Louise Hickman

Transcription Machines: Feminist Labor and Access Work

Join the hunt for average Joe

Everyone’s heard of Average Joe, but has anyone ever met him?
What does he look like and how does he act?
Is he even a he?
And could you be Average Joe?

This image is a part of Niet Normaal, a new exhibition which explores what is and isn’t normal through the work of cutting edge contemporary artists.

This show finished in 2010, good news, the show is being run at Liverpool as part of a disability Art festival DaDaFest. Find out more here: http://www.dadafest.co.uk/the-festival/niet-normaal/

Wellcome Collection: Superhuman

July 19, 2012

Wellcome Collection: Superhuman

Pair of artificial legs for a child (red shoes) Leather sockets at the hip and buttock of this prosthesis are open-ended to allow the natural feet to be free. The feet could then control valves that operated a set of artificial arms. The carbon dioxide cylinder that powered the upper limbs can be seen in the left leg.

Transformers: How enabling design has transformed disability

This forthcoming show at the National Centre for Craft and Design looks fascinating – ‘Transformers: How enabling design has transformed disability’, from 14 July to 30 September.

2012 is the year that the Paralympics come home to Britain and we are celebrating this with a summer exhibition looking at how enabling design has transformed disability. In the face of adversities the human race has an uncanny ability to survive, repair, learn and improve.  Transformers will look at the brains behind some of these designs and innovations and at the people who use them. (This is museum own wording, I disagreed with face(ing) of adversities comment, there is no need to overcome disability)

July 12, 2012

[Picture description: The large, circular form represents the wheel of the wheelchair, above this is a small circular black tennis ball hangs suspended in space, with the tennis racquet poised to smash the ball across the net]

Today blog is honoring Murray’s appearance in the Wimbledon Men’s Final, I am following the theme of tennis, by posting this Gary Hume’s poster.  Also, this post is a part of my paralympics poster series, first post can be found here: the Inspirational Tracey Emin’s poster.

Hume’s poster is considerable more abstract than Emin, therefore its open to the viewer to interpret the image.  The official blurb goes: Hume has abstracted elements from an image of a wheelchair- tennis player, combining them with foliage and a soft and subtle colour palette.  Yet, this is entirely subjective painting, but how does this image relate to the paralympics? Once context or explanation is given, we can picture it.

[Picture description: The words: ‘You inspire me with your determination and I love you’. Below these words is a scratchy pen and ink rendering of two birds atop wild flowers, and the Paralympic symbol etched in a rough way, which leads down the page.]

The Olympics and the Paralympics are almost among us, and thus the lexicon of inspiration is at its nadir. Inspiration is defined as a process of mental stimulation, particularly as pertains to feeling something – as a result of a creative process. People with disabilities, or disabled people (the difference largely depending on what side of the Atlantic you reside) are constantly portrayed as objects of inspiration. If I hear the simple utterance ‘You’re an inspiration to me’ my instinct is to head to the nearest door.

In ‘We’re not here for your inspiration’, Stella Young guides readers through the complex issues of ‘inspiration porn’ perfectly. Young states: ‘I suppose it doesn’t matter what inspiration porn says to us as people with disabilities. It’s not actually about us. Disability is complex. You can’t sum it up in a cute picture with a heart-warming quote.’ Stella acutely highlights that ‘it’s not actually about us’ – demonstrating that it is quickly becoming about ‘us and them’ – thus divisively creating a binary of differences. The ‘us’ as in the disabled people, serve as objects of reassurance for ‘them’ – non disabled people. Again as Stella Young surmises: ’It’s [the us and them dichotomy] is there so that non-disabled people can put their worries into perspective.’

Tracey Emin was one of a handful of British artists who were chosen to design the promotional posters for the Paralympics. In an attempt to avoid employing ‘macho, fascist ideology’ as quoted in channel 4’s ‘That Paralympic Blog’, instead Emin used a dis/ableist ideology. Inspiration is the face of her Paralympic posters, her words: ‘You inspire me with Your determination And I love you’. I suspect for most paralympians it’s about taking part, not overcoming the abstract, adverse conditions related to having a disability. Emin goes on to describe her process: ‘It’s a more emotional energy. So in the end I just decided to go down the celebratory route.’ It’s quite clear that Tracey Emin is employing an ‘against all odds’ rhetoric here. In some people’s minds, if the disabled person manages to overcome their adversity, in showing great ability, being more able, they are thus showing promise of their latent able bodies. This suggests that there’s no pride to be located within disabled identity, what’s more, the two birds within the image are supposed to symbolise freedom, but I ask, freedom from what? Ostensibly, the daily struggle of living with a disability. Sporting achievements should be celebrated, but not at the cost of negating one’s identity, disability is part of identity – denying the person’s disability is failing to see the person as a whole.

