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Motion Disabled at Night Lights Leeds October 2009 / 13 October 2009

Motion Disabled Projection on Side of Building in Leeds City Centre

Motion Disabled at Night Lights Leeds 2009

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There is nothing like a trip on public transport to make you feel glad that you have a car.  Yes, I went to Leeds from Wolverhampton via train (one change in Manchester). Apart from the disease (I have a bit of a germ phobia) there is the regular humiliation of: ‘have you booked assistance’ and: ‘you can’t go on that train as you are not booked on that one.’  

The realities of a daily oppression write large. If you are not disabled you may not realize that the option of just getting on the ‘next train’ are not an option for most disabled passengers and the oppressors are oblivious to their casual discrimination!  All this at 6.45 am.

So on arriving at Leeds I was not in the best of moods or brimming with confidence. I was early as I was giving a presentation as part of the Jo Verrents' seminar - organised alongside Simon McKeown's motion capture animation project, Motion Disabled.

Though the Projecting into the Future: Representation & Interpretation of Disability in the Visual Arts seminar was during the day - the whole event was part of the Leeds City Council’s Light Night (a range of events and happenings across the city after dark).

The seminar was aimed at the visual arts mainstream organisations dominating the Yorkshire arts region. Unfortunately many of them did not make it. Thus, another learning opportunity was missed by the mainstream.  The group in attendance was dominated by disabled people who had little time for the social model of disability and, as such, the notion of Disability Art (which I advocate with absolute conviction).  In was a shame because a couple of the artists could transcend the limited space offered by their medical art and enter the realm of exceptional artists if they could just move beyond the personal and the pathological to embracing disability art and reaching into the truly world changing potential that Disability Art offers.  We all come to understand human truth in our own ways and i am confident that at least one of the artists will eventually move beyond the issue of self and become an exceptional Disability Art artist (perhaps without realizing it).


There was considerable criticism of my own Disability Art beliefs as they were seen as a desire to ‘label’ or ‘propagandize’ art done in a personal - medical model - perspective.  This does me a disservice in that it fails to recognize that the work is already labelled even if critics (curators, commissioners and consumers) are unable to verbalize a label (it is medical model art).  Plus, any art that is created with a greater understanding of the socio-political framework within which it is created is more powerful and insightful that that which is not (though merely having an understanding of the socio-political framework does not in itself make something art [let alone great art]).  But, at least one of the participating artists attending was a very good artist: embracing Disability Art could take his work beyond what it is at the moment.


Still,it a great pleasure to meet up with fellow Disability Art travelers such as Alison Wilde and DADA’s Alison Jones.  Sharing stories over lunch of the trials of working in a mainstream visual arts culture that denies the value of Disability Art is always satisfying and relieves the burden of thinking it is only happening to me or the organization I am working for.


Though I must say that there was one excellent speaker and that was Wesley Zepherin, of Yorkshire Arts: his defense of Disability Arts was very satisfying.  This would explain why Yorkshire Arts was so instrumental in commissioning Simon McKeown to extend Motion Disabled to include a new animation and facilitate (with the excellent work of Jo Verrant of ARC - ada inc) a large scale projection of Motion Disabled on to the side of Leeds City Technology College Building at an approximate height of over 100 feet. The projection started soon after the Civic reception at The Carriageworks - lovely Onion Bhajis!


The building the work was projected upon was next to quite a main road - thus, thousands witnessed the event.  It did take some time to perfect (width and height of the project had to be adjusted to ensure the best fit and display): but it was worth it.  There were minor problems: the building had put up a black banner on the building on the last week and the lights were all on in the buildings stairwell.  Thankfully neither were a real problem (the security guard went around a stairwell switching the lights as soon he was asked).  Despite the rain, the cold and the road, the work looked amazing and fulfilled all that Simon McKeown and I had of it.  It bought at least one of the animation’s participants to tears (along with his family). 


The scale and scope of the projection was indeed spectacular and a joy to behold: a great work of Disability Art given the space to transcend the space a Gallery provides to move out into the work and ‘intervene’ in to the ordinary ‘night life’ of a city that would usually either be unaware or not care about Disability Art (let alone the beautiful difference that the abnormal embody).  The projection was on from 6 pm till 1 am.  Thousands saw the work and we received considerable praise - however egotistical it may seem to be it is gratifying given the work involved in the art work.


One person at the earlier seminar had commented - after our presentation of the work on a smaller scale - that the work left her ‘unmoved’ (after arguing that great art comes out of the ‘normal’).  The excitement, engagement and positive comments of passersby was affirmation in itself that the work not only worked as art but in offering a perspective that challenged and changed the world in which we live: something only great art ever achieves.  And, it is great art because it is Disability Art.


We left Simon - and few of the team - recording the event on film and still images: it will soon be covered comprehensively on the website  But not this week as on Monday Simon flew off to present Motion Disabled in Korea at the DPI world disability art festival in Seoul. 

I, with other members of the team and a group of friends and relatives, all went off for a meal in a cafe next to the hotel (Radisson SAS - Leeds at £65 per night if booked in advance - and it was very nice).  We all eat and drank till the early hours: our heads hitting the pillow with a great sense of satisfaction and without a thought for the nightmare journey the next morning back to Wolverhampton on public transport. 


Trains: I’ll keep my car till global warming hits Wolverhampton (sorry folks).

Keywords: 2012 olympics,disability art,film,social model,visual art,