This post was written by Associate Professor, Eliza Chandler.
Beginning in January, Dr. Carla Rice and myself will be co-directing a seven year SSHRC-funded Partnership Grant called Bodies in Translation: Activist Art, Technology, and Access to Life. Activist art, as it is defined in this grant, is Deaf, disability, and Mad art, fat art, art made by aging/aged people, and Indigenous art produced by Ontario-based artists. This grant will animate the assertion that when non-normative artists have access to creating and exhibiting art, and when we all have access to publically engaging with it, that differently embodied and marginalized people achieve greater possibilities for living a fulfilled life and expanded recognition of having liveable futures. And in a culture in which D/deaf people, disabled people, Mad people, fat/differently-sized people, aging/aged people, and Indigenous people are recognized as living unliveable and undesirable lives, we recognize that the project of claiming vitality through activist art is nothing short of urgent.
Bodies in Translation brings together 40 university and community-based partners from across Canada and the UK. Tangled Art + Disability, the main community partner, will be the site of much of the grant’s artistic activity. We aim to help cultivate activist art and mobilize its social justice capacity through five research streams which will: 1) Create an open-access, accessible, and ever-expanding archive of activist art in Ontario; 2) Innovate new ways for technology to help create, exhibit, archive and experience art; 3) Facilitate the creation and exhibition of activist art; 4) Consider how activist art contributes to social justice by promoting new understandings of embodied differences, both through art and as artists; and 5) Develop free and accessible secondary and post-secondary curriculum around activist art which can be used within equity and social justice pedagogy.
The main research outputs of this grant will be an activist art archive co-hosted by the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies; the development of a standard and policy for making the arts accessible; activist art programming, performances, and exhibitions; symposiums, conferences, workshops, and publications about activist art; and a web-based knowledge platform wherein educators can freely access curriculum and curriculum development tools for teaching about social justice through activist art.
What this means for the Ryerson community:
As one of the two main university partners on this grant, the School of Disability Studies will be abuzz with research and artistic activity for the next seven years. The School will host many research symposiums— the first of which, the Aging/Disability Symposium will be held February 16th and 17th, 2017 and stay tuned for the second Cripping the Arts symposium happening in 2018. The School will also be the site of the grants Access the Arts Lab, a lab complete with 3D printers, iPads, video editing software, and new technology as it gets developed over the life of the grant that will help make art-making more accessible. This lab is free to use for students, artists, and community members, so feel free to pop by when the lab is set up next winter. The grant will also create a number of research assistantship positions for students, artists, and community members. If you are interested in one of these positions, please get in touch with me.
If you want to hear more about this grant or would like to get involved, please get in touch with me at any time: email@example.com, 416-979-5000 ext. 6200, office #523.
Looking forward to an exciting next seven years cultivating activist art at the School of Disability Studies!
This post was written by current student Nicole Meehan.
Hello, I feel like I need to say hello today to anyone who is reading this. Why? I do not know, but I feel like maybe it eases me into this important and full conversation I am going to have to have about my process in creating my final DST 99 project, Breaking Free: The Aesthetics of Madness (this is the current working title and is subject to change).
I began in the Disability Studies program in 2011 and have always wanted to have dance be involved in my 99 project, but how it is involved has changed with the many ruptures I have experienced, as my supervisor Kathryn Church calls them, especially within the last year and a half alone.
I am a dancer, and have been since I was eleven years old. It has always been a passion of mine but how I identify as a dancer is changing. I trained as a highland dancer for fourteen years and ballet dancer for five years respectively. Both art forms can be rigid, come with expectations and high standards, along with set steps and positions to follow. I have also taught both highland and ballet for many years.
Originally I thought I would run a dance workshop for people with disabilities creating a space for them to create and express using movement.
Through my ballet teacher Lisa, I was introduced to a whole new dancing world. After a difficult competitive season and my retirement, I was asked to participate in a contemporary modern dance piece called Storm and Silence, which was being performed in the Hamilton Fringe Festival. I had never tried anything like that before but thought it was a risk I was willing to take. I was given the opportunity to begin exploring ways in which I can find my own voice within my movement and body. Using a combination of spoken word, poetry, dance and movement I found a more authentic and organic way of expression.
