Judging by the numbers of disabled people I saw at the Royal Academy's David Hockney exhibition last Saturday, there is a will that goes beyond simply paying lip service to accessibility, to market the gallery to include disabled people.
The huge scale of the work on show, and the use of vivid colour means this exhibition is largely accessible for visitors with a range of sight impairments. The audio-guides provided had some clear, informative descriptions of the scale and detail of the works, whilst giving some good insight into artistic processes, with observations from Hockney himself, commenting on his work.
The popularity of this show with the general public has been overwhelming, leading to an average queue of two hours to gain entrance as we approach the last few weeks of its run. The gallery seems to be coping with the numbers of people, staggering entrance times so the numbers don’t go beyond capacity.
The main body of the work on show are oils, watercolours and charcoal drawings inspired by the Yorkshire Landscape. There is an intent to give visitors an appreciation of how the changing seasons and the time of day affect the light in a given spot in the landscape. Hockney has repeatedly gone back to the same bit of track through the countryside; and the same view of trees. He is fascinated by the way that trees arch over to contain the light, creating a tunnel affect in summer, when the trees are in leaf. The same spot in winter shows bare branches that open the space up and allow the sky in. This has the effect of making you look at the way that changes in the light affect the colour and mood of the landscape.
The enthusiasm of the way that Hockney’s work has been received could develop to compare with how Constable came to be viewed in the latter half of the 20th century. Hockney’s work has a certain romanticism to it. He puts modest, unspectacular, scenes from the Yorkshire Wolds firmly back on the map. But largely these series of paintings, film and digital prints look at trees as architectural forms. The work, thankfully, doesn’t offer the same degree of sentimentality that led to Constable being viewed as 'the' painter of the English idyll.
Lastly I'd like to comment on the impressive range of accessible events the gallery has provided for the Hockney exhibition. It has included Lipspeaking talks, Audio-described and BSL events, events for wheelchair-users, as well as a drawing Hockney soundscapes workshop, designed to be inclusive of individual access requirements.
David Hockney: A Bigger Picture is on at the Royal Academy until the 9 April. Check the RA website for further information at http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions/hockney/
In the meantime The Royal Acadmey is running a series of sessions for individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s and their carers or family members on 23 April and 14 May; looking at artworks from the Permanent Collections and exploring objects from the multi sensory handling collection. For details go to http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/events/special-events/
Creativity is a place where difficulty and beauty can share the same bed and offer something of value. The Creative Case for Diversity is an approach - mooted by the Arts Council - in an attempt to have a conversation about how it is that Art that comes from artists outside the usual narrow definition of who can be defined an artist and what can be defined as art, is often the most original work being produced.
DAO as a platform has attempted over recent years, to open its pages up to work by artists - who may not define as disabled artists - but who produce work that has come out of an experience of disability or impairment. The exciting thing for me about this work is its intent to say something real, that comes out of lived experience.
Yesterday I saw work produced by the remarkable, unfettered imagination of Sanchita Islam (as featured in an interview with Elisabetta Marino on Creative Case for Diversity) at her Pigment Explosion Party 2. Located in the snug on the fifth floor of Shoreditch House, I walked past a pool room to find Sanchita drawing in situ, while a screen showed a digital showcase of containing work spanning 25 years of making art.
On either side of the room, displayed flat were two 30 foot long scrolls: ‘Soul on a Scroll’ and a ‘panoramic view of East London’. Covered in the most exquisite range of pen and ink, drawing and painting, the work explores a billion and more details of intertwining stories and narratives of a mind allowed to roam unrestricted.
The minutiae of details in Islam’s drawing, reminded me of a lighter, feminine Nick Blinko, more psychedelic than gothic in its influence, but nonetheless intense; especially in the reams of impossibly tiny text that becomes a textural mark-making pattern for ‘Soul on a Scroll.’ The writing assumes a quality akin to the Rosetta stone or the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Begun in 2008 as a way of emptying and calming the mind the work references classic images by Bacon, Bosch, Velázquez Goya and Da Vinci. There are a range of anatomical exercises in amongst the mountains, trees and foothills which unveil an inner landscape of truly epic proportions. There is absurdist humour in the detail. The eye suddenly settles on a phrase “I don’t like number 2” as a prequel to a sequence of drawing made of equations moving like swimmers in the tide towards the ‘Sanchita Equation.’
The second scroll on display was a 360 degree panoramic view of East London as seen from the top of Shoreditch House, before the recent railway was built. It begins with a man sitting with his back to the city and extends beyond into a freeflow of erotic goddess-type figures who pose in the sky, alongside the faces of small dogs peeping out from behind clouds. The landscape unfolds further to reveal a scene of upright dildos, resembling the ‘Fairy Chimneys’ in Cappadocia, Turkey.
Showing artwork in this way, in a non-gallery setting, makes it less formal, and more of a happening; a chance to meet the artist, hear her perform poetry and exchange meaningful conversation. I was wowed by the experience. Look out for an article from Sanchita about her work on DAO, to be published later this week…
DAO has published a couple of reports, recently on events about access to theatre and theatre-making. In her review on The Scottish Dance Theatre’s Pathways to the Profession Symposium, Jo Verrent concludes that the discussion at the conference “isn’t a battle for access, it’s about a critical contribution to culture.”
Putting our experience as ‘diverse’ artists, out there is a process of finding the keys held by the gatekeepers, in a climate ever more pressurized by funding restrictions.
Forging links with companies who clearly recognize the value of disability performance, like Improbable Theatre, has to be one way forward. I was knocked out by the production of No Idea by Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence that they toured in 2010.
But, will Improbable continue to work with material that explores the rich depth of experience that diversity can bring to the theatre? I've just published a well-considered and informative piece by Danny Braverman about Improbable Theatre's Devoted & Disgruntled Open Space process and what it can achieve. He talks passionately about the need to pass on information to younger practitioners: “When a young theatre-maker talked about bi-lingual work in Bengali and English I could point her towards the pioneering work at the Half Moon Young People’s Theatre 20-odd years ago.”
There was clearly a lot of discussion about opening theatre up to 'diverse' audiences and theatre practitioners. But how do we impress the value of the work on to a wider set of theatre practitioners and professionals? What it is that is holding disability theatre back in taking part in conversations and sharing experience with theatre professionals, in general?
Disability theatre, or indeed, accessible theatre isn’t breaking the ground it should be. For example in the plethora of theatre and performing arts being showcased in the Brighton Festival 2012, there is little or no consideration given to access. There are no audio-described performances programmed and I found only four shows that have BSL interpreted performances. Carousel have one outing of ‘Gold Run’ and Tin Bath Theatre’s children’s show ‘Bee Detective’ has three shows programmed.
In Brighton it seems the battle for access has stepped back a notch. Last year we had shows from Deaf Men Dancing, Graeae, Up-Stream, as well as a much wider range of BSL interpreted events, talks etc.
This year, the only disability-specific piece of theatre that has been programmed, is Chris Larner's pro-assisted suicide piece, An Instinct for Kindness. Do I detect that the gate-keepers want us to go away, or is that simply paranoia setting in?
DAO's Director, Trish Wheatley invites readers to air their views on DAO in return for the chance to win £40 of Amazon vouchers
DAO is currently attracting record numbers of readers peaking at 14,000 visitors per month viewing over 32,000 pages in February, which is absolutely fantastic. Thank you to all our writers and readers for their contibutions and do keep returning for all the latest in blogs, news, reviews, listings and much more.
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