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Disability Arts Online

Human Rights / 31 July 2013

I recycle words. We all do it. They say something different each time. I recycle images too. People used to do that as well, back when there was no sharp divide between image and word. Years ago I spent time in the theatre sketching rehearsals; a scary, fast-paced scribble of a task which I found exhilarating. Periodically I would revisit my stack of sketch pads and extract material for evolution into other states, for exhibitions and illustrations.
Recently I found myself reusing images from 'Livet i Danmark'. This was originally a Danish tv soap, 'The House in Christenshavn', you can still google it to discover more. It spawned a film, but this controversial theatre extrapolation (Life in Denmark) sank without trace, no reference to it, good or bad, seems to exist.
At the time I didn't think it was politically motivated, targeted any particular audience or indeed intended as anything other than entertainment in an already crowded marketplace. It seemed very much at odds with the issue-based arts scene and I was very uncomfortable with the apparent 'in your face' superficiality of the play.
It did not appear to be a rewarding experience for anyone. It had nowhere to go, I can find no trace of its existence on the stage at Arhus Theatre and no trace of its failure.
I never saw the original tv soap, I was told it was the Danish answer to the street soaps popular in England at the time. On stage the characters inhabiting The House were reinvented as inmates of a futuristic asylum for non-conformists and disabled people.
I was far too busy capturing fleeting moments to notice if there was a plot, but it seemed to me that none of the actors was comfortable in their role or sympathetic to their character. Authority (the concierge?) was reinvented as a soulless man in black with a cross between a light sabre and a cattle prod with which to discipline the tenants who struggled constantly to understand the system and their imprisonment within it. 
This was the portrayal of a system that denied people's human rights and drove them to express the extremes of their personalities purely for the voyeuristic entertainment of an audience.
Maybe I was too innocent to understand the true nature of the work at the time, but now as I recycle images from the sketchbooks, I do wonder...


And I also remember looking at the bone dry banks of the shrunken Zambezi, waiting for the rumble of rainwater, for the return to the accustomed, the accepted, state of normality. Things change and sometimes it is just harder to go with the flow.


From green to gold and dust,
savanna in the draught
audience shrivels to gone.
Funding trickles to drops like
Zambezi without rain
Mosi-Oa-Tunya stills
on the voice of rolling water.
And we must work harder they said
and we must be at fault,
mea culpa. I am willing, show me
how can we reach our target?
I listen dumbstruck to these 
people who do not know 
that they are under attack.
That their audience cowers in fear
that food, and safety,
somewhere to hide
takes precedence over
entertainment.