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Disability Arts Online

10 February 2009

Disabled artist Esther Appleyard gives some further background to her interest in genetics

Decadent New Assortments - mixed media by Esther Appleyard Esther Appleyard

Decadent New Assortments - mixed media by Esther Appleyard

Image: Esther Appleyard

My work is concerned with exploring the essence of identity, and ‘free-will’ verses pre-destination. DNA is the subject to investigate these issues, opening up a dialogue concerning the question of whether we are in control of our own destiny, or merely pre-disposed to live out our lives according to our genetic heritage or programming. Mixed media painting

I wish to discuss broader issues of tolerance, difference and the implications genetic science may have on society in generations to come. I am also particularly interested in the links between art and science. Both Science and Art employ dedicated processes and attention to detail and I feel the way in which I work, comparisons can be drawn between the two disciplines.

My work is concept driven and process based, resulting in multi-layered complex images. Miniature weavings are photographed and then projected on a much larger scale, exposing the inherent defects within the weave. This is a metaphor for the faults that occur within our own genetic structures and the vast implications this may have. These images are then made into digital prints on canvas or paper, to which paint, glitter and varnish is applied, decorating the sinister and exploring the contrast between the digital and man-made mark.

Another feature is the symbolic use of what could be read as a bar code – a metaphor for storing information. The variation of this code is the very thing that gives us our perception of individuality, but, ultimately, reduces that individuality to nothing more than a series of lines.

Are we slaves to the code? Are we little more than machines, programmed to function in an extremely specific way? Can science explain all, or is there a greater unexplainable spiritual element to our existence that cannot be defined or pre-destined?

I think the debate between disabled artists and scientists will be a really exciting and valuable experience. Often scientists are only exposed to the medical model of disability and do not have an in depth understanding of the identities of disabled people. I have spent some time with the geneticists at Guys Hospital. I found them to be extremely helpful and welcoming. This was an unusual experience, which I felt had to be approached sensitively as many of the issues that I had concerns with, they were dealing with on a daily basis and very much from the medical perspective. I felt it was very important to discuss how the medical profession may quantify the value of life. For example, how they may view someone with “severe disabilities” and how I myself may fall into this category. I was interested to challenge preconceptions they may have about the “quality of life” someone like me may have. I think from the perspective of clinical geneticists, they felt they would be saving people pain, by genetically scanning embryos so only “healthy” babies would be born. However, I feel it is extremely important to challenge the way the medical profession decides what is healthy and what is a good quality of life. These decisions are the basis on which they provide information and support to prospective parents. Mixed media painting

Opening up this dialogue and debate can only be a good thing to inform those on both sides. Once scientists have a better understanding of the realities of what living with an impairment may entail and a clearer understanding of the complex identities of disabled people and possibly not believing that curing people is the only way forward, maybe we can change the perceptions within society. We are not desperately looking to the medical profession as our only option for happiness, but we are indeed complicated, diverse and therefore interesting individuals with unique skills and perceptions shaped by our impairments that can only enrich a thriving society. The quest for perfection is a dangerous thing and will ultimately lead to a bland un-balanced society.

Life Lottery - mixed media by Esther Appleyard Esther Appleyard

Life Lottery - mixed media by Esther Appleyard

Image: Esther Appleyard

Esther Appleyard produced an exhibition titled A Series Of Lines in collaboration with Craig Kerrecoe for Worcester City Gallery, which ran from 12 April to 31 May 2008.

Both artists use DNA as their subject to investigate these issues.

To find out more about Esther Appleyard's work go to her website at http://www.estherappleyardart.co.uk

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