CPtentextWe just returned from the CommonPulse art festival in Durham, ON. This year the theme was: Intersecting Abilities: Looking at Art and Disability Differently.

The festival culminated in a symposium which consisted of a series of panel presentations, discussion, screenings and performance. We (Red Wagon) mounted an installation that was comprised of some of the banner works that we did with Women’s Stories combined with a reconfiguration of the Quilt made by Monday Art Group.


It was very helpful for us to try to conceptualize the work we do and to speak about its complexities and the foundations on which it is based. What we presented was a quilted text made up of pretty rough fragments from notes we have taken here and there. Here are some excerpts:

-we are are stuck with the language we have we don’t want to collapse categories into each other (ie. homelessness = disability)– they are not fixed categories, they are open and fluid and overlapping

We understand disability and homelessness as intertwined – both are medicalized. Homelessness is in itself disabling. Disability is medicalized and so is homelessness.Women who are disabled who become homeless may find themselves unable to find even emergency shelter spaces – the shelters themselves are not accessible or accomodating. There are numerous instances where women have been denied use of mobility devices; elevators are frequently out of service; there may not even be one accessible room with shower in a shelter.  are denied and homelessness is in turn, further disabling. women who arrive have often already experienced difficulty accessing health care, in the shelter dietary requirements are not met, stress, lack of sleep, inadequate heating or cooling, lack of access to clothing and other basic necessities – all of these factors are bodily threats from your immediate enviroment – some women at times refuse emergency housing and instead remove themselves to ravines and couches – which can be felt as safer solutions.

Elizabeth Povinelli says: “Neoliberalism transformed an older liberal governance of life and death. Neoliberalism has not merely mimicked the move from make die or let live to make live and let die. faire mourir ou laisser vivre to “faire” vivre et “laisser” mourir. It has resuscitated faire mourir or make die into its topology of faire vivre or make live and laisser mourir let die, even as the more dominant powers of making live and letting die have changed the techniques of state killing. Any form of life that could not produce values according to market logic would not merely be allowed to die, but, in situations in which the security of the market (and since the market was now the raison d’etre of the state, the state) seemed at stake, ferreted out and strangled. This way of killing is not commensurate with an older sovereign power Foucault so viscerally described in the opening of Discipline and Punish. There are not public spectacles of drawn and quartered bodies — or lynched bodies. Secret agreements are made to remove the body to be tortured far away from public sight and scrutiny. Moreover these new semipublic and secret ways of making die have their counterpart in market disciplines. Any form of life that is not organized on the basis of market values is characterized as a potential security risk. If a social welfare program, for instance, can be shown to lengthen life and increase health, but cannot at the same time be shown to produce a market value, this lengthened life and increased health is not a value to be capacitated. Indeed, it is a value to be actively attacked and rooted out of the state and national psyche.” (Economies of Abandonment, 22)

 Art about disabled people, representational tropes: disabled people are considered a narrative prosthetic of monstrosity to carry the story: ie. even in 2013 a character who is heinous has a haircleft lip to accentuate his evil character. It is our job as artists to query this.

-disability has been legitimized as a representational trope within the arts as a sign of the monstrous, mad, criminal, other

-non-normative bodies are locked in as a signifier of the otherCPtent2x

Arts have a role in terms of (theatre games) conciencization around the disruptions that all bodies make in a space, and the relation of those disruption to normative power structures…..

the avant garde cannot exist as a consistent position of criticality and disruptiveness from whence to make art, it only exists in relation to the normative. the Avant garde is a masculine rational space, a Euro space a space within the contradictions of bourgeois economy. We irritate from the outerlands of the bourgeois – the monstrous and unspeakable other that inhabits the shadows and borderlands, whose worlds fill infinite space dismissed…..

We also take this knowledge to be profoundly critical – it is a critique of capitalism and its lack of interest in human beings, it is a critique of elitist forms of knowledge and puts forward the position that all knowledge is valuable and important and that all bodies are knowing and valued bodies. It’s a critique of professionalized art made by the few and asserts that culture belongs to people, and without broad engagements in making, art becomes reified within a self defining bubble. It asserts that the rejection of the aesthetics of the “low” or “bad art” veers towards a classist cultural gatekeeping that works hand in hand with the structures that create spaces of neglect. This work is about radical democracy, and its aesthetics reflect how un-evolved the democratic project is – 



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