This coupled with my further immersion in the DST program lead me to envision my 99 to have a dance piece that combined writing pieces, with dance choreography and was performed by myself and a varying group of dancers. I thought about redefining what is and can be considered dance and who can be a dancer.
It became about creating a performance piece that merges Dance and Disability Activism.
This continued until I took Chelsea Jones’ class to learn about Writing for Disability Activism. From here I wanted to include my writing pieces about Madness, which I later titled Mad Ramblings, into the dance but was unsure how I was going to do it, so I guess it was more of a development than a rupture.
It became, “redefining what is and can be considered dance and who can be a dancer”, while expressing my experiences as a self identified Mad Person.
I held the previous vision right up until I had to present my proposal to my current cohort of students. I was wondering where I might get dancers who would be interested and also have diverse styles of movement. My class was very helpful in providing many suggestions but I kept having an uneasy feeling that I was being pulled away from where I really wanted to be.
Emerging Aesthetics of Madness
Highland, ballet, contemporary, modern… all different forms of dance that have taught me something new and given me a new way of expressing myself. They have also given me the confidence to trust in my own voice. Each time I dance I bring myself to the floor, I am the common denominator, and I am the only one who can do this. It is not about following someone else’s steps but creating my own and developing my style through my life experiences. even though I am resistant to the structure of the different styles over the years, I want to acknowledge the influences they have had in creating my life dance, my madness. Each dance style has come into my life at the point that I have needed it the most and when I was ready for it.
And then it hit me, Breaking Free is to be about the Aesthetics of Madness and exploring this through dance. It is about my journey and experiences of Madness, a solo. I have noticed that many of the current representations out there are one dimensional, we just see the diagnosis. They don’t show the complexities of the madness of life. Good days and bad days, days that are all the way out to the left. They are all a part of my madness and as such are part of the whole aesthetic.
Although I would like to give you a final bang of a conclusion, I can’t, I still have 3 months to go and that is a long time for many more ruptures to come.
Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, a naïve first time university student had an idea that she thought would be fun and interesting as an assignment for one of her courses. She was new and late to the academy and worked very, very hard to impress those around her with her knowledge by using the biggest and best words possible when writing her assignments. Writing was an arduous task and she had a terrible fear of the blank page. Assignments took days and days to complete and she felt imprisoned and tethered to her laptop as she wrote. Befriending a thesaurus, she trusted that this new friend would guide her and give her the language credibility she sought. The student and the thesaurus were inseparable. They spent hours working in collaboration. The student leaned very hard on her new friend, becoming so dependent that the meaning and application of words became less important than the impact of a fancy, academic word. The student became so tired as she was lost and tangled in a jungle of jargon and she couldn’t find her way out. She was captive in her own mind and she had lost trust in her own voice.
The student became very passive and let another with official academic credentials speak for her. The fun assignment for her course became a research project and, knowing nothing about research, she just followed along and became an accidental researcher. The voice in her head had concerns but that passive voice remained silent, in that captive prison of her vulnerable mind. She felt like a puppet attached to strings while the academic manipulator directed her in every research
move. Working on this research project was like running on an enchanted treadmill that only went faster and higher and never stopped. Knowing nothing about the Ethics protocol, she just answered the questions, filled out the forms and did not even try to ask for what she really wanted. When the data was collected, she spent hours alone, trying to figure out how to analyze and organize the information and she wrote, submitted and re-submitted papers written in her fanciest language to academic journals and chapters to undergraduate textbooks with little guidance. She wrote applications for conference presentations and spent days and days organizing and creating lovely visual lectures. She organized transportation and accommodation for the academic and herself and was urged to do most of the speaking to audiences of other academics. She began to imagine that she was a RESEARCHER, keeping company with other RESEARCHERS.
But the more she wrote and spoke about her project, the more she began to realize that she had betrayed herself and the artists she loved to work with and now that voice in her head just kept repeating “shame on you” … and she felt like a fraud.
I am the Accidental Researcher. I didn’t trust myself. For this project, I wanted to work with a group of students I knew well on an art project using iPads, which were a new and emerging technology in 2012. The students are adults with intellectual disabilities.
I had never done an ethics application before and didn’t know or even try to ask for what I really wanted. I wanted to capture images of the artists engaging, yes with the device but also with each other.
