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> > > Review: DaDaFest 2012


DaDaFest is an innovative disability arts organisation based in Liverpool, delivering the Festival and other arts events to promote high quality disability & deaf arts from unique cultural perspectives.

We all inhabit a body subject to degeneration, which affects our space and acceptance in the world. DaDaFest 2012 sought to address the complexities that surround these issues as viewed from the position of disability, with a vision to inspire, develop and celebrate talent and excellence in disability and deaf arts.

Events ranged from the major exhibition Niet Normaal: Difference on Display, at the Bluecoat to cutting-edge comedy, deaf culture events and leading international musicians, with a programme that  entertained through a presentation of artforms from different cultural perspectives.

These pages contain a selection of reviews, and responses to the eclectic programme of international performance arts, visual arts and discussion that took place between 13 July - 2 September 2012

Visit for more information

Susan Bennett reviews Changing Capacities: Changing Identities seminar

image of a man with a bald head

Changing Capacities: Changing Identities seminar

The Changing Capacities: Changing Identities seminar took place on 1 September at the University of Liverpool. Presenters include Professor Margrit Shildrick, Dr Janet Price (DaDaFest), photographer Ashley Savage, Professor Carol Thomas (Lancaster University) and Dr Ria Cheyne (Liverpool Hope University) and David Roche.

At a day’s seminar held at the Foresight Centre in Liverpool as part of the annual Dadafest event, I didn’t manage to make the morning session on changing capacities but I was in for the death  - an afternoon portraying the lived experiences of life limiting illnesses.

Shown through a variety of media: art courtesy of the Waterfront Project in Southport, sculpture, moving images, still photography, documentary and by critical analysis of the way in which society views death, assisted death and euthanasia, it was a challenging afternoon.

Dr Amy Hardie a documentary director and international prize winner for her films showed a cameo of Tosh, filmed at Strathcarron Hospice. It was a stark reminder of how professionals view terminal illness. Interviewed by a social worker, in answer to the question if he thought he was unlikely to live for six months, Tosh retorted: ‘Who the hell knows when they are going to die? Just live and get on with it I say!’

And he did. In the style of Frank Sinatra, Tosh smiled and sang right from his heart around the hospice, filmed singing, light in his eyes, as he had his hair cut, his nails buffed and flirted with others in the dining room. His double incontinence, cancer and life expectations to one side, smartly dressed, crooning like a professional, Tosh showed who he was and how he wanted to be perceived. His film as he intended, shouted loud ‘This is who I am!’ and will be viewable long after his death - a lasting testimony to his life force.

Ashley Savage’s one hundred still photos depicting the life, energy and progression of cancer in Tutu, Kristen Tedder McDermott (1967 – 2012) was stark, at times intrusively intimate, but always real. In giving her permission and actively managing this project, planning shots and scenes, Tutu hoped to inspire and empower others suffering from similar trauma. Ever the performer she saw documenting her battle with cancer as one of the few positives of her condition as it gave her a focus and goal. Tutu insisted to the end that the fluffy, pink breast cancer imagery was not the way to go. This work is her legacy.

Following this line, Professor Magrit Shildrick from Linkoping University in Sweden argued that life is a continuous creative process. Organisms die not life and the true value of life is its interconnectedness with others.

In a meticulously argued case for rethinking how society and in particularly, disability fora, view death,  she spoke of suicide and euthanasia as final expressions of the opportunity of life and that disability can be seen as a condition that sustains the move to a different form of alternative being.

Heavily illustrated by researched examples, including the recent death of Tony Nicholson, the ethical emptiness of the position where severely disabled people are denied opportunities to commit suicide which others with fewer impairments can take up was revealed. Moral dilemmas and the law as outlined by Shildrick gives few choices for disabled people other than with organisations such as Dignitas and in the state of Oregon.

It was a brave debate opening up sensitive issues set in current concerns over government changes to benefits and the probable impact on the independence of disabled people. Fully expressed through the diversity of words, speech, images and feelings it was a masterful use of creativity and a  platform for personal and political issues. The challenge is now to take this to a wider audience.

Susan Bennett reviews Laurence Clark's 'Inspired'

a man sitting in a wheelchair photographed from above smiling pulling open his shirt to show a Superman t-shirt

Laurence Clark is no superhero! Image courtesy Laurence Clark

Laurence Clark performed his Unlimited commision 'Inspired' at the Unity Theatre, Liverpool on 31 August

As Laurence Clark wheeled a pretty curve into the Unity Theatre auditorium I caught his impish grin and wondered where I had seen him before? Though we are both based in Liverpool, I knew it hadn’t been recently but his voice, body gestures – that distinctive arm over the head flourish - was itching my brain as he launched into a quick game show voting foray on the impossibility of some regional accents, engaging the audience from the start.

And so the show rattled on at a furious pace, Laurence using the screen behind him. One second it showed still photos, his children, film stars, provocative icons then an Internet page showing an alternative but real Laurence Clark embarking on a sponsored expedition up Everest ‘But that’s not me…’. Followed by a clip of the Olympics with commentators screaming his name, ‘That’s not me either!’

Laurence just enjoys Googling his name and seeing what comes up. Riotous humour both aimed at others and to spike the patronising status given unwanted to him as ‘brave, courageous, worthy and yes, that dreaded ‘I’ word, inspirational.

And this was the whole point of the show, to show he was not ‘inspirational’ merely because he had cerebral palsy and made folk laugh. He set us up to challenge the very concept, knocked it down then showed us something which if it was not exactly that it was certainly very courageous. Bungee jumping from hundreds of feet up a gantry, his feet crashing into the water as our audience gasped as he dangled impotently bouncing from the thread was either foolish or sensation seeking – depending on your view of vertigo. But then dramatically dropping a limp straw onto the ground in front of us to show it was just gravity was the twist that kept us all riveted to this nonstop, unpredictable madcap rush around Laurence’s view of the world.

