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The art of conversation / 5 November 2014

Sarah Pickthall reflects on working with Lynn and Anya as a mentor to the Living Portraits project

The opportunity to work with artists as they collaborate is a must for me and to be asked into critical friendship with Lynn Weddle and Anya Ustaszewski felt particularly exciting.

Both artists are about the business and bread and butter of working as facilitators and advocates with a diversity of clients, particularly young people and they do this with wisdom, dexterity and commitment. Quite often this means, and they'd be the first to admit this, that not enough attention is given to their own respective practices. 

So how to convert these deft exponents of participatory arts into a position where they could be truly selfish, opinionated beyond their natural inclinations as facilitators to make artwork collaboratively? The collision of their work had huge potential. My role to remind, suggest and above all question their intentions continually. The questions and natural inclinations and default positions if you tap into the pre-ceding DAO blogs, came thick and fast. 
My question as to the subject matter was interesting. Clarity around the aim that the process was important. My first question; Why Young Carers? After deliberation it became clear, when framed as an artistic enquiry more than a facilitatory enquiry, Living Portraits would give participants space and time to control in a chosen environment for as long as they chose to be observed.  

As carers, the supposition was that they more often than not would have very little time to themselves to shape and control. Ultimately however, the final say was with the artists who became clearer how they wanted the work to be shaped, flavoured and ultimately experienced. Living Portraits was also  about giving breathing space to their artforms as they met and mingled.
The resulting work was breathtaking, literally, metaphorically for any and all who witnessed the work as part of Brighton Photo Fringe at the Media Centre Gallery. The soundscape - a mixture of found sounds during the filming and Ustaszewski's own voice woven through was particularly haunting and the portraits that quivered and shimmered in their magnitude was full bodied, provocative and  beautifully rendered by Weddle. The process itself was available to listen to and read about within the installation. So how the artists developed rapport with their young subjects to achieve such impactful artwork became abundantly clear. 

My final question to them both and all of us. Can great art that 'subjects' people exist without the human qualities that facilitation expertise brings to the process?  I don't think this great art work would exist in quite the way it does without this undercurrent. Living Portrait has a resonant quality that I for one will be building and buying into my own practices and projects.

Keywords: artist film and video,photo journal,photography,portraiture,sound and image,soundscape,young carers,collaboration