Roaring Girl Productions and artist-activist Liz Crow are launching a new project. Figures is a mass-sculptural performance that is setting out to make visible the stark human cost of austerity and urge action against it.
The intention behind the project is to build strong emotional connections with difficult facts in order to encourage deep public questioning and debate that will continue long after the work is over.
Over a period of 12 consecutive days and nights, on the foreshore of the Thames and in the run-up to next year’s general election, Liz will sculpt 650 small human figures from excavated raw river mud, each one representing an individual at the sharp end of austerity.
The number echoes the 650 constituencies throughout which the effects of austerity are felt, as well as the number of MPs whose choices determine those of others.
Once dried, the figures will be toured en masse in a mobile exhibition that will visit city centres along the route of the M4, from west of Bristol to London, over five days, the figures creating a talking point to involve diverse members of the public in discussion about the questions raised by the work.
In London, the figures will be returned to the foreshore and raised into a cairn. A bonfire will burn into the night, firing the figures, while their corresponding stories of austerity are read aloud, until the returning tide douses the flames. At first light, the figures, fired, burned and broken, will be reclaimed, gathered and ground down to dust.
In the final phase of the performance and on the first day of the new government's tenure, the ground remains of the figures will be scattered from a tugboat on the Thames alongside Parliament. Figures will end with a poignant reminder of the human cost of austerity and a completion of the lifecycle of the work.
The 650 stories of people at the sharp end of austerity, across a range of topics, including benefits reform, local authority spending, homelessness, malnutrition, NHS rationing, etc, will be read whilst the bonfire burns into the night. Alongside this roll call of experience at the sharp end of austerity, the project team will engage members of the public in discussion about the issues raised by the work.
Figures will raise profound questions about how we treat each other, what kind of society we want to be, and what role we might each of us have in bringing that about.
We need your help to get Figures off the ground.
To make Figures a possibility, Roaring Girl have started a crowdfunding campaign and need your help.
To find out more about the project and to make a donation, please go to www.zequs.com/campaign/figures#.VGPUgCinPw4
I often ask myself what is the point of Disability Arts? Every board meeting we have discussions about how we are swimming against a tide in our desire to raise the stakes for equality for disabled people. The attitudes that keep us in chains abound everywhere we look and our small attempts to challenge collectively are consistently ignored.
Just last week we suffered the BBC’s annual celebration of everything Tragic but Brave in which Pudsey Bear struts his stuff to let the world know how lucky it is to be ‘normal’. According to the Guardian an average of 8.3 million viewers watched Children In Need.
Disability is a role imposed on us as bearers of abnormality. The BBC ups harp music to the max in order to play on peoples’ fears of impairment, using the wit and charm of Sir Terry Wogan to preach their disabling message. At its core that message is that we can only make sense of our impairments in negative terms; that our worth as human beings can only be measured through a discriminatory lens.
Children In Need exploits the poor, needy and desperate straits of children and young people in order to remind us of the value of normality and to ram home the message that unless ‘normal’ people want to experience stigma, they’d better keep on conforming to disabling value systems and keep their own little idiosyncrasies and abnormalities well hidden.
And so it goes on… I don’t think anyone could argue that many of charities the BBC’s fund-raising marathon supports are not doing good work. This year Children in Need raised a record £32.6m for disadvantaged children and young adults in the UK, £1.6m more than last year.
The reality is of course, that at the end of the day it is disabled people who pay for the appalling piece of marketing that the BBC is so proud of. Disabled People Against Cuts are now estimating that the average number of deaths directly or indirectly attributable to austerity measures has risen from 32 deaths per week to 73 deaths per week. Attitudes proselytised by campaigns like Children in Need only serve to justify the human cost of discriminatory attitudes.
Meanwhile events such as DaDaFest are still attempting to raise awareness through showcasing artwork that presents conversations about the experience of disability and of impairment.
Art of the Lived Experiment, this years’ curated show at the centre of DaDaFest International 2014 has had a piece of work blacked out in protest by one of the exhibiting artists who took offence at his work being labelled as Disability Arts. Quite why Mike Carr would agree to have his work exhibited in a Disability Arts festival if he objects to the term is not clear. DaDaFest says what it is on the tin. What this act does demonstrate, in my mind at least, is how high feelings run in the running away stakes.
Disability arts still has a role to play in allowing conversations, not marred by media spin, that demonstrate the realities of living with imperfect, impaired bodies and minds in a way that is balanced and real, rather than tainted by negative sensationalist attitudes.
By Colin Hambrook