But then, maybe inadvertently, he spoilt it all by showing exactly why he is – er, pardon me -  Inspirational…... For who could not admire someone who challenges public perceptions by a series of street based experiments all of which were at the expense of his own dignity and right to be valued as a person?  And then have the grace and dignity to laugh at the public reactions, tolerantly and with genuine humour? For this could all so easily have been a bitter rant.

Overuse of the ‘F…’ word apart, this was a slick act, very interactive. Laurence was fully in tune with the audience and reacted accordingly to every variation in response. I enjoyed the use of multimedia, his command of the floor space, spinning back and forth forcing you to follow and the critical yet insightful commentary about people, their perceptions and tendency to react to stereotypes.

It was indeed ironic that the idea for the show was inspired by a Tweet from someone who said Laurence was that ‘I’ word, his angry reaction and urge to seek this person out only to find that he too has cerebral palsy, and what brought me to remember where I had met Laurence before.

Coincidentally he had been on a train back from London to Liverpool in 2002, found himself sat next to someone who worked for at the City Council and ended up being invited to help facilitate a huge consultation which I was organising. He was a big hit back then too - so cheers, Laurence!

Cate Jacob reviews David Roche’s 'Catholic Erotica'

actor david roche, dressed in a purple shirt, performs in front of a mirror

David Roche performs in front of a mirror

Catholic Erotica, David Roche’s new show, was a very fitting climax for DadaFest 2012, which has been a veritable feast of world acclaimed talent and events. Cate Jacobs says they certainly saved the best wine till last!

The show is billed as a tongue in cheek journey through the dark forest of rules and repression of a Catholic upbringing.

Catholic stereotypes have long been the subject of comic humour, but what makes David’s show unique, is the way he twists together the separate strands of his personal experiences of Catholicism and facial disfigurement, so we’re left in no doubt which was the more difficult to live with!

He starts by sharing his rejection from a seminary, at age13, because, he was told, he was too ugly to be a priest! He immediately has the audiences sympathy.

Roche takes us on a riotous journey through the confusion and misunderstanding of sin, sex, shame and  guilt, that leaves a preadolescent boy believing that adultery consists of farting in church! And  as a result of Catholic sex education, he grows up with an unhealthy fixation on women with large developed halo’s!

He slips his jacket off, hangs his head slightly to one side, avoids eye contact and fiddles constantly with his nails, as he relates stories of being an altar boy. There is a stillness in the audience, that has the quality of the silence of snow falling at night - we are rapt. David Roche, aged 8, has us in the palm of his hand.

Roche puts the jacket back on and immediately transforms into his adult self,  whisking us off through the world of saints, nature films and the different words for wanking!

We are all splitting our sides laughing, when he changes jacket and introduces us to his friend Jesus, whose opening lines consist of ‘Hello my name’s Jesus I’m an alcoholic….’ there is a  sharp intake of breath from all the Catholic’s in the audience, who momentarily lose the ability to breathe, as they can’t quite believe what they’re hearing, but within seconds the relief of laughter sweeps over us all and carries us through a deeply irreverent and hilarious skit of the classic sacred heart picture - which is to be found in all good Catholic homes.

It may not surprise you to hear that Roche was kicked out of seminary for having a sense of humour!

David Roche has a finely tuned sense of timing, he delivers both punch lines and pauses with great skill. He has the measure of his audience, which is a good thing as he goes on to regale us with his experiences of working in a dildo factory in San Francisco - at which point I find myself wishing I had worn a pair of incontinence pants, I’m laughing so hard! And the poor sign interpreter is struggling to retain his composure!

He brings us back to the here and now, through the gentler territory of ageing, sprouting ear hair and the tender grooming of his wife Marlena.

Catholic Erotic is a carefully orchestrated performance, that leads us in laughter and awe, from a place of naivety through to maturity and into a sense of integrated acceptance; as David Roche stands tall and states to his audience ‘I am proud of my shame.’ - you are aware that magic and alchemy have happened through his humour and something in us all is subtly changed for the better.

Colin Hambrook reviews Benny Prasad's performance with acoustic guitar

photo of guitarist Benny Prasad on stage tuning his guitar

Benny Prasad in concert

Born in Bangalore, Benny Prasad is an internationally celebrated musician who brought his guitar to Liverpool Cathedral on 29 August

Working in disability arts you get to meet the most extraordinary people. I went to see a performance by Benny Prasad in Liverpool Cathedral. He is a man who has spent a decade traveling with his custom-built guitar which has two drums and a harp embedded in it. He plays a cross between classical indian music and english folk.

And he tells his story while he plays about how broken he was as a result of a series of impairments and injuries and how he heard the voice of God telling him he was not useless. And since then he has traveled as a true pilgrim. He asks for nothing but goes where the invitations take him. And he is the most traveled musician in the world and has broken the record for visiting the most number of countries in the shortest amount of time.

He is one of those rare people who've taken the path of Faith, in its true meaning. As someone - like many disabled people - who personally has been severely broken by Christianity in a way I will never recover from, I have to say that Benny Prasad turned the cynic in me around. His compelling presence, with a gentle ego and sincere desire to tell his story was an energising vehicle for the realisation that there is never a black and white, yes or no, truth behind our belief systems.

He struck me as someone who - because he so clearly lives his life at the edge of endurance - has truly made a friend of his death. As a teenager struggling with the meaning of life, I remember aspiring to that ideal. Reading the spiritual journeys of authors like Herman Hesse, Carlos Castenada and Robert Pirsig, I remember feeling that to be truly alive, you had to reach a level of acceptance beyond the fear.

And I have to salute Benny Prasad who is a living embodiment of that quality. His music reverberated within the cathedral with a spiritual expression that was from the heart.

