Last night was the 21st Anniversary of Survivors’ Poetry. It’s not difficult to fill the Poetry Café in Betterton Street, London, but it was a suitable venue for what was for me, an emotional occasion. Being involved with Survivors’ Poetry through the 1990s was instrumental in my getting involved with the Disability Arts Movement.
Joe Bidder was then and remains to this day, an engaging mentor and advocate. Without him I would never have been able to move forward with the work I’ve done within the Disability Arts Movement over the last twenty years. At the event he reminded us how instrumental Arts Council were, then, through the vision of Bushey Kelly, in establishing Survivors’ Poetry. Joe reminded us how radical and effective the group was in establishing the first ever Arts Charity staffed and run exclusively by survivors of the mental health system.
Another founding member Frank Bangay recalled how much of the organisation of gigs and workshops, back in the day, happened from his ‘office’ in the local telephone box! Frank’s poetry always stirs with a spirit for understanding and compassion, arresting the listener with images of the healing power of nature. Accompanied on guitar by Alastair Murray and with a mean harmonica in hand he gave us his song of hope for England.
Frank has been a cornerstone of the Survivor Arts movement since the 1980s and continues to be a prolific writer and producer though his work with Core Arts. I’d recommend reading an interview with him by Xochitl Tuck published in the Spring/ Summer 2005 edition of Survivors’ Poetry Express.
Another founding member Hilary Porter, talked about her initial reticence, followed by her gratitude for everything that Survivors’ Poetry has meant to her. I remember her dedication to making the events and workshops all those years ago so welcoming. Her self-effacing, warm nature were an inspiration that kept the Survivors’ spirit alive through many years.
Razz has also been there since the beginning. He continues to bring an ineffable charm and enthusiasm to the performances and workshops he organises with Xochitl and takes part in at the Poetry Cafe and Tottenham ‘Chances’.
The event made me realize how much I miss the spirit of survivors performing and the gentle supportive vibe that is such a hallmark of what is so valuable and necessary to giving survivors of the mental health system a space to express ourselves and to cope in a world that can be so cruel and insensitive towards those of us who struggle in our daily lives.
Simon Jenner continues to keep Survivors’ Poetry going. The website contains some great live films of performances by various members of the group, including some of the wit and wisdom of the fourth founding member of the group, Peter Campbell, who unfortunately was unable to make the anniversary night. When Peter talks about the presence of God on Cricklewood station you just know he speaks truth. Go to http://www.survivorspoetry.org/the-poetry/performances/ for some real gems.
I often edit DAO from my bed. As someone with ME who has limited capacity for getting out and about responding to emails, publishing and sub-editing are frequently done between bouts of resting in bed.
So when Liz Crow sent DAO a proposal for a Diverse Perspectives commission for an artwork involving a live bed-in I was particularly intrigued. Her intention for the live performance was to make a statement about the immense contradiction between the public face of the artist as someone with an extrovert ego, capable of juggling demands from all directions; and the private face of the individual for whom every outing means a whole level of demand that has to remain hidden to justify any level of support from the state.
The performance also has a connection with Yoko Ono and John Lennon's bed-in staged as an act of nonviolent protest in support of peace, over forty years ago now. Knowing that their wedding would cause a huge stir in the press, the couple decided to use the opportunity to invite the press to their bedroom to talk about world peace.
There is something about the function the bed plays and the taboo that surrounds what happens in bed, that will make an interesting starting point for the emerging artwork. Bedding In is also an exploration of ‘the gaze’. The disabled body has long been subject to the fascination of others, with a long history of images of disabled people as subjects of tragedy and pity in circus sideshows, the poster child and medical demonstrations. The live performance will, in part, be about how the audience responds and how Crow controls the gaze she is subject to.
Each day, members of the public will be invited to join the artist in Bedside Conversations at Ipswich Art School Gallery until 3 November - gathering round the bed or perching upon it to talk about the work, its backdrop, its politics.
To find out more about Liz Crow's work go to Roaring Girl Productions
I wanted to write a quick update on where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. On 31 October Simon Raven produced a vibrant event at the Camden Arts Centre to celebrate the ending of his residency there as part of his Adam Reynolds Bursary awarded by Shape.
There was inevitably a Halloween theme to Simon’s ‘Ghost Writer Party’. People were dressed suitably as Dorian Grey, Edgar Allan Poe and there were several Miss Havisham’s knocking around.
Simon did a performance which involved washing bones that he’d found whilst mudlarking on the banks of the Thames to the tune of wild, dissonant music. There is a slightly macabre, effecting humour that runs through Simon’s approach to making work. The finale of the event was a prize giving of several of his paintings of Pugs in Space to the best dressed.
Simon says: “The residency at CAC has been a wonderful experience for me on every level and I'm thrilled to have been able to do so much and make a lot of work/new friends."
The South London Gallery, made a film about his residency and he also made a performance to camera for them, which will appear on their website at some point soon.
His next show is at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) on the Jubilee Campus, Nottingham University. A catalogue with an interview is being produced so I'm hoping to organize a review of the show when it happens.
I am looking forwards to seeing the films Simon made during his CAC residency. Watch this space for more news.