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Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013: Gordon Peteran speaks.

Gordon Peteran saw an old cane out of the corner of his eye and felt a connection. If this sounds like a song you’ve heard before, you’re right. People have been restoring, reinterpreting and repurposing found objects for ever. For what purpose? Well, you may just wanna have fun. Or you just can’t afford the real thing- if you are a person with a disability, you have heard that one before.

And artists? “Sometimes artists follow a hunch into an unknown territory recklessly chasing an unjustifiable intuition.”

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Peteran knew that the cane he found and restored meant more to him than beauty or memory or mobility.

Petarans thoughts run along a philosophical line, connecting self awareness and societal pressures to the ‘designed ideal’, “each of us is probably overcoming a perceived inadequate . . that often requires some form of prosthetic.”

Struggling with your body or parts of your body can be a source of strength. Peteran explains, “sometimes we mistake disability as a disadvantage and the best thing to do is to work with your resistance, not against it.” He has a real life example: “my grandma capitalized on a perceived weakness – she taught at school with polio and wooden crutches.”

His grandmother’s example made Peteran realize that sometimes trying to help gets in the way of people moving along with their life. His grandmother didn’t need fixing, she did not have a ‘wrong body’, what she needed was to teach children.

His motto? Don’t try to fix people. And make a u-turn: consider the disruption of the assumed condition.

Look at it this way, Peteran says, “everyone’s redeeming quality comes from their weakest point.” Being disabled helped his grandmother be a better teacher, a better person, made her someone who had unique and valuable insights on living, on adversity, on the built environment. Insights that the kids she taught would not have been able to profit from had she not been their teacher.Screen Shot 2013-03-29 at 11.33.17 AM

In response to what he will do with the cane now Peteran says it will end up being his cane, “it has a bolt right on the curve of the handle that presses in the palm of my hand, and I like that.”

A restored cane that brings its owner pleasure. No fixing or nothing. It’s a good feeling.

— Thanks to Sarah Crosskey for the quotations. Any misinterpretation of the artist’s intention is the responsibility of Freddie Arps.

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Colin Clark: constructing an experience.

“Is art a message packed up in a medium and then something we receive?” Colin Clark is sure that this depiction of art is too simple by far. For one, no one has the same feelings or the same thoughts when they look at an artwork. And when you try to tell someone else what you experienced, they may hear or visualize something totally different. photoworkshopFriday

The idea of translation of art may therefor be ‘a hopeless thing’ as Clark points out, but an active, participatory experience has great independent worth because it creates new artworks through the simple act of doing, of acting, of experiencing. No, we may not all have the same experience. Listening to classical music may be different for someone hard of hearing or deaf.

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Yet, we can all simply love the experience we do have; one we partly create ourselves.

Charles: “Even when you can’t hear or see, there is nothing redundant, nothing missing: a piece can be expressed by audio, video, vibration- you’re not always getting the information from one source.”

The participants in the workshop receive cards with which to make a musical composition. It is a layered experience. Making music isn’t necessarily making sound. Inaction counts as an action of some sorts. photo 4Anything, really, counts as music in this circle. You can scratch your nose, you can do a duet. You can breathe and walk around.

The cards tell the musicians to breathe three times, make their action, breathe three times, make their second action, breathe three times and so on.

Clarke tells them to read it softly, sing it, say it aloud, chant, move around… People pick up a variety of hand held instruments.

Someone asks what do we do when we can’t move most of our body?
Clark is ready for this too and Cathy explains that anyone can dance with their mind, dance with their eyes, dance with someone who *can* move and direct them. Everyone is included in the performance.

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For the last piece people are asked to pick a partner, in their mind, and act every time their partner acts. The following piece leads to much hilarity as two people have picked each other and repeat their sounds in an ever quickening pace of laughing sounds and rattling little bells. When Spencer acts, it is to drag the chair away from Mohsen as he continues drumming, and they go back and forth accompanied by hysterical laughter that stops as the musician starts to get tired.

There is no stated end to the performance, and the room slowly goes quiet as some people stop, resulting in others to lose their partners and coming to a stop themselves.
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It’s truly a performance where musicians themselves, each on their own and together with their partner, construct a lively, beautiful, surprising piece of music. It’s a fun experience and a good end to a long week.

Film ‘Broken Speech’ by Tony Diamanti: A strong and clear voice.

photo-7Tony Diamanti speaks through a digital and human intermediary. He himself taps on a keyboard with a extension hung from his head like the lamp of a lamp fish. Figuratively speaking the extension illuminates his thoughts, but instead of functioning as a lure to gobble up other fish, Diamanti uses his interrupted voice to establish a connection with others that leads to an uncovering, a construction of himself as a living and visible man. The connection means a choice between existing and oblivion, because,”at first people don’t see me at all. I’m invisible.” His lamp does draw people in, “Their curiosity keeps [me] alive.”