I thank DaDaFest for having the vision to programme Benny Prasad amongst a diverse range of disabled artists: and not necessarily the artists we would expect to see at a Disability Arts festival where a political and anti-religious stance has become entrenched.

If Disability Arts is to change and progress, as a movement, there has to be a willingness to accept and consider a range of voices. Benny's voice was awesome!

Cate Jacobs reviews Terry Galloway’s reading from ‘Mean Little Deaf Queer’

black and white photo of a woman grimacing

Terry Galloway presents 'Mean Little Deaf Queer'

Terry Galloway’s memoir ‘Mean Little Deaf Queer’ was first published by Beacon Press in 2009. Since then the author has given numerous readings throughout the United States. DaDaFest brought her to the Bluecoat in Liverpool on 18 August

Terry Galloway has a unique warmth and presence that is tangible as soon as she enters a room. Even before the performance begins she is actively connecting with her audience and the people around her.

It is a solo performance, but as Terry takes the stage there are two spotlights and she invites Leanne Morris, the signer, to introduce herself - this seemingly small act of acknowledgement creates a subtle thread of connection between the two women and for the rest of the performance they appear to move and speak with a natural synchronicity.

Terry is an enchanting storyteller who possesses that rare gift of engaging all of herself, with all of you, the listener. She doesn’t just open her mouth, she opens her life and lets you in with a resounding welcome. She leads you off down the paths of her experience like the Pied Piper and you have no choice but to follow.

She read to us her from her book, Mean Little Deaf Queer - choosing her favourite chapter ‘The performance of drowning’ - an autobiographical account of her experience as a disabled child, growing up in the States, being sent to summer camp which she refers to as ‘Camp Crip!’

Although she writes as an adult reflecting on a child’s experience, she manages to capture the feelings and emotions of a child with startling accuracy, so that her unique experience, touches upon the universal experience of being, not just a disabled child, but a child per se.

Woven into the narrative are many of the uncomfortable themes of growing up, not least of all the yearning to be ‘normal’ and an emerging awareness of sexuality. Her keen observation, raw honesty and twists of humour, at times leave you squirming uncomfortably in your seat, because right now she could be telling your story, with all its bumps, knocks and hiccups of shame. She only leaves you there long enough to ponder: how do you navigate through a world that isn’t kind or mapped by your frame of reference. And what exactly is normal and who decides?

It was a mainly female audience and when the Q&A session begins, she selflessly offers the spotlight, like a place at her fireside, creating an intimacy that allows others to tell their stories and ask their questions. She is gentle in her response but challenging with it; demanding that we shift the boundaries of our perceptions of ‘normal’ to encompass ‘disability’ more meaningfully. She encourages us all to be visible in our differences and give up the misery of trying to be normal!

Later that evening I meet her again at a drinks reception. I watch her greet people she only met for the first time earlier that day, with the affection of an old friend. And that’s her magic. She makes you feel special and important. She doesn’t act or perform her warmth, it just is, and her authenticity radiates out and draws you in. She shares her stories with generosity and listens to yours with equal measure. She is a truly skilled communicator.

My daughter, who is with me, remarks that Terry Galloway is a phenomenal woman and I can only agree, that indeed, she is!

Mean Little Deaf Queer is available from Amazon
Publisher: Beacon Press
ISBN-10: 0807073318

To find out more about Terry Galloway go to

Trish Wheatley reviews Richard Tyrone Jones' one man show 'Big Heart'

Man from book in front of microphone

Richard Tyrone Jones at the open mic

DaDaFest invited . went along to see Richard Tyrone Jones relive his perilous journey to the operating table and back again at the Bluecoat on 19 August

Sunday afternoon at the Bluecoat Liverpool and it is poetry day for DaDaFest. Richard Tyrone Jones’s Big Heart is a one-man show that takes the audience on an hour-long journey through his life as a performance poet, whose path took a dramatic turn when he experienced heart failure aged thirty.

In a carefully crafted combination of story telling and poetry Tyrone Jones made one of those ‘never thought it would happen to me especially at this age’ illnesses become a vivid reality on stage in a story told with honesty and humour.

His ability to use language to flip between the despair of coming so close to death and living through the disabling condition to moments of humour and then to heart-wrenching declarations of the emotional experiences was captivating. This, combined with a mastery of acting that communicated his words directly, made for a compelling show. This was a non-political piece of disability arts that allowed the disabled and non-disabled audience to relate to the emotional experiences of the protagonist throughout this dramatic period of his life.

A projection by provided a creative, Monty Python-esque animated illustration and non-gruesome set design to what was in some places quite a gory account of Tyrone Jones’s periods in hospital. In the heat of the performance space I was personally quite glad of the scripted warning Tyrone Jones provided before he launched into lines such as “I still had to choke back my bubbly phlegm all the way through and could still feel the surgeons cutting my neck and failing to get the line in the right way for the first couple of attempts.”

The show avoided becoming a self-indulgent autobiographical exploration by also tackling wider issues such as the very real consideration of whether or not he should be allowed (or allow himself) to have children should the condition be confirmed as hereditary.

Produced by Liz Bentley for DaDaFest this was an inspired piece of programming and again, as with the Evelyn Glennie performance of the previous night had a wonderfully inclusive aspect to it. On this occasion it took the form of an open mic poetry event. Richard remained and read a few of his other poems from his current and previous publications. Others took to the mic in a vast array of poetic styles and subject matters.

If Richard Tyrone Jones is visiting your neck of the woods in his upcoming tour check it out for an absorbing and thought provoking show from this talented wordsmith. His publications and further information are also available on his website.

Cate Jacobs reviews Nudd and Galloway's 'In the House of the Moles'

photo of two actors dressed as the characters of Punch and Judy

'In the House of the Moles' explores the darker themes of disability through a comic mix of vaudeville, Punch and Judy, melodrama and English music hall.

