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> > > Tony Heaton discusses Shape's Animate artists' talks

Animate will explore the rich history of Disability Arts, through a programme of talks and workshops. Colin Hambrook talked to Tony Heaton, sculptor and Chief Executive of Shape, about the background to these events to be staged in London.

Margo Virginia Cargill and Julie McNamara in Crossings. Photo © Jon Stone

The intention behind Animate was to have two artists who been on the disability arts scene for some time and two who are relative newcomers. We also wanted to choose artists who’ have worked as artists, performers as well as within organisational development.

Julie McNamara has a rich and varied background as a writer, performing artist, poet, singer, and was the guiding inspiration behind London Disability Arts Forum’s annual Disability Film Festival that was a key moment on the calendar from its inauguration in 1999 until she left LDAF in 2004.

At the moment she’s touring her new play Crossings, which has had great reviews. She is an interesting artist because the ‘issues’ at the core of theatre have moved from being about disability to encompass issues of race and dispossession.

a large ball of yellow painted shoes with artist lying on the floor

'Experiment in Happiness' art installation by Noemi Lakmaier. Photograph © Hannah Facey

Contrary to popular belief, there are new young artists who are inspired by disability arts. As well as aspiring to being exhibited in spaces like Tate Modern, they also want to talk loudly to disabled people; and make work which is wrapped up in a disability context.

I was interested in having Noemi Lakmaier take part in ‘Animate’ because her work is incredibly thoughtful. She comes up with grounded ideas that have tremendous resonance when she realises them as pieces of sculpture or performance.

Following on from making 'Experiment in Happiness' (the work that came out of a residency funded by the Adam Reynolds bursary), Noemi Lakmaier is making a new piece which is going to be exhibited in Shape and will tour nationally. It’s exciting to have that continuum."

"One of Shape’s key aims is to promote high quality practice, work with incredibly talented people and find ways to support them. When we identify artists who produce professional, thoughtful work; we then have a responsibility to promote their work further.

We’ve also asked Sam Dore to take part. He is a young Deaf film-maker who was first commissioned by Shape when we needed a film-maker to document our four artists’ commissions, part of a showcase at the Southbank Centre in Summer 2009, for which Shape was awarded an Inspire Mark.

We wanted a document that would show the process of developing those events, featuring Aaron Williamson, Liz Bentley, Kazzum and StopGap Dance.

Sam Dore’s film highlighted the value of the commissions, looking at what the artists had got out of the process. It explored the challenge for those artists in presenting work in such a high profile outdoor space. The film gives a powerful testament to how the commissions moved those artists’ work forward.

We showed Sam Dore’s film at Shape just before Christmas and hope that as well as talking about the Shape commission he will give us a flavour of his film-making practice. He will also be holding a day workshop about film-making and techniques, which I’m very excited about.

Finally Colin Hambrook asked Tony Heaton what elements of his work he intends to discuss at the first Animate talk on 4 February 2010?

A black and white image of a sculpture made from wheelchair parts that defines the map of great britain

Great Britain from a Wheelchair. Photo © Chris Smart

I am going to take a 20 year hike through 20 images of work I’ve produced; starting with Shaken not Stirred, a sculpture-come-performance arts piece commissioned by LDAF in July 1992.

'Shaken not Stirred' consisted of 1760 red charity collecting cans, arranged in a pyramid which stood two metres [seven feet] high. It was initially shown as part of LDAF's Euroday, alongside Springback, Split and several other pieces of disability sculpture."

The performance piece; throwing an artificial leg at the sculpture, was repeated as part of a press launch at the Diorama Gallery in London. It was part of the disability movements’ demonstration against ITVs Telethon campaign.

As the press gathered, I wheeled in and threw an artificial leg with Doctor Marten boot attached to it at the pyramid, bringing it crashing to the ground. As an artist statement it was a shout about the hierarchical nature of charities and the constricting way they often use the money raised, by giving the impression that they are supporting disabled peoples’ lives, when sometimes it simply isn’t the case.

The idea behind it was that charities shake collecting tins, but don’t necessarily stir peoples’ consciences to find out what the money they are collecting is being used for. A pyramid is a strongly hierarchical structure. The top of the structure is supported by what is beneath it, whilst becoming totally unassailable.

At the time, in 1992, I was thinking specifically about the Guide Dogs Association who had five years of unrestricted reserves tucked away; money which was tied up in being spent on dogs and training, but was not being made available to support blind people's lives.

The Observer newspaper picked up on it. The performance was deliberately intended to provoke the press into giving the disability movement’s view of things.

My talk will bring my artistic career up-to-date; with the citing of ‘Squaring the Circle’ as a piece of public sculpture outside Portsmouth University in 2007. Squaring the Circle is made of Portland stone and the programme of work was developed by Diablo Arts and Dada-South with myself as lead artist.

I have a parallel life as an artist and as somebody engaged with organisational development in the disability arts sector. I’m lucky to be able to do the jobs I want to do. Organisational development has always had more of my time. I am not a prolific artist as I tend to have a slow gestation period for developing ideas.

Making art is a cerebral exercise for me. Ideas formulate in an ideas book and I hold them in my head for long time; plan them out; hide them away; and then go back to see if they are worth resolving. That way I am certain about what I want to make and don’t find myself looking back and feeling uncomfortable about having made any particular piece.

Visit DAO's gallery of images of Tony Heaton's sculpture