Nolan is smiling and talking to a woman with her back turned to the camera. Nolan is wearing a hat, glasses and a white striped shirt.
Photo by Rachel Cherry

A Shock of the New

Unlimited’s 2018 International Placement, Nolan Stevens, gives us some insight into his second visit in the UK focussing on the visual arts that Unlimited Commission.

There is something to be said about experiencing something familiar anew. This newness of an old comrade – In this case visual art, I experienced during my second trip to London for the final stint of my Unlimited International Placement. Whereas my first emersion into Unlimited’s commissioning programme was something I would describe as a theoretical foundation to the programme; this instalment was a lot more practical based. Which allowed me to piece together a much more cohesive image of the mode of artistic visual expression that I’ve began rediscovering.

Having visual art present for the better part of my life, it was a welcomed change to have a fresh perspective of it presented to me. With recent interactions with disability art at Unlimited’s symposium at the Unicorn Theatre, and then again at the Unlimited festival at the Southbank Centre, I was exposed to a range of artists and projects that Unlimited are a part of. Beyond the many talks with industry heads, conversations with other international delegates, interactions with artists and members of the public, the one aspect I was truly looking forward to was engaging with the artworks themselves, which Unlimited’s commissioned artists had created and exhibited at the Unlimited Festival at Southbank Centre from 5-9 September 2018.

The works on show, which were a cross-section of Unlimited’s International and R&D (Research and Development) commissions, grappled with a wide range of themes and mediums.

Kristina Veasey’s My Dirty Secret installation, is a visual presentation of her frustrations surrounding dirt and housework within her home. This immersive installation not only presents a variety of access options that are embedded into selected works but does so without compromising the visual or conceptual aesthetic of the works. Her work took the form of a living room; which included abstracted patterns created from tessellated images of the detritus around her. These patterns could be seen on the wallpaper; the carpet, single-seaters and on a lampshade covering positioned next to an interactive telephone that shares people’s intimate relationships with dirt. A separate table with books provides an additional avenue to access the audio recordings on the telephone. A bookshelf that were also adorned with Veasey’s patterns house books which have a few with audio description. A third seated area sees another single-seater placed in front of a television screen which utilises BSL and audio description into the piece.

I enjoyed the way in which this artist subverted the negativity and frustration around her relationship to housework as a disabled woman, to such an extent that the final presentation of this work engulfs her and anyone else who occupies this space. Veasey’s ability to arrive at this point is not only a testimony of her artistic skill but also of the transformative ability of visual art

Raquel Meseguer’s Unchartered Collective – A Crash Course in Cloudspotting (the subversive act of horizontality), is another immersive installation piece which sheds light onto the realities related to those living with chronic pain. Whilst the intention behind this audio-visual R&D commission was to convey realities around the fatigue which those with some invisible disabilities experience, it was unfortunate that I wasn’t able to experience these works in the way the artist had intended due to technical issues. Despite this, the low lit space did manage to capture those who had entered the space. This installation was presented through different AV modes such as her “light choir”; lights linked in real time to people show when they are or aren’t resting. A resting bed was also present along with a pair of headphones that play recorded interviews of intimate accounts of people’s challenges around public space resting. These intimate accounts were also presented on print-outs on a wall. For those unable to lay down, a cushioned speaker was available for people to experience the sound in an alternative means. With the ultimate goal behind this installation being to create awareness around spaces of rest in public areas like galleries, many of those who had experienced her work conveyed sentiments of it being an enlightening experience.

Richard Butchins, The Voice of the Unicorn, is another immersive installation which showcases the multi-disciplinary international collaborative work by Butchins, disabled dancer, Kazuyo Morita and three autistic Japanese artists, Yasuki Ueno, Mami Yoshikawa and Koji Nishioka. The result is a series of videos that give glimpses into the world of the non-verbal, with perception and silence being key elements to the manner in which these works speak of the unspoken. What the presentation of this collaboration at Southbank Centre did successfully was convey a sense of how both nations exist somewhere in-between the traditional and the contemporary; this, I think, relates not only to both nation’s countries cultural identities of historical and modern identities, but also, in terms of how each grapples with its autistic population.

My Life In London saw the six-month-long collaboration between Thompson Hall and Ian Wornast produce works stemming from this pairing’s interest in the London transportation system and the buildings and structures which make up the city. As an outsider who was experiencing this city with fresh eyes (again), I felt that their use of bright bold colours was an apt choice in the representation of this city’s sights, sounds, and people that create this city’s energy.

The International collaboration between Rachel Gadsden and the Palestinian artists, Ali Said Ashour, Amna Ali Hussein, Mahmoud Abu Dagash and Hosaam Khadir that produced the works for It Was Paradise, I felt promised a lot in its potentiality but left me yearning for something more. The works presented grappled with ideas relating to migration and disability in war-torn Palestine; which were inspired by poet Mahmoud Darwish’s poem Under Siege.

Anna Berry’s kinetic light installation Breathing Room invited audiences to enter and move through this structure of cones which simulate breathing. This work, which is largely intended to be erected in an external urban environment, worked well in an interior space as trails of light and wind interacted with the construction. Its ephemeral and fragile nature a reminder to me of the fragile nature of the body that carries us.

This sentiment carried through to the practice-led research project We sat on a mat and had a chat and made maps #MagicCarpet by Kai Syng Tan, which stitched together the realms of science and art. These works explored the concept of mind-wandering and its relationship within the sphere’s of ADHD and art making. This is then presented to the viewer as tapestries created from a process of doodle-like mind map drawings.

Having experienced the multiplicity of layers behind each of these works I not only came away with an all new inspired belief in the transformative capabilities of visual art within the Disability Art sphere, but a rejuvenated belief in visual art’s unlimited socio-political capabilities. This is something that I hopefully will never forget.