“Don’t shy away,” would be the first words, Diamanti says, that he would utter if he could use his own voice box.photo-8

On stage, in a two man play, a third person carries his voice loud and smoothly and quickly. Because we recognize our own thoughts in his’, we connect with Diamanti. Is it his thoughts or does the third person’s voice connect us to him directly. Do we stop seeing his disability? Or do we finally just see him? Is it problematic that we connect to Diamanti more fully when his speech is like our own? Or is it our initial unfamiliarity with this particular form of speech that shapes the gap between him and us and is it our growing familiarity that gradually allows us to hear him as the person he is? Does the increasing familiarity mean that the play is about him or maybe turns into a play about him? Is it about us accepting a representation of Diamanti that is real or a representation of a person Diamanti wants us to see? This is an important question. This question follows, I think, directly from the earlier thoughts about representation, and is one that we ask of every actor, every memoirist, everyone who talks about themselves.

Ultimately then we see Diamanti as an actor.

It takes us longer, the first time. Our brain goes through the interrupted speech slowly, then faster, and ends up allowing the intermediate stops to completely disappear.

Diamanti calls this process ‘the politics of representation’. He insists, “Don’t just hear my words, listen to them, then see me. If you see me first, you might not listen to me.” He is wrong. We see him alright. And we want to hear more.

Human Writes by Jan Derbyshire.

“One of the saddest things in life is that we have this alphabet, 26 letters in spoken english, we have this alphabet and we are afraid to use it,” Jan Derbyshire starts the workshop with a piece of white paper and the letters of the alphabet.

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She adds ‘mind, rearrange and BEGIN’ to the board and leads the group through three rounds of spoken words. First Derbyshire asks them to hold a squooshy ball and describe what they can pretend it is. Then she asks them to give it a funny voice and let it say something… anything.

The third round has people talking about what drives them mad. And that is what they start writing about. The thing that makes it easier to write for ten minutes without stopping and without allowing the editor from within to stop your voice from appearing on paper is that you are not writing from your own point of view. You keep that quiet. You write from the point of view of an object in your house that you have identified earlier. For some it is a stick, for others it is flowers or a part of their wheelchair.

The continuous writing proves to be cathartic. The group feels safe enough for people to be angry, to cry and to be funny about very private things. Derbyshire explains that in a longer workshop she would help the writers put together from the pages of unfinished sentences, cut-off words and a dearth of punctuation, a monologue that can be performed or read in quiet. Something to show that we can all write.

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Something to show that when you silence the editor within and write out your thoughts without hesitation, that when you throw 90 percent away, what is left is something that you haven’t said before or not in that particular way and that it will be something that connects people to yourself. Something that will stick people to you like the sticky papers a different group stuck to the floor in the earlier workshop; the workshop about what connects people to each other. These fresh thoughts compel the listener to immerse themselves in the world that the writer’s imagination calls forth.

Sarah Crosskey- performance and workshop.

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Crosskey gives a total body experience to the group. Her performance has elements of touch, smell and hearing.

When Cathy Berry, accessibility manager at the Diversity and Equity Initiatives Office, turns off the lights in the Black Box Theatre, you are tempted to say that you do not see anything. The reality is that although it is dark those of us with seeing eyes can see shapes and most of us see the space through one or more of the other senses: touch, hearing and smell. Brain research has shown that the brain shows something called plasticity. ‘Show’ is an apt word choice because signals from one’s nose and ears are interpreted in areas that science used to designate as the visual locus; the place where sight was created and nothing else. Now they know that signals from other senses get processed in the same area- after running through other corners of the brain. The dark that Sarah created instills apprehension, fear and intimidation the longer it goes on. Crosskey says,’I was protecting myself from an unfamiliar situation’. Not only did she try to control the built environment, she also built a literal, tactile shield around herself. Layers of clothes and a plastic, gruesome mask help keep her apart from the audience. With each layer that Crosskey strips off, one sees the patterns on her clothes become simpler and softer, ending with a thin, all black, body tight canvas that represents vulnerability and openness.

Crosskey taps into the minds of the audience members first symbolically by touching them with her earphones and then literally by establishing that connection through stripping her body of clothes in front of and close to everyone in the circle.

Not only does Crosskey unlayer her own body, she uses an external object to signify the same route of protective distance to exposed vulnerability. The grapefruit engages the senses even more than Crosskey has. The scent of the grapefruit fills the room as she passes it around, inviting people to notice the texture and to taste the parts.

One part of communication and identity is about deconstructing yourself and the other part is about peeling off the layers of the external environment, of what society puts upon you. The grapefruit allows your senses to strip off yet another layer of assumptions because you are uncertain of the experience that follows the bite- the sweet or the bitter. In Crosskey’s performance you strip off the layers to get to the true meaning of yourself and your values- you get rid of and thus -perhaps – feel unencumbered by society’s pressures.

The ethernet cable that was rolled out through the hands of the audience then allows a connection when everyone is completely vulnerable. Not everyone enjoys that. Nor, we are told, should we feel that we have to enjoy that closeness.

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Afterwards in the workshop the crowd is asked to embrace shyness, melancholy and other personal qualities that have any negative connotation. Accepting not to ‘fix’ it, but to allow these characteristics to flourish. The performance turns out to be about reframing perspectives.

At the end Crosskey has assembled the people as separate connections to a grapefruit that she rolled around, cut open and shared. It’s a strange, uncomfortable and