In the House of Moles - billed a tragedy in burlesque - was the result of the work of Galloway and Nudd’s two week residency at DaDaFest. American and British performers including Julie McNamara and Liz Carr gave a staged reading of the play at the Bluecoat, Liverpool on 24 August

The play layers three worlds - the world of family, the play the mother has written for her family to act and a children’s morality play. It combines a variety of theatrical techniques to achieve this in a comic mix of melodrama, Punch and Judy, vaudeville and English music hall.

Throughout the play there is subtle and clever use of well-known music, played by Benjamin Gunter, which adds to the overall sense of irony, humour and pathos. The reassuring voice of Donna Marie Nudd narrating the stage directions, helped to carry the audience along through fast changing scenes.

They used few props or costumes, but the range of well-chosen hats and expressive vocal acting, proves that less is indeed more. Liz Carr’s transformation into nasty Polly was a particular favourite. Her jauntily angled black hat with elastic chin strap, a sneer and a knowing wink, was enough to convince you that she was also wearing a wasp-waisted corset, feather boa and swishing skirts, as she turns from tempting seductress into the stereotypical fairy tale stepmother, with the flick of an imaginary fan!

Julie McNamara and Alan Kagan’s performance highlight issues of domestic violence as they play out the traditional Punch and Judy roles. The arrival of Ugly Baby, fuels the violence to such a pitch that Punch murders Judy and throws the baby in a bucket. It was an act that made my stomach churn and yet the audience laugh. Such is the macabre nature of Punch and Judy humour. The baby in a bucket, albeit a puppet, was resonant of abortion.

The baby crying is an unexpected and unwelcome sign of her continued life as she grows into the character of Ugly Girl, played by Kiruna Stamell, who brings such an innocent and likeable quality to her character that you can’t help feeling sympathy for her, particularly when she falls in love with Pretty Girl, played by Carrie Sandahl. Carrie brings everything that is saccharine and pink to the part, pushing the stereotype to the very edge, where she doesn’t even have a name, defined simply by a list of sickly adjectives for ‘pretty’.

The issues of disability, and the politics of perfection, were subsumed within the play, but nevertheless, it subtly pushes us to confront societal issues and stereotypes around perfection and the inherent body fascism that accompanies it.

Ruth Gould convincingly portrayed the dynamic of a dominantly matriarchal family, in which everyone plays by ‘mother’s rules,’ Her character Peg had a manipulative and slightly sinister influence, even though she was dead for most of the play! And Ruth played dead with definite aplomb!

Like all good fairy tales and pantomimes, you expect a happily ever after, but even that is ambivalent as the cast joins together in the final song which seems to question our attachment to tragedy. Yet another societal obsession!

It was altogether a thoroughly accomplished reading/ performance that worked well because of the high level of collaboration between Galloway and Nudd, the actors, technical support staff, sign interpreter, audio describer and the audience.

The best ending I can think of for this play is to see it staged in it’s completed form, at the Unity, in next years DaDaFest!
Go to for details of the festival, which runs until 2 September

Cate Jacobs reviews Liz Bentley's 'AAA Rating

full-length photo of comic Liz Bentley with her ukelele

Liz Bentley with her ukelele

Comedian Liz Bentley gave a one-woman theatrical show with stories from a year in her life at The Bluecoat on 23 August

Who wears gold lame trousers, orange nail varnish and 6” Primark bondage sandals with peep toes? Liz Bentley! She is seated on stage beside a table that is littered with a variety of props for her show; books and a riot of paraphernalia that describe her life.

She hits the ground running, even though she sits for the entire performance, and you tumble at break neck speed through the events that defined 2011 for her. Comic stories are interspersed with poems and songs, as she accompanies herself on the ukulele and Casio keyboard - which she claims to have bought in Toys-R-Us for £2.99!

AAA stands for Age, Anxiety and Alzheimer’s - no prizes for guessing the general topics for her acerbic wit! There are no edges to Bentley. She not only says it as it is, but says it as most people wouldn’t dare say it. Her humour is as outrageous as her gold lame trousers!

At the beginning of the show she cleverly asks a somewhat reticent audience if there’s anything we would rather she didn’t talk about, or that is likely to cause offence. We are still ‘cold’ and uncertain of what’s in store. One thing’s for sure, you don’t draw attention to yourself when there’s a comedian upfront, otherwise you stand every chance of becoming the butt end of their jokes all night! There is a general murmuring and shaking of heads as the audience assents and Ms Bentley is granted carte blanche to say and do as she chooses. After all, when she was polite enough to ask first, how can you object to what she goes on to say!

When two women leave - not something you can do discreetly when you have to pass the performer to get to the exit - she breaks her flow, following them in a one-sided conversation all the way to the door. After a couple of seconds of silence she launches into a fantasy of why they left and what they might be up to now, and we’re off again. Oddly the women who left, are now more present in their absence than if they had stayed, making several guest appearances in other gags later in the show!

Liz Bentley’s poetry style is very straightforward and reflects her ‘say it as it is’ approach. She takes reality and holds it up with a quizzical tilt of her head that seems to ask “what’s that about then?”

She says and sings the messy reality of life with the ease of your best mate having a gossip down the pub on a Friday night. If anything let her down it was the theatre setting, which was a touch too formal for her style and left me wishing that we were sitting in the bar, having a pint with her as she entertained us.

Liz Bentley is a woman who is 120% her Essex self and that’s what you get from start to finish - 120%. You walk away smiling and uplifted, sure in the knowledge that if she can laugh, despite the adversities of life, then so can you!

