Richard Downes discusses the debate on Disability Arts And Identity in last week's editorial / 9 December 2012
I am an old clock. Tick Tock Tick Tock I call myself a disabled clock because the experience of impairments that I had over time is one of discrimination. The response of society to my impairments led me to a less than useful places where I was brutalised by watchmakers, not clockmakers, with callouses – later it meant restricted employment opportunities – and later still to mental health issues. Tick Tock Tick Tock .
I tried with varying shades of success to mainstream, to throw the status of 'impaired' away, to forget, negate, the experience. It worked up to a point. Tick. I met the social model, standing firm, and took on the term disabled clock on the basis of my life story and the thinking that went with the model. I am very clear what the term means to me. Tock. It doesn’t surprise me that other people don’t know it, and don’t understand it. They have been denied access to the model as much as I had no working class access to a golf club in my time of manufacture. I don’t regret never having teed off in the 19th hole but it bothers me somewhat that society refuses to listen to the model. Tick Tock Tick Tock. Should I ever get big and become an artist clock then people may refer to me as a disabled artist clock. I have no problem with this. Let them call me what they will. Let them focus on me. Let them focus on the work. If I put it out there they can do with it as they wish. Was Van Gogh not as interesting as his paintings? Was the quality of his work any less for his experience of mental ill health? Does not the man or woman or clock and the life that they share inform the work produced? Tick tock tick .
But, what of disability arts work…. seconds out…. Does it have to be thematic, a piece of activism. What of the doodle that I’m drawing on my hands right now? What is that? What’s the point of it? Isn’t it just a pen consuming time, is it a bit of fun, something that I can just wash off but art nonetheless and from me, in its moment of existence, Disabled Art? Tick tock. This old clock is a good strong clock. It has survived the test of time. I have quality as a clock. I’m well made. I’m stand up to time and yet also for time. These are my qualities. My raision detr’e. But what if I was less of a clock. A cheap Taiwanese import perhaps. Would it mean that I wasn't a clock. Tick Tock Ticking off. Does not the sound it make give its beating springs pleasure? Does it not somehow achieve the same thing as I when it produces the wondrous sound of tick tock.
It certainly feels significant that I define. I self define. I define in accordance with the social model. But the trend that I’m asked to consider taking on is not to actively prove my status. To not say these are my impairments. This is where my springs have sprung. If I am slowing down in my advanced age, losing time, do I have to say why? I have always been proud to state my impairments, though perhaps the old one should now only be called a long lasting illness or some such schmuck. Tick tuck, tick tuck.
Should you not have noticed one of my hands is smaller than the other. I guess the point there is if I tell the time and tell it correctly and in the fine tradition that I adhere to, does it matter that my spring has sprung. My time telling is still strong. I have qualities. But let me make sure you know this too. So does my cheap Taiwanese import friend. But only one of us ticks and tocks. I take pleasure in his company. My Taiwanese friend and I share space on a mantelpiece with many other clocks. It’s a fine array. We are part of a collection, which extends beyond the shelf and indeed out beyond the room that we sit in. We are in a very fine house. Its called ‘Broad Church’. We all have place here. We all produce. We do it at our own levels, in ways that give us pleasure. There is no shoo shoo-ing here. Just appreciative ticks and the occasionally louder tock. Believe it or not one day the man who funds the collection, not the one who maintains it, had the idea that we should separate the tickers from the tockers. Silly Sod. Tick Tock Tick Tock. He said he didn’t like the tick, only the tock. Unbelievable.
I do look around at the clocks that I can see sometimes. Some like me, need support. Fortunately we are easily wound up. Low maintenance. Others have more sophisticated support needs. I’m really happy here. I have no desire to get off the shelf and see around ‘Broad Church’. But sometimes when taken down I feel the giddy thrill of being spun around and I can sometimes see into other rooms where other clocks live. Their situtations seem no better than mine. They seem to have no greater representation than I do. I guess that’s the problem with clock collections. We are all only clocks after all. Tick tock. We have no great need for access to the other rooms up on my shelf. The cultural mix is very good. Next to my Tawainese friend, there’s a Swiss, a Viennese. It is a very rich culture here.
I think I can say from personal experience that I am an expert, but clocks have changed over time. Look around. Youngsters are going digital. None of the digital clocks would have called themselves digital 50 years ago before digital was invented. Our understanding was limited. This new understanding seems important to me. It enhances the culture. Does not diminish it. Does not make a Tick a tic or a tock a toc. And on this I wonder how I would fare as a clock in the opinion of other Timesters. I wonder what sun dials, calendars and diaries would think of the sound I make. They've all been around somewhat longer than myself. I have presented my sound to them. They don't seem that interested. They do not give a tock. It’s no wonder they never sought to find out what makes us tick. I think I have said already, memory fades, that I am a good clock. I have talked about quality; I know this. But, should I have also said that sometimes I feel like a strong clock, a proud clock, even an angry clock. Yes!!!! Sometimes when pushed you can really hear my tick tock. What do we want? Time. When do we want it? Now.
I have however started to wonder now, whilst writing this piece, whether it is a good thing for me to stay on the mantelpiece or even within this house called ‘Broad Church’. That's what debate does I suppose. I'm thinking about who else I could be useful too. It’s all very fine, sitting here, hour after hour, but it’s starting to feel claustrophobic. Like I said, I've not been in the other rooms, never mind outside of the house. What would happen if I did? Would anyone recognise my face? Am I simply pigeon holing myself? Should I be able to get outside how would I be in the wider world? It’s a thought. And it took time to get there. Tick Tock. I also have to consider now, because of an over heard comment uttered by a passer by. What is a clock? Am I a clock because I am a clock? Will I end life as a clock because I started life this way too? Is it the purpose of a clock to be a clock? Surely there will be no end to time. So when people face my face and see time, is it only time and what happens when they are no longer looking at time? So, many issues to chew over time with. Oh well!! Tick Tock. Tick. Tock.