The REB was very concerned about protecting the “vulnerable population” of adults with intellectual disabilities by insisting on privacy and anonymity so I had to blur the faces and put bars in front of participants’ eyes in every image of these artists using iPads to make art. These disguises only served to silence rather than protect the artists.
In the room, there was a tremendous amount of connectedness and communication in the art making as well as in the social interaction and the excitement and energy can be viewed in the hundreds of images that were captured. The bars and blur I had to add not only hid the identity but also concealed the personality of each artist, dehumanizing and reducing each person to an object. I still feel terrible about this and even though my research was published and acclaimed, celebrated and acknowledged, I vowed to never research like this ever again.
In the summer of 2014, I read a number of articles, books, papers and projects about Art-based and Arts-informed research. And these readings connected me to more reading about Site-specific art, Place-based art, memory, remembrance and forgetting, memorializing and redress, collaboration and visual communication and visual studies. My bibliography of readings multiplied and exploded. I knew that for my master’s research project I would do arts-based research. My research participants and I moved through the threshold between what has come before and what may come next as co-creators of knowledge.
The results of this research can be seen at the future home of Tangled Art Gallery, 401 Richmond St. W, Studio 122 in Toronto until December 3, 2015.
Arts-based research will:
Engage people in conspiratorial conversations
Entice outsiders into meaningful dialogues
Pull audiences in
Hatch conspiracies through dialogue
Re/create public space
Arts-based research can create new languages, illuminate disabling contexts, expand accessibility and bridge culture and scholarship. This Accidental Researcher has learned the most valuable lesson…to let yourself be vulnerable, to ask questions because if you don’t ask, you don’t know and to trust your own active voice. She has given herself permission to explore and experiment, to cut those puppet strings and to try find her own way.
In September I was lucky enough to venture back to Toronto (and the School of Disability Studies!) with some UK colleagues and self-advocate researchers from Speak Up Self-Advocacy Rotherham to take part in the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada-funded (SSHRC) international workshop, Making Space for Intimate Citizenship (September 2015) (hereby Making Space).
Together, Esther Ignagni (School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University), Ann Fudge-Schorrmans (School of Social Work, McMaster University), Katherine Runswick-Cole (Research Institute for Health and Social Change, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK), and myself (School of Education, University of Sheffield, UK) – with the vital support of Kim Collins (School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University) – have been planning the workshop over the past year. The aim of the workshop was simple: to bring together a disparate group of people from Canada, South Africa, Australia and the UK – academics, self-advocates, Canadian service providers, Aboriginal leaders, students, and artists – to speak about intimate citizenship in the lives of disabled people. The aim of Making Space was to share knowledge, experiences and insights related to the extent to which intimate citizenship is realized and accessed by people labelled with intellectual disabilities (hereby labelled people). In this blog, I’d like to share some reflections.
‘Intimate citizenship’ is a term coined by the British Sociologist Ken Plummer (2003). It refers to the evolving relationships between our private and public lives; the idea that the ‘personal’ matters in our lives – who we love; where we live; our sex/ualities, partnerships, and friendships; how we bear and raise our children; and the forms of intimate labour or work we carry out along the way – is increasingly contoured by, and penetrates, public life. Intimate citizenship necessarily involves negotiating body-based, psycho-emotional and social contact with others. As such, “intimate problems”, commonly understood as private, have significant public and policy implications. Those readers who have made the journey through DST501 (an introductory course on Ryerson’s BA Disability Studies) might remember learning about C. Wright Mills’ (1959) The Sociological Imagination. In this key text, Mills argues that our lived experiences can never be separated from the political, social and historical contexts in which they take place – our private troubles are public issues. This is a similar concept that once again emphasizes the interconnectedness of the “inside” and “outside” spaces of our individual and social lives.