Cate Jacobs reviews Kiruna Stamell and Gareth Berliner’s ‘A little Commitment’

black and white photograph of Kiruna Stamell and Gareth Berliner

Kiruna Stamell and Gareth Berliners': 'A Little Commitment'

Kiruna Stamell and Gareth Berliner’s new show ‘A little Commitment’ is a romantic comedy exposing the hidden discrimination facing the disabled community in matters of love. They performed the show at the Unity Theatre, Liverpool on 30 August

‘A little Commitment’ was billed as being a romantic comedy that exposes the hidden discrimination facing the disabled community in matters of love and gives hope in an age of body fascism - and it does! The audience is lured onside by talking about Gareth’s missing intestine and Kiruna’s stature - she moves the mic stands to the back of the stage to make herself ‘look taller!’ Teasing us that she usually uses it  pole dance on.

They go onto to share the stories of how they met, their first dates and having to endure the typically patronising response from some people of “Ah well done you” which rings with undertones of ‘you deserve a medal for dating a disabled person,’ which no doubt many of us are all to familiar with.

They exude an easy togetherness as they bat the banter back and forth and just when you’re sitting comfortably and ahhing in all the right places at their cute proposal story - Berliner took Kiruna to Berlin - they start talking about the war and gas chambers and who was the most persecuted, dwarves or Jews, touching on the uncomfortable reality that dwarves were subjected to experimentation before being disposed of. There are uneasy ripples of laughter. (Why is this funny?) They set it up as a competition for who was the most hard done by, as they fly back through time referencing every notable historical prejudice that exists against them.

As we laugh and gasp simultaneously, Kiruna turns to the audience picking out those who wear glasses, asking more and more outrageous questions about how and why they wear glasses, who pays for them and weather they consider not having children so they don’t pass their poor sight on to the next generation. They completely skew all the worst prejudices, usually aimed at those of us with genetically inherited conditions, and the curve ball lands in our laps.

It’s a bit like being on roller coaster in a hall of mirrors, just when you think there are no dips left, you plummet hundreds of feet, leaving your stomach behind whilst watching your world being distorted before they whisk you off into the tunnel of love, regaling us with tales of romance, sex and learning to fart in front of each other!

The stories seem to fly off at tangents from each other but Stamell and Berliner know what they’re doing and where they’re taking you, as they skilfully lead us back to where we started with the question we all seem to ask ourselves when we are in the midst of the deepest love and happiness - ‘Which one of us will die first?’

My only disappointment of the evening was not getting to see the sign for ‘orgasm suck up’ - which I would pay handsomely to learn!

Gareth and Kiruna get married at the end of September and although we won’t be at the wedding, I’m pretty sure we’ll be taken there laughing next time they take the stage.

Colin Hambrook responds to a discussion about 'Unlimited Global Alchemy'

portrait painting of a young woman's face, decorated with white spots

Painting by Rachel Gadsden of Bambanini artist Bongiwe Mba. Photo © Rachel Gadsden

©Unlimited Global Alchemy is opening today at the Southbank Centre, Level 2 Foyers at the Royal Festival Hall. The exhibition contains a body of drawings, paintings, sketchbooks and films by Rachel Gadsden and the six members of the Bambanani artist-activist group from Khayelitsha Township, South Africa.

I had the privilege of meeting three members of the group with Rachel at a presentation at DaDaFest yesterday at the Bluecoat in Liverpool. Films of Nondumiso Hlwele, Thobani Ncapai and Bongiwe Mba were shown to a small but engaged audience who were deeply touched by hearing the stories; registering the commonality of experience.

The main thing that came across to me was that despite the differences in culture between South Africa and the UK the actual issues of living with HIV on a daily basis are the same. We might have more laws, which attempts to counter discrimination, but the act of standing up and disclosing status as HIV Positive is an enormous step. And no amount of legislation can counter the struggles of living with the virus and taking anti-retro-viral medication on a daily basis.

The Bambanani groups' films are all powerful accounts of what the individuals have had to deal with, annotated with a profound message of hope. Nondumiso Hlwele was the original inspiration behind the group which was set up in 2001. She instigated using body mapping techniques with a range of groups in South Africa, as a form of therapy and education. It was these bold images that drew Rachel Gadsden to find out more about the stories of the group and to build an arts project to support their aspirations.

These remarkable portraits of what it feels like to be HIV positive were created specifically to counter a culture of denial. Thobani spoke eloquently in the presentation about the importance of disclosure: "I think in hiding what you have you are just killing yourself. When you share with others what you have, you create opportunities for living." But this is clearly not an easy route. In his film he highlights the struggles to get the government to support the possibility of having affordable ARV medication - and the numbers of people - especially men - who often pass away  because they are unable or unwilling to embrace the fact they have the virus.

In her film Bongiwe reveals her faith and the step she made to be open in her church, because she wanted the church to be part of move to counter discrimination against HIV. It is clear that many individuals are turned away by their families and communities. Being open and making artistic statements about what it feels like to be HIV positive, is a risk, but the reward of telling your story is about creating an opportunity for people to see you as whole human beings.

Nondimiso gave an account of the process of creating body maps - drawing two overlapping body outlines; and using bold marks and colour to express hopes and fears. She talked a little about working with NGOs like the Community Media Trust in South Africa and her hopes to do further research into creating links within a broader range of communities to reveal the impact of HIV as a disability. She talked further about learning more about stigma, after being invited to do a body map session with a gay and lesbian group. She is a passionate advocate for the need for different communities to understand each other better and create a legacy for the coming generations.

Talking further about the Unlimited Global Alchemy project she said: "It's a big lift to have the international relationship that working with Rachel has provided us. We are the first group in South Africa to use art to express ourselves as way of giving hope to others and the possibility of saving lives."

As for Rachel her main drive to build the collaboration came after a conscious decision 8 years ago that it was important to speak out; to be open about her own invisible impairment issues and the impact of disability on her artwork.