Failure falls on many levels here: the committee had a social responsibility to select an artist who represents the ethos of the paralympic team. Perhaps, even selecting an artist with a disability. I’m mindful to observe that Tracey Emin could indeed have a hidden disability, or at least doesn’t self identify as a disabled person. I will make a bold statement here, based on the evidence of Emin’s artwork, I don’t think she has given much thought to disability other than her own experience of it. As a result of this, the paralympians are represented through an ableist lens, a lens that makes disability the focus, rather than a celebration of sporting achievements. I finish today’s blog with one question, who does the Paralympic Games 2012 belong to? I hope that the cultural olympiad will recognise artistic talents, as well as sporting talents, that will be exhibited this summer.

Please note: I have used Person/People with Disabilities and Disabled person/people interchangeably to account for different transatlantic preference, I do not assign importance to one over the other.

UPDATED: Interesting post from disability and respresentationinspiration porn gawking

Jerry Lewis, you’re not funny,
You’re using people to raise money!

Stop the pity, stop the lies,
Stop to think — don’t patronize!

(Chants taken from http://www.cripcommentary.com/LewisVsDisabilityRights.html)

The short film The Kids are Alright is based on Jerry’s Orphans, a group of disability rights activists. The activists are protesting against the ‘pity approach’ which is used by the annual event the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Labor Day Telethon.  The pity approach adopted by the Telethon proved to be the antithesis of everything that the disability civil rights movement was trying to achieve. In this circumstance it was evident that pity prevents empowerment.  Mike, a disability activist within this film is trying to break away from his image of a 1960s poster child.

The poster child image can be seen as problematic for an adult with a disability. The “tiny Tim” evokes the idea of a pathetic and helpless individual, indeed a perfect candidate for pity.

The audience failed to grasp that there is a wider structural system such as medical healthcare that has failed these children. As Mike states in the film:

“Why is our mobility and quality of life so unimportant that we have to resort to these lengths just to get the support we need? That tells you quite a bit about how much America cares.”

Suggesting that the poster child is no more than their disability, reduced to a token figure of pity in order to appeal to the audience’s conscience and commodified in order to produce goods. The audience members of the telethon are contributing towards this disempowerment. Rather than focusing on social policy changes that would enable these children to be mobile and independent of their own accord, in this situation they can only gain independence through the receipt of pity and gifts from others.

Text in the above image: “Jerry Lewis says ‘You don’t want to be pitied for being a cripple in wheelchair, stay in your house’ Fuck You Jerry!!

Mike and the ‘Jerry’s Orphans’ are depicted in the film as forming a united front, showing scenes of a barrage of wheelchairs breaking through security barriers, chanting “No more pity!”  Mike asserts that he in fact pities those who pity him, his pragmatic attitude and supports the film’s underlying themes that control over the lives of disabled people should originate with those who are affected by it, placing people with disabilities at the helm of disability organization.

Finally, the film shows Mike in an interview, discussing at length the injustice he felt was committed by Jerry Lewis; demonstrating his personal dislike of Lewis’s tactics. Mike quoted Jerry’s article regarding his attempts to empathize with people with disabilities, in order to show that Jerry was reducing people with disabilities as a ‘half a person’:

When I sit back and think a little more rationally, I realize my life is half, so I must learn to do things halfway. I just have to learn to try to be good at being half a person. I may be a full human being in my heart and soul, yet I am still half a person.

People I showed this film to found this part particularly disturbing. It was considered to be problematic that someone who was the ambassador of an organization raising money for people with muscular dystrophy might hold this position that disabled people are somehow ‘half a person’. Instead of empowering disabled people, Jerry Lewis’s actions and comments debilitates the representation of disabled people’s identity.

In 2011, it was announced that Lewis will step down as national chairman of the MDA.

To find out more about Jerry’s Orphans, you can access the full film here: http://www.thekidsareallright.org/watch.html