In April 2013 Crow produced Bedding Out as a 48 hour durational performance for the 'People Like You' exhibition at Salisbury Arts Centre. Having piloted the installation piece (as a DAO Diverse Perspectives commission) at the SPILL Festival held in Ipswich Art School Gallery in November 2012, Crow had time to consider how to up the level of engagement created in response to the live art installation. Through a livestream the performance was watched in over 50 countries; had a continuous twitter feed comprising of thousands of messages, with extra twitter conversations laid on to cope with demand.
In a bold statement the artist placed herself in a large bed located on the altar stage of the converted church in front of a beautiful stained glass backdrop. Each day, members of the public were invited to Bedside Conversations, gathering round the bed or perching upon it to talk about the work and its politics. One of the purposes of the piece was for the artist to illustrate the contradictions of the private and public self of disabled people - having to put on their best 'performance' for employers and funders, whilst having to present themselves at their worst for benefits assessments. Crow said of the work: "This is not a work of tragedy, but of in/visibility and complication; a chance to perform my self without façade."
When you consider the media frenzy of newspaper reports and television documentaries since the recession, focussing on fraud and ‘dependency culture’, often presenting grossly inaccurate statistics or highlighting individual stories as representative of a 'bigger picture' then the need Bedding Out addresses for showing the complexities of the lives of disabled people becomes more pertinent.
In the conversations that arose through social media, compiled by Liz Crow (Roaring Girl Productions), Nick Dilworth (My Legal Forum) and Dawn Willis, the anger, disenfranchisement and resolve of disabled people comes to the fore. Something extraordinary unfolds as facts about living on benefits and stories of disabled peoples' lives as they really are and what it is to be a benefit claimant, come into focus showing why it matters so much to speak out.
The edited tweets from the twitter conversations will soon be available as a resource. You can currently find the conversations that transpired from the last Bedding Out on www.roaring-girl.com
What strikes me fundamentally from the material accrued by Liz Crow is how much of an attitude of total disregard for the lives of the poor by the wealthy and powerful, at its height during Victorian times, has resurfaced. How can a country that places itself above others as an example of a civilised society tolerate the authorities making demands that people prepare for work, whilst they are in the throes of dying. This has been the reality for at least 1,300 sick or disabled people, who have died (over what period) shortly after having their benefits stopped. What a terrible indictment of the cruelty of the administrative systems set up to assess work capability and what an ignominious disregard for human life.
Coming a year after the Paralympics, with all its hero, can-do rhetoric, we are seeing the full extent of how the sports agenda has been subverted and manipulated to demonise disabled people, who have been turned into a contemporary folk-devil as part of an ideological drive to divide and rule. The scrapping of the Independent Living Fund, due to close in 2015 is the next hangman's drop waiting to descend on disabled people...
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