Speaking at DaDaFest she said: "all four of us are united through invisible disabilities and choosing to use creative expression to be open about disability. When I first saw the Bamanani groups body maps, they resonated. I realised we were connected by the fact that we wanted to be alive; that there was a commonality in the messages being conveyed through our artwork."

She spoke further about her journey in finding the confidence to make the collaboration happen. It came out of a desire to build a project focussing on human rights issues and building on a sense of universality, which has always been an important theme in her work: wanting to touch the artist in everyone: "I wanted to build a project that touched on global issues with a message that everybody matters and has a right to have their voice heard."

Her role was to facilitate the group as artists in offering new artistic techniques to a group who had little or no formal art education, and in so doing help to regenerate interest in the Bambanani's important programme of work.

The exhibition has been exhibited in Cambridge for two months and is opening in the Royal Festival Hall from today until 9 September.

As well as a body-mapping workshop led by Rachel and the Bambanani group which will take place on 3 September there will be live performance on 5 September. This will be co-directed by Rachel Gadsden and choreographed by Athina Vahla, featuring performers Freddie Opoku-Addaie and Sarah Chin.

Please click here to read a review of the Unlimited Global Alchemy exhibition by Ann Young

Susan Bennett reviews Evelyn Glennie's recital at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall

Photo of percussionist Evelyn Glennie playing a waterphone with a bow

Evelyn Glennie on Waterphone. Photo by Jim Callaghan

Evelyn Glennie, world famous percussionist, gave an astounding diverse recital at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on 18 August.

We held our breath as the rhythm grew apace, impossibly faster. Her hands were a blur, her head creeping lower as she furiously produced what can only be described as a cracking attack from the snare drum. It shot, spat, rolled and shattered molten globules of sound at an incredible pace.

Then a silence, hanging for a mere lifetime of a second, surprised the audience, who had been trying to find space to breathe. Snap – we were back in attack mode as the snare cracked again. For six tense minutes the impact filled your body as you sensed, almost smelt, the primal essence of 'Prim', the piece composed by Askell Masson.

It was a concert of contrasts. Essentially percussive, this was not a harmonic event, as quietly, we were introduced to the Waterphone, almost forced to strain to pick up the strange sounds, an improvisation by Evelyn.

Almost out of sight from the stalls, she sat the very edge of the stage and gently stroked what looked like a shiny metal bird cage. Using brushes, she produced sound that at times was both painful in frequency and faintly elusive. People frowned and cocked their heads sideways searching to make sense of the vibrations. It was like hearing your own tinnitus breaking out to an audience of thousands.

Evelyn not only played but shared how, when challenged by her first teacher to make sounds to show the 'feel' of snow, or the 'feel' of a tractor, she evolved from mere musician to a performer able to fully embody her music.

She demonstrated with the help of volunteers from the audience, how we differently experience sound, the effect of dampening and enlivening techniques on the marimba. Made real by examples of her own consciousness of every aspect of performance, which she uses to enhance her expression and reception of sound, it was fascinating and demanding.

As someone profoundly deaf until a recent cochlear implant operation, I was in two worlds. The one of my own enhanced perceptions, sensitivity to vibration and changes in the air around me, feelings from the floorboards of the concert hall. And in the same moments I was stunned by the cacophony of sounds, the range of which I heard clearly for the first time. It was truly an overdose of sensation, one which left me both reeling and eager for more.
As part of the Unlimited Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, Evelyn Glennie is accompanying the Marc Brew Company for Fusional Fragments on 31 August. Click here to go to the Southbank Centre website for further details.

Trish Wheatley reviews Evelyn Glennie's recital at the Liverpool Philarmonic Hall

Image of event programme reads: DaDaFEst 2012 presents an evening with Evelyn Glennie Saturday 18 August, 7:30pm with an image of Evelyn Glennie beating the drums at the Olympic Opening Ceremony 2012

What a cracking night for DaDaFest! One act from the Olympic Opening ceremony and one from the closing ceremony, it was as if it had all been planned! Ruth Gould, CEO of DaDaFest introduced it as the biggest night in the history of the twelve-year-old festival. Hosted by the iconic Liverpool Royal Philharmonic and sitting in anticipation to watch Dame Evelyn Glennie, Britain’s most successful percussionist, I totally agreed.

I'm not going to detail the actual performance here, except to mention how well programmed it was with the Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra and the Liverpool Signing Choir. An excellent introduction to an event that had at it’s heart the intention to inspire people to try something new, realise the possibilities for inclusion and that “we can all participate in making sound”. Glennie’s programme of percussion pieces was excellent. It was an encyclopaedic exploration of the senses that left the audience spellbound.

For me, it was the second part of the show that was the real revelation.  We were treated to a fascinating insight into Glennie’s musical process. She started by explaining the very beginning of her journey as a musician when at twelve she had her first percussion lesson. She was given a snare drum to take away with her, no sticks, beaters or instruction. What an inspired way to teach.

She had a whole week to explore the instrument, placing it on different surfaces, getting to know the feel of it. This word ‘feel’ was central to the whole talk. Glennie, through working with her teacher, eventually rejected the use of hearing aids because they would only boost the sound levels but not the clarity which is so key to accomplishing the level of musicianship Glennie aspired to and has since without question achieved.

As a current student of the cello the most insightful and helpful advice that she gave was in explaining that the room in which she plays is part of the instrument. Where you sit, your posture, the number of people and importantly how you listen all affect the way in which the music is experienced. Rather than simply practicing the notes, rhythms and phrasing, she rehearses. By that she means that she imagines the space in which she is going to perform and plays for that space whether it’s a cathedral, concert hall, outdoors or chamber setting.

In answering a question about how performance techniques might be applied to other situations such as a job interview or presentation she explained that when she plays, in that moment, that piece and that instrument are her favourite, she puts everything into them. This really interested me and I’m keen to apply the knowledge that she shared to my own musical and professional journey. For me, the intentions of the evening were brilliantly achieved and I hope that many others in the audience left feeling as inspired as I did.