As a public sociologist and researcher interested in disability, sex/uality and gender, my work has shown that intimate citizenship is routinely contested, controlled and contained, and thus fragile, in the lives of disabled people (see Liddiard and Slater, forthcoming). The rights of disabled people to pursue several spheres of intimate life, including sexual identity and expression, friendship, marriage and cohabitation, family life and parenthood, are enshrined in the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). These rights are important because intimate relationships establish the social networks necessary to support employment, educational success, secure housing, family stability, sexual health and wellbeing, and build resilience to deal with the deleterious effects of structural and interpersonal ableism. Barriers to intimate ties lead to social and economic costs associated with vulnerability to abuse and violence, child welfare involvement, trans-institutionalization and reliance on private and social care resources. In practice, we know little of disabled people’s experiences of intimate citizenship; little detailed exploration of people’s intimate experiences has been undertaken. Even less is known about the spaces disabled people may easily access and stake claims to their intimate citizenship, especially in austere times, and how this may shape intimate subjectivities, relations and practice. Nor do we know what new ableisms – the exclusions, disadvantages and silencing of people with impairments – or other barriers are encountered within the exercise of intimate. Importantly, our knowledge rarely includes disabled people as competent commentators on their own life conditions.
To counter this, Making Space employed facilitated arts-based techniques to enhance the access to the conceptual and research discourse that typically marginalizes labelled people (and many others). This embodied our desire for labelled people to be co-producers of all activities and outcomes within Making Space. Organised around three salient dimensions of human citizenship: loving, labouring consuming, participants worked closely in smaller groups to explore our lived experiences. I was in the labouring group, led by Cheryl Zinyk, Nick Herd and Matt Rawlins from Sol Express, which used improvisational theatre techniques to explore the relationship between intimate labour/s, access, structure and citizenship. Collectively, we put together a short dramatic piece that spoke to the multiple barriers faced by labelled people upon claiming an intimate self and life in the context of the multiple dis/ableist systems they live within and through. The piece involved miming a number of “real-life” still photographs which depicted what needs to happen for (health, education, welfare, and care) systems to become more progressive, supportive spaces that listen and work to the voices, desires and ambitions of labelled people (see Matt’s drawings of our performance). As a scholar who loves to write, the notion of acting and performing ideas threw me a little at first (read: made my blood run cold…) Yet what emerged was a highly conceptual piece of work co-created by the many different people in our group (scholars, community folk, self-advocates) that was at the same time beautifully artistic. Using these techniques, and watching those of the Loving and Consuming groups, it was clear that they supported and enabled multiple ways of thinking and knowing, often far removed from academic discourse in its conventional sense. Movingly, the knowledge produced was profound, vital and lived.
Our task now is to mobilise these ideas, to work alongside self-advocates in our own countries to ethically and faithfully develop the initial learning and exploration that happened at Making Space. In sum, our aim is that this will happen through further activism, research, advocacy and community arts projects which theorise, politicize and make space for labeled people to claim rights and access to their intimate citizenship.
Plummer, K. (2003) Intimate Citizenship: Private Decision and Public Dialogues. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press
Slater, J. and Liddiard, K. (in press) “Like, pissing yourself is not a particularly attractive quality, let’s be honest”: Learning to Contain through Youth, Adulthood, Disability and Sexuality’, Sexualities (Special Issue: Pleasure and Desire).
Wright-Mills, C. (1959) The Sociological Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press
I would like to say a massive thank you to all of the self-advocates for giving their time, care and focus to the project. Thanks also go to all of the exceptional volunteers that made Making Space run so smoothly. Lastly, to all at the School of Disability Studies, thank you (once again) for your customary support, consideration, warmth and love. Without doubt, the School remains the magical place I left.
This post was written by current student Barbara Steele.
The idea for my DST 99 independent project came from a course I had taken as an upper liberal called women’s writing. This course briefly investigated a mad women character who was locked away in an attic. The women authors who created this mad female character were trying to break into what was considered a male profession only. It was believed that these created mad female characters were originally created to foil the female authors themselves, to overcome their own oppression of patriarchal societies in which they lived.
I became interested in wanting to explore and learn more about this mad women phenomenon using a disabilities studies lens of critical thinking. As young women I have been passionate about feminism and the societal roles women are expected to have. In society woman have many roles mother, sister, and wife and bread winner in some cases. I wanted to research the effects on women who have been given a mad diagnosis. Would their madness be societal based or a product of their nature within the selected literary works? I was interested in wanting to understand what is so popular about mad women.
