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> > > The Art of Bounce: Disability Arts Festival in Belfast

12 September 2013

photographer Karen Forrester lies pictured on a giant chess board

Karen Forrester's photographic exhibition 'Madness in Mind' gives theatrical interpretation of moments of madness.

The Belfast Bounce Festival took place during September 2013, over three, dynamic days. Rosaleen McDonagh was there, assessing the development of Disability Arts in Northern Ireland

Belfast Grand Opera House and Baby Grand Studio were the hosts of many of the events. This was central and accessible by way of location. For most of the events, there was audio description and signing. Volunteers were readily available to provide support and information, these people were the back bone of the festival.    

Chris Ledger, CEO of Arts & Disability Forum and Director of The Bounce Festival wants the Festival to be the focus point for building and exposing a repertoire of Disability Arts in Ireland. At the opening of the festival, the largest drum in Europe was drummed,  proclaiming “We’re loud and we’re proud and we’re here.” 

Bounce is only in its infancy, 2013 was its 2nd birthday.  Some of the work is highly developed and politicised, but a lot of the work didn’t have the political impetus that is evident throughout some parts of the Disability Arts movement in the UK, bearing in mind it has developed over twenty five years. 

Irish Disabled artists are politically conscious of discrimination and oppression. Pride and internalised oppression are competitive, compulsive, and, for some of us, will always be a work in progress. Our politics are nuanced. Disability politics, culture and art need to be understood in the milieu of a country’s history. A movement is not built in a day. 

Nor can pain, hurt, oppression be erased or dismissed. For the Disability Arts movement to flourish in Ireland, we need festivals where we can mentor and support each other’s work within the realm of Disability Arts. The Bounce Festival has the potential to be a space where artistic expression can be critiqued, celebrated, curated and challenged by peers. The line between arts and politics is always stretched, regardless of context. 

“For fifteen years I felt invisible”, said a performer with the ensemble Blue Chevvy, formerly known as Kids in Control Adult Ensemble, who was liberating herself from a violent relationship. This was a magnificent choreographed piece of physical theatre telling stories from the lives of disabled adults. Blue Chevvy Ensemble needs to be exposed to a wider audience and a bigger stage. Sonya Kelly’s one woman show, 'Wheelchair on my Face', was an example of an individual, medicalised narrative. Funny, with lots of anecdotes from her childhood. 

The festival programming was an eclectic mix of artists and indeed pieces of art work from many different genres. Filmmaker, Ben Jones, facilitated a coming together of would be filmmakers. Over the three days of the festival, Karen Forrester’s exhibition ‘Madness in Mind’ was on display at the Arts & Disability Forum Headquarters. The programme included a comix [sic] workshop with artists Andy Luke & Stephen Downey. Caroline Parker in 'Signs of a Diva', revelled in kitch glamour and contrasted with the previous evening of raucous blues musician, Pat Dam Smyth.

Performance poetry by the brilliant Dan Eggs, was my highlight. Singer/songwriter, Victoria Geelan, showcased her debut album ‘Unfit the Picture’. The audience wanted so much more of Victoria. Beneath the sultry, velvet voice was a wry sense of humour when she talked about learning to play her albino ukulele. 

A stark contrast of music styles to Catherine Hatt provided a genre for lots of different tastes. Artist, Julie McNamara, was the master of ceremonies, both on and off stage. The festival brought over a stall worth of Disability Arts and Disability Politics from the UK. People like Ruth Gould, from DaDaFest, was scouting for new talent and new possibilities and opportunities for emerging artists. This calibre of people participating and networking at the Bounce festival added credibility to all the performances. 

A writers’ workshop, led by Monica Corish, produced instant, beautiful pieces of prose and poetry, by a wide range of writers from diverse backgrounds and experiences. 

The festival crescendo came from the Open Arts Community Choir which, dressed in purple, giving a regal sense of occasion, while shaking the roof of the Baby Grand Studio.

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