Susan Bennett reviews Niet Normaal: Difference on Display

sculpture of a black female torso, without arms, legs or head, covered in spikes

Birgit Dieker, Bad Mummy, 2005

Adapted from a landmark Dutch exhibition, Niet Normaal (a popular phrase literally translated as ‘not normal’, but also meaning ‘cool’) features work in a variety of media, on show at the Bluecoat from 13 July - 2 September

‘There is no escape from creativity..’ even when the words are stuck on a plank at the base of a bonfire. The Niet Normaal exhibit has to be viewed at forty five degrees either side of normal made as it is of sloganeered wood with no Guy Fawkes on the top. Splashes and splinters of imagination, wit and candid observation include comments on the abilities in 1963 of MI5 and 6 to deal with intelligence matters which many would not argue with the week before the Olympic Games open in London.

You are urged to walk circling Bob and Roberta Smith’s bonfire whispering your chosen words of the masses aloud and on the opening night this was quite a show, I believe. As it was, there was no one around that day so I tried repeating: ‘Peter Hain is a shit… Peter Hain is a shit….’, wondering how to also do justice to the upside down keyboard, in sixties stark red and black which didn’t even clatter when I pressed for sound.

Moving on whispering my next choice: ‘The university loony director is still unplugged...’ I approached the next exhibit, a surreal film called ‘Sleepwalker’ (Javier Tellez, 1969) in German, mostly written on chalkboards, with English subtitles. A sleepwalker is discovered by a professor based in a great white art décor lighthouse like a telescope at Potsdam. Cesare is an extra terrestrial, in black polo necked jumper, which elongates his neck with concentric circles of white so he looks impossibly pale, stark and stretched out. He tells his eager questioners that this planet is all an illusion, there will not be world peace until there are no more humans left and that his home Slave Star is a psychiatric planet where everyone is in treatment and therefore normal.

Compelling, it commanded myself and a couple who kept illuminating the darkened area with the light of their mobile phone.

It is hard to keep a focus when the room reverberates through the bench you are sat on with the hesitant attempts of a man trying to say the word ‘‘Het… Ha… ‘and eventually ‘Hate’ (Imogen Stidworthy).

Niet Normaal continues: an empty shop mannequin made of mosquito nets with no internal organs (Christian Bastiaans) tells you how:

    "I sold my kidney for a plot of land
    Physically feels weak
    But I possess a house, my home."

Further on and pitifully a semi naked man tries to get up off the floor, caught thousands of times in perpetual video loop (Douglas Gordon); a masochistic ‘Bad Mummy’ effigy (Birgit Dieker) in dark leather stuck with needles and pins demands to know whether you can be a good mother if you have sexual fantasies; white plaster sculptures by Christine Borland which she ‘wants people to think of the dissection process…’ and resemble Michelangelo’s Pieta in 1498 all crash to crescendo in a mixed up wall which shouts cheerfully: ‘Everything is going to be alright.’ (Ben Cove)

‘The outside paintings only come inside when I do a show,’ the bonfire reminds me. Through the external window I could see TESCO’s illuminated sign and 24 hour cash machine. Hurrying zombie like shoppers with their Next and Primark bursting paper eco friendly bags almost obscured a window proclaiming: ‘Anyone who thinks money can’t buy happiness simply doesn’t know where to shop. ’

Hmm, I thought: ’This isn’t reality, it is fantasy.’ But which?


Colin Hambrook reviews Niet Normaal: Difference on Display

image of a foetus inside a womb, holding a mobile phone

Koert van Mensvoort, Next Nature Baby, 2008

Niet Normaal is intense, riven with a dark humour. There were a thousand or more dialogues that could have been provoked by each of the thoughtful exhibits on display, at turns political, grotesque, beautiful, touching and humorous.

But talking to a friend in The Bluecoat garden, our conversation focused on ‘Next Nature Baby’ by Koert van Mensvoort. Showing a foetus floating in amniotic fluid clutching a mobile phone, we began asking ourselves what sort of conversation the baby might be having?

Would it, possibly, be asking for an end to the interminable advances in technology that continue to obsess us? We talk about the change for the better that comes with the march of progress, but (speaking as someone for whom the glass is always half empty) conveniently forget that for every upside, there is always a downside.

Back in the seventies BBC science programmes like Tomorrow’s World were predicting the potential of new technologies to save labour to the extent of halving of our working weeks. In fact, 35 years on, as the computer has become an essential component of our working lives, the opposite has happened.

Mensvoort’s image begs the question: what has happened to childhood amidst the ever-encroaching tide of new gadgets screaming for attention? We live in an age where the binary code rules the deck of cards we’re handed at birth?  The multiplicity of numbers we had to play with has been reduced to a zero and a one.

And in that process, how much has the meaning of childhood changed? Where has the quiet space gone that allowed us to simply settle into ‘being’ as children? Everywhere is white noise, digitally reasserting itself, on screens, in the home and on the street. Everywhere you go real conversations are being replaced by digital conversations. How often when talking to someone, do you pick up a ringing phone and turn away from the person you are talking to?

Our notion of what is normal has changed. And for no section of society more profoundly, than how ‘normality’ has changed for children. When did we consciously decide, for example, that it was perfectly acceptable to steal the traditional children’s playground – the street – away from them, and hand it over to the motorised vehicle?

What was normal for those of us who were children in the fifties and sixties is no longer normal. For everyone thirty and under, so many rites of passage have either changed or gone. The freedom for a child, as young as five, to walk out of the front door in the morning and spend the day with his or her mates, out, in the street, has gone. Instead the invisible umbilical chord, protecting young children from harm, has stretched out ever further, through early childhood into the teens.

