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Disabled Avant-Garde at Royal Festival Hall / 18 February 2010

black and white photo of two performance artists

Aaron Williamson and Katherine Araniello - The Disabled Avant-Garde

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On Monday I was back at the Royal Festival Hall with Katherine Araniello working undercover as the Disabled Avant-Garde to make more footage for our upcoming film ‘No Room at the Igloo’ – soon to be released on YouTube.

We were accompanied by our small crew of volunteers – Abby and Eliza, (erstwhile Fine Art students and brilliant non-actors from Byam Shaw); and Oriana and Marja who did shifts on the DAG camera – a wee pink thing that conveniently looks like you are taking a photo on a mobile phone when filming. This is a necessary tool for the ‘covert’ nature of DAG’s operations.

In the film, Abby and Eliza play a curatorial team who are considering commissioning the Disabled Avant-Garde to make an installation at the RFH.

Certainly the students looked the part in their smart suits and accessories as they dragged us through an improvised itinerary, drawing a great deal of attention to us as they loudly advised which part of the RFH might be best suited to siting our installation.

As they spouted audience figures, outlined health and safety concerns and described possible lighting scenarios the workers and patrons of that august cultural palace responded to us very much as if they were witnessing a somewhat bizarre – yet real - event.

I was dressed, sorry costumed, in a silver parka – to underline the premise that our installation proposal is an inflatable igloo – and wore very dark shades that helped me to stumble and fall over a lot, mumbling apologies to RFH staff and visitors: ‘I’m a bit of a mess at the moment...’

Katherine switches on the charm whenever things get a bit ‘warm’ but generally doors tend to fly open for us, particularly if we ask Abby to sign interpret and then suddenly refuse to comprehend anything said to us.

On this occasion the Poetry Library, being shut, was the only location that proved unassailable by the DAG although a librarian kindly went off to get some forms to fill in. We couldn’t really be bothered and so – very apologetically – the Librarian had to disallow our curators the chance to interview the DAG in the crèche that is for some reason housed in the Poetry Library (‘we need somewhere quiet’ was the dubious premise). That was a shame, as kiddie-environs always offer a good setting for a bit of DAG infantilist business.

Recently, in yet another rejection letter to one of our proposals, the DAG was accused of repeating the same trick – ie of testing public credulity towards us – but there really doesn’t seem to be any bottom to that. The responses we get are different according to circumstances and often unexpected.

In fact, it might be considered that the public’s response to us is the work. In my opinion then, the Disabled Avant-Garde ought not just to be receiving regular commissions, but installed as the (handsomely remunerated) official portraitists of our Nation’s state.

That would be nice as the volume of rejected applications that we sustain is dispiriting even if the proposed ideas are admittedly outlandish.

For example, we recently proposed to play Binatone Tennis Pong (the 1970s bat and ball game played on a TV) against each other on a BBC Big Screen in town centres at night during the World Cup. The idea was to invite the lagered-up masses to take us on at the toggles and then to covertly film the ensuing mania.

We reached an interview for potential funding but sadly this proposal, like so many others that we’ve dreamt up, was eventually laughed off. It’s hard to take good satire seriously, I guess.

Yet we try to avoid a ‘victim’ mindset and DAG has continued to fund recent work ourselves relying on the assistance and involvement of friends. Not forgetting of course, the public who seemingly cannot help us enough.

The shoot on Monday ended with the DAG ensconsed in a small Japanese restaurant on the South Bank. A few words with the proprietor and it was agreed that not only could we openly act and film the climactic scenes to the upcoming film, but that we could also pretend to be in Tokyo while the waitress helpfully bustled around us speaking in Japanese.

Keywords: poetry,subversion,visual art,