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Gabby Ferro reviews 'Dash Arts: M21' / 12 September 2012

photo of live artist noemi lakmaier being carried down the street by an athlete

Noemi Lakmaier as '0' The Human Baton at M21 Live Art Festival on 2-6 May. Photo by Ian Wainwright.

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This documentary follows street artists in Much Wenlock (home to the founder of the modern Olympic games, Dr William Brookes) exploring what it means to be alive and disabled in the 21st Century. The live art event that took place in May 2012 features a host of personalities.

Sean Burn’s section of the film ‘Psychosis Belly’ shows the artist standing on the side of the road with a cluster of spectators as he invents his own take on Olympic events ranging from the depression hurdles (where he has to crawl under a hurdle whilst voicing feelings of depression), and a 100 yard walk as he holds his belly. He gets the crowd involved by getting them to motivate him to complete the hurdles, cheering him on with chants of ‘belly!’ His tongue-in-cheek events are done wearing a shirt that reads ‘Lower, Slower, Fatter’ highlighting the farcical nature of attitudes towards mental health issues.

In Noemi Lakmaier’s ‘0’ the artist reflects on the word zero; its meaning of nothingness, and what is to be counted as nothing, at the same time as she is used as a baton in a relay race by men wearing suits. The hilarious Disabled Avante Garde dress have a great time hamming it up as ‘The Wayward Mascots’ Wenlock and Mandeville.

Ann Whitehurst makes several interesting statements with ‘Training to be me part 2’. She talks about how people in society are punished for cognitive psychological and physical differences, rather than celebrating that difference. She quotes Karl Marx to illustrate her point about being disabled by society rather than actually having a disability. She also talks of cures for disability and how she finds the whole idea offensive. In fact she even says she would like to sue anyone who did invent a cure for her disability, raising questions as to how the word ‘cure’ can be interpreted.

Rather than embracing difference, society is striving for everyone to be the same, to be ‘normal’. When I stumbled onto a discussion about this on a dyslexia forum, someone raised the question as to whether there was a tablet that would ‘cure’ you of dyslexia would any of the people on the forum take it? There were some varying answers, but some took huge offense at the idea because it would mean your individuality and the way you thought being ‘cured’ also.

The Wandering Jew also raised discussion with ‘The politics of confinement’. He is shown walking the countryside wearing a suit of straw, illustrating evictions of so many differing communities through the ages.

He discusses persecution of Jewish people from medieval times to the 21st century, talking about the ways it has changed over time. He discusses the politics of being enclosed, raising questions about how communities rights are taken away. He goes on to talk about current challenges with all the government cuts and how to bring about change.

In all this engaging film is full of opinion and personality, provokes fantastic topics for debate.