The acceptance that danger is a normal part of existence has gone: and with it the opportunity to learn resilience and self-assurance through dealing with things on your own, without a parent to take control. The hands-on reality of learning the confidence to respond to perceived ‘danger’ is no longer deemed to be right, in legal terms.

I’ll give an example. I recently went to an arts and crafts museum offering a workshop in using a lathe to turn wood. Except safety measures meant that although it wasn’t something unfamiliar, I wasn’t legally allowed to operate the machine. The idea of having a go at doing some wood-turning meant being allowed to lightly hold the hands of the lathe operator, whilst he did the turning. And no doubt he had to have a fully enhanced CRB to allow him to have ‘the general public touch his hands, while operating machinery.

And so, as a species, in the present society, we grow into our twenties and thirties with absolutely no idea what to do, except call home, like the foetus in the image is possibly doing, asking what the hell is going on?

Niet Normaal isn’t about disability, but through examining the idea of what is and isn’t normal, another conversation emerges about how impairment is a normal part of life. And through that of how disabling, accepted notions of normality can be?

Niet Normaal: Difference on Display is showing at the Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool from 13 July - 2 September. Go to DAOs listings for more details

Cate Jacobs gives a poetic response to Niet Normaal: Difference on Display

Colin Hambrook and I discussed Niet Normaal, specifically Koert van Mensvoort's compelling image 'Next Nature Baby'. We wondered what the foetus in the image might be talking about on its mobile phone? These poems were inspired by our conversation.

White noise
We touch each other through veils
of sound we cannot hear -
our fingertips noisy
with the longing
to be heard.

Do ultra sound scans
tune babies
the modern world?

Despite the efforts
of medical science
a limbless soldier
can’t re-grow his legs
and laser surgery
won’t help you see

Slipping through the net
Our world is wrapped in a plaid matrix
woven in gamma, beta, radio, sonar,
and microwaves, electromagnetic colours
of sound. The tartan of the 21st century


a blanket of white noise across the skies.
All frequencies jammed - the voice of God
drowned out by the roar of a jet engine,
the whisper of the Holy Spirit lost on the wind

And angels mine portals, from heaven to earth,
through thick layers of meaningless text messages.
Slipping through the net in thin, silent places
they Google “angels” to remind themselves
who they are.

Against a backdrop of white noise
Angels are invisible, aura’s disappear
and nothing is Holy!

Listening to Travis
He laid his head
on the rise
of her belly
and listened.

The primeval rhythm 
of creation drummed
your tiny heart beat
- vibrations of hello -

in unison with your
mother - this goddess
who cradles you,
connecting generations

families and time 
- past and present -
taking her place
in the chain

of creation.
Growing you
from a one cell
seed into a son.

The three ages of man
   (for Bill)
He speaks in a heart beat
- the only language he has
for now.
You listen very carefully
to hear his heart talking.
When he has voice, loud
and clear, you may have
to listen just as carefully
to hear him.
When you are an old man
remember to lay your head
on her belly -  the echo of his
heart will still beat within her
- as yours still beats within me.

Mothers Love
(for Kara)

Blood flows
from your heart
through your body,
to his heart

and back again.
- Teaching you
how to love him
with all your heart.

Trish Wheatley reviews the curation of Niet Normaal at the Bluecoat

cartoon of a male superhero head complete with wicked grin and red futuristic headpiece

Andrew Tunney worked with Laurence Clark for DaDaFest 2012, to produce a series of comic strip posters entitled Super Crip

The Bluecoat, Liverpool played host to a UK outing of the exhibition Niet Normaal: Display on Display which first showed in Amsterdam in 2010. Having seen the original exhibition at the Bers Van Berlage in the centre of the bustling Dutch city two years ago, I was keen to see how it might translate to a UK Disability Arts Festival and a very different exhibition space.

Originally Niet Normaal was curated in three parts: Perfectability and Perfection, Norm and Difference as Commodities and Humans and Technology. These carefully selected sections could have been whole shows in their own right but combined they created the mammoth Niet Normaal, which easily took two days to explore, understand and enjoy.

At the Bers Van Berlage the wall-based pieces were hung on tall off-white wooden panelling that stretched high into the impressive building acting to divide the space into the three sections. The works were crammed into the space with video installations around the edges of the large room. At times there was a cacophony of noise as you moved through the space, but in the divided stall-like spaces for viewing the video pieces it was possible to move away from the hustle and bustle of the main exhibition space in order to watch the videos. I had really enjoyed this different approach to curating the exhibition. With so much on display there was certainly something for everyone. It threw out the preciousness and sparse nature of the white cube.

In anticipation of Niet Normaal’s incarnation at the Bluecoat it would be interesting to know which of the artworks would be selected and how the new commissions would fit in. Indeed, curators Ine Gevers and Garry Robson have chosen some of the iconic works such as the long cabinet showing all the pills a human will take in their lifetime and the fetishist sculpture of Birgit Dieker and the brilliant ‘Metalosis Maligna’ by Floris Kaayk.

Individually most the works are interesting on their own merit. The three-section idea was abandoned for the Bluecoat exhibition in favour of an overarching theme that questions ‘What is normal and who decides?’ For this reason it was sometimes difficult to understand how the pieces exhibited together contributed to the conversation.

For example, Ben Cove’s text-based wall piece was successful in concept and execution, but the reasons for its inclusion in this show were not clear.  It was disappointing not to see more works given the scale of the previous version. Highlights were most definitely the new Laurence Clark commission ‘Super Crip’ and the plaster sculpture, ‘Cast from Nature’ by Christine Borland.

The programming of the exhibition was absolutely spot on for DaDaFest and the individual works were of the highest quality and displayed very well. For me, this time, they didn’t talk to each other as they did in Amsterdam. For years disabled artists have been campaigning to be in large significant shows and it is evident here that this is beginning to happen.