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> > > Review: DASH and Live Art Development Agency present M21: From the Medieval to the 21st Century
photo of live artist noemi lakmaier being carried down the street by an athlete

Noemi Lakmaier as '0' The Human Baton at M21 Live Art Festival on 2-6 May. Photo by Ian Wainwright.

On 24 January, Toynbee Studios in East London saw the launch of a joint Dash, Live Art Development Agency publication: ‘M21: from the Medieval to the 21st Century'. Several disabled artists commissioned through the Unlimited programme were there to talk about their experience. Richard Downes reports.

Last May Bank Holiday several live disabled performance artists descended on the town of Much Wenlock. They were there to change its landscape and the reality of a local populace to help celebrate connections with disabled people’s history whether they knew it or not. Through this Unlimited commission a link was forged between the Cultural Olympiad, London 2012 and Much Wenlock – birthplace of the Olympics.

Noemi Lakmaier became a human baton, valueless until she gave herself value through participation in the relay. Disability Arts in Shropshire received a phone call; “A man has run up to a disabled woman and picked her up”. There is some truth in double entendres, but the other fact is that we are put down in short order. A cause of anger and regret.

In talking about her Unlimited commission ‘CAUTION’ Sinead O’Donnell reported that the event in Belfast created a hunger from her community of disabled artists seeking involvement and on the streets in general. She learned, disabled artists and activists across Ireland were already doing their thing; that their art encompassed messages against discrimination and for rights. She began to understand disabled people’s motives and wished to know more.

Rachel Gadsen’s Unlimited Global Alchemy commission began with a search for an artist in South Africa who she felt had understood her own experience of impairment. She became empowered and shed the reasons for hiding behind a facade of normality. She knows she can be more active and use her art to influence change in society – a central tenet of disability arts. The funding she received facilitated her work but crucially raised expectations for more. She knows funders have seen the work and understand its power to change the landscape we live in; that discrimination can be challenged.

Tony Heaton, CEO of Shape, potentially carries the best overview of Unlimited. Shape were engaged as essential buffers between funders and artists. He claims a benchmark has been set. Funders are now clear it is not risky to engage with disabled artists and their work, and that audiences have been surprised and sated by our ability. Commenting on the M21 film he said his favourite quote came from a man with a donkey who asked the outlandishly costumed wayward mascot, Katherine Araniello: “are you local?” maybe implying he would like her to be. Tony took up Sinead’s ideas making it clear, if the legacy is not to be put down that funders have to take up the mantle if our art is to help the world change for the better.

We were picked up. We proved what we can do. We proved what’s possible with our positivity. We now face the put down. How are we going to respond to this Old Pick Me Up Put Me Down Legacy? How will we prove what we know, what we learned and re-learned in this process. Our artists remain keen to proclaim rights. My concern is will it be their right? Will only they be included in the drive for greater participation or will the artists of this group fight to include more of us.

Produced by DASH (Disability Arts in Shropshire) in collaboration with the Live Art Development Agency, M21 brought together the history of Much Wenlock in Shropshire with the politics of Live Art through specially commissioned performances by sean burn, The Disabled Avant-Garde, Invalid Film Crew, Noemi Lakmaier, Simon Mckeown, Alan McLean, Tanya Raabe, The Wandering Jew and Ann Whitehurst.  The publication includes artists’ writings, images, commissioned essays and a DVD of films of an experimental and experiential event

Available for £10.00 from The Live Art Development Agency: