Ellen Renton is a poet, performer, and theatre maker based in Edinburgh and worked with Bibi June on her piece Within Sight – a 2020 Unlimited Commission about running, the Paralympics, and ableism. The show was set to tour in Spring 2020 but had to be cancelled after its first performances at the Traverse in Edinburgh due to the pandemic. The manifesto below is a collection of thoughts and intentions that Ellen and Bibi have found in processing the impact of the pandemic and their work as disabled artists.
Listen to this text:
This is a personal manifesto. As disabled artists we condemn the arts as a product of capitalism. Art is not a race, our disabilities are not hurdles. The value of disabled artists should not be determined by how successfully we can take part in a competition with skewed rules. We are not interested in being offered a head start so that we cross the line with everyone else. This writing is part manifesto, part measuring stick. It exists as a permanent reminder of our value as people and as artists, despite how some working environments might make us feel. We are naming our boundaries so that we recognise them on approach. We are bowing out of this race and moving forward on our own terms.
We want to foster a healthy relationship with time. Throughout the pandemic, we have experienced the world at a pace where we don’t have to catch up with ourselves. Life is not a timer ticking down to zero. Chefs refer to time as an ingredient: the same sauce will build in complexity the longer you let it simmer. Beautiful, powerful, insightful art doesn’t hold itself to deadlines. How can we be expected to create art that makes others think if we have no time to think for ourselves? We are forced to sacrifice rest in order to make up time, because we are never given enough of it. Work and rest should not exist in opposition. We want to work in environments where rest is understood as a necessity, not a reward.
We want to work in environments where we are comfortable being vulnerable. Care is a group project, and disabled people understand this more than anyone. Care should not feel like a rug that could be pulled out from under us. It is impossible to feel safe in a space where your basic needs are a decoration, not a fixture. The concept of ‘access needs’ is designed for a system that prioritises profit. A one-size-fits-all approach that fits no one. Care should not be a conduit for capitalism. We want to be asked the question of ‘What can we do to help you thrive?’ rather than ‘What is needed to increase your productivity?’. To be cared for does not mean to be accommodated, it means to be embraced. Everyone, disabled or otherwise, has ways of thriving that are individual to them. A project should be tailored to the sum of all individual needs. We want to work in environments where we are truly cared for.
We want to feel hopeful about the future. Imagination is a precious headspace. The drain of daily life prevents us from accessing this part of ourselves. We are forced to break down barriers before we can grow, as people and as communities. We will not let our dreams be limited to what those in power can imagine for us. We want to be free to imagine better worlds. A world where we feel confident in ourselves, our work and our needs. A world where we trust people around us to take care of us, of themselves, and of our environment. A world where we have the time to think, to breathe, to rest. To let things simmer. A world where we feel comfortable enough in our situation, financially, emotionally and interpersonally, to enforce boundaries. A world where we trust our worth as people, as artists, and as carers for others. Where we know with every inch of our existence that we deserve this better, bigger and bolder future.
The manifesto was created with funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation through Unlimited. Within Sight is currently on a hybrid slow tour of accessible venues in Scotland. Find out more about the show on Twitter or by visiting the website. Ellen Renton’s current work, And Who’s She When She’s At Home, is a current Unlimited R&D commission.