an unfortunate situation where an entire community was led to believe that I was a hearing person pretending to be deaf. I mean can you imagine! The irony here, is that the deaf person who said this was in actual fact able to use a telephone, I can’t.

Moot point aside, lest I digress. The hueristic discussion we were having in the studio, concerning our little theory about the multi-functionality of the ear, led us to consider our working practise, and the usefulness that certain techniques in dance have towards increasing three dimensional spatiality. By this, we mean not just seeing or hearing our surrounding environs in the literal sense, but sensing and intuiting via 'the expectant space' within the organs of the ears.

It's a different kind of hearing, one that requires no actual hearing. For example a conch shell has acoustic properties that go beyond normal everyday sound. Via its spiral, it conducts a composite sound or a sound of all sounds. Beethoven descibes it as 'The music of the spheres'.

The 'OM' in Hinduism too also acts as a conducter that reactivates our perception of 'deep sound'. Good practise in dance also generates this latency into action. As with the original Australasians singing into existence the world around them on the 'songlines'.

This kind of 'hearing' is not hearing in the everyday sense of the word, but a perception of a deeper reality. A kind of reality, full of meaning, that enables the deaf dancer to make visible these deep stories that lie within and around us. As Tony Heaton sculptor, former director at Holton Lee and current director at Shape London, once related to me a zen story about a sculptor who lived in ancient Japan: "when I look at the stone, I don’t see just the rock but I also see the form within that needs to be freed."

More on this one coming up, keep the peace Bro!....