In today’s society there are many women authors are who held to the same standard as men when it comes to creating great literary works. Since women authors are seem as equals I was curious as to why women still feel the desire to create these mad women characters. What does this say about our society? Have we become obsessed with female madness? These are some of the questions that sparked my research journey.
For this research process I decided to read some literary works that entail mad female characters and watched the movies that coincided with the book. The titles I have chosen to use were Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, Girl Interrupted by Susanna Kasen and The bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
Reading literary works allows the audience to receive an inside perspective as to the characters inner thoughts are revealed, the author is the who describes a scene through writing but it is up to the reader to use their imagination while reading the work. In a movie the audience only is able to see what they observe on the screen. The director is the one who filters what is seen and how. The director is automatically giving the audience a pre-determined way of thinking about a certain film regarding a female character who been affected with madness.
Using both the literary works and their entitled movies I was able to create more critical interpretations of what female madness represents in literary works and film interpretations. Two titles I have used were set in late 1800’s and the other two works are from 1950’s. Themes that have been reoccurring are the use and context of language, the negative effects of labeling, the stigma attached to having a mental disability as well as many others that will be discussed in my paper. Although these findings seem grim there has been improvements in the person’s quality of life and supports used for an individual with mental illness.
This is a brief description of my research project which will be completed in April 2015.
This post was written by current student Nicole Meehan.
I went to mad pride this year and one of the activities involved imagining and brainstorming ideas for what a mad positive space might look like. We were given the options to colour a picture, draw or write down our ideas.
At first I didn’t really have any specific ideas so I drew speech bubbles and coloured around them. I figured an idea of what to write would come to me by the time I finished. An hour and a half later, I still couldn’t think of something to write.
Then I decided that, for me, a safe space is a place where you do not have to say anything at all, where you can simply be. It is a place where you can be comfortable in just being an empty bubble.
This post was written by current Disability Studies student, Robin Kellner.
How accessible are the arts? Accessing the Arts was a symposium full of stimulating conversations with art bursts in between at the Abilities Centre in Whitby. The end goal was to pick apart that very question.
The symposium attracted a diverse group of visual artists, performers, producers, as well as professionals working in the field of disability. I was pleased to bump into two familiar faces from the Intervenor Program at George Brown College including Sandra Owen-Peters and Betty-Jean Reid. Wherever possible, we brainstormed ideas about how to promote accessibility to the arts within the deafblind community. We hope to continue this dialogue and expand our ideas within our field.
Fabulous organizations and advocacy groups promoting accessibility to the arts for people of all abilities were all part of the dialogue. Among those present were representatives from the Buddy’s and Badtimes Theatre, located in the Church and Wellesley Village in Toronto. They strive to provide an outlet to groups that have difficulty accessing the arts elsewhere. One of our art bursts was presented by Wolfsounds who brought me to tears with a performance about love starring actors who have disabilities. I was also excited to learn about Reelwheels, a Vancouver-based company committed to promoting a deeper understanding of disability amongst its audience.
While there are a variety of accessible avenues for the arts, our round table discussions revealed that we still have a long way to go. Visual artist Elaine Stewart kicked off a round-table discussion by sharing that “it is difficult to be a part of a gallery opening if you cannot get through the door (Stewart, 2014).”
So I got to thinking … why can’t planks be put on top of door steps? Elaine recalled times when City officials asked the artists to move the temporary ramps they had created because they were obstructing the sidewalk. This attitude is a pure example of ableism; the accommodation made for people who use wheelchairs is causing an inconvenience for the pedestrians who need to walk around the ramp.
Panel discussions provided an opportunity for more storytelling from actors, funding providers, and everyone in between. One producer spoke about a time when the lighting on the set of a play did not follow an actor who had to sit down half way through the performance due to her disability, and was therefore stuck in the dark. I was also surprised to learn, from a woman who is deaf, of a theatre-related event where the organizers would not provide ASL interpreters. Questions and comments were thrown at the guests throughout the symposium to allow us to learn and grow from each other.
As stated by the hilarious stand-up comedian and advocate Alan Shain, “accessibility is a complex issue (Shain, A. 2014).” My pen was moving energetically throughout the day and I appreciate the opportunity to have been there. Accessing the Arts broadened my understanding of the amount of barriers preventing accessibility within the arts and beyond.