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Disability Arts Online

Wednesday 14 May 2008 / 14 May 2008

I was on radio 4 recently on You and Yours: when will I learn! Actually, I was on twice (though, rather outrageously I thought, I only got one fee of £56). I had been invited on to discuss my interventionist artwork about the Leonard Cheshire Foundation that I did in about 2000: website that revealed the truth about the Charity (£40 Million in reserves: Private Medical Health Insurance for Senior Staff: £5 Million a Year on Public relations: etc.).

The first programme was quite good – for You and Yours – as one of the other speakers was the former leader of the Conservatives: Ian Duncan Smith (IDS). He had a terrible tendency to things like: ‘Paul is absolutely right: in fact, it is much worse’. This was when he revealed that Charities have over £3 Billion in their reserves and that the public want this given to smaller charities who work locally. IDS: the ex-leader of the Conservatives – a special advisor to the current leader David Cameron – was agreeing with the leftist radical I like to delude myself that I am! There were no other words but ‘bizarre and amazing’ to say how that feels. It couldn’t last: it didn’t. IDS was brilliant: it was You and Yours that shafted me (in collaboration with Leonard Cheshire of course) the following week.

On the original debate we had raised many issues of interest: the corporate nature of large charities (only recently Grooms and Shaftsbury merged in similar fashion to other corporations and companies on our High Streets); the fact that senior staff get private medical insurance whilst users wait years for treatment; the use of social model language by charities that have no understanding or ability to actually work within such a model of practice; and the way wealth charities with millions in the bank can get Lottery funding whilst charities with very little money are excluded. Sadly, we did not get to discuss the art of the critical or spoof website that much. The idea of art as a political tool (as in Disability Art) was an idea too far them obviously.

The idea that art (good art or ‘real’ art) is not political is one of the great myths that the arbiters of taste and quality like to mystify: all art is political. I would argue the best art is the most political (as in literature, cinema and music). Thus, Alison Lapper’s own sculptures of herself are far superior to Mark Quinn’s Trafalgar Square Plinth statue of her. But, the interesting thing is why would Alison not get the Plinth with her own work but someone else – a white, male, institutional artists – would with something similar of Alison to Alison’s own work. It is because the art itself could be seemingly neutralised – de-politicised if you like – and not be overtly political. That is why Quinn could get on the Plinth but Alison could not get her own work on it. The problem is that this reason is actually more political than anything Disability Art could produce. It is anti-diversity; it is anti-inclusion; it is, fundamentally, obscene. This is not Mark Quinn’s fault but the structure and system that sees itself as being above politics whilst it is actually the epitome of political action and execution (against disabled people and not for them).

Art is political and we should not be afraid to use alternative forms to express our artistic powers across the board of all media and all forms of expression. Rhetoric, political debate and criticism in the form of prose or in the form of a website or sculpture or any other way is valid in all forms, styles and quality is as equally valid as all other forms, styles and quality.

Thus, I would urge you all to go away and create a spoof website on something you like, hate or can reveal the truth about: if for not other reason than to learn how to make basic website. When I did the anti-Leonard Cheshire site it was only to learn how to do simple website (it was not intended to be the vast wealth of revelations about the charity that it ended up being (with many contributions from secret sources and un-named contributors). I still get e-mails about my anti-Leonard Cheshire site: I had one today. It said:

“You may already know this, by the way, but Leonard Cheshire is still the duplicitous disempowering megalith it was when you were with them ... I'm an inmate”.

On the You and Yours show on Radio 4; Leonard Cheshire were invited to participate but chose not to (so I was told by the producer). Clever people at Leonard Cheshire: they then requested a Right to reply (which was given) and the interviewer allowed Leonard Cheshire to spout off without any comment of a critical or challenging nature. The only clip they played was of me: the Leonard Cheshire spokesman was then allowed to criticise me with half-truths and smears with the complicity of the BBC. The entire debate was reduced to being about me and what I had said with the BBC providing zero opposition to Leonard Cheshire’s rolling PR machine (which they admitted they spend at least £4 million pounds on).

I had been well and truly shafted by the BBC in their allowing Leonard Cheshire full reign in an unchallenged diatribe against the criticisms of Leonard Cheshire the organisation. The Leonard Cheshire spokesman described its critics as an ever decreasing group of disabled people (despite Ian Duncan Smith saying in the earlier programme that it was an ever increasing number of the general public).

Consequently, art triumphs over charity dogma: we are getting the message across to the public that charity is no excuse for rights and that institutionalisation is wrong. The tragedy is that the BBC has been little help in this process. It is down to us and our art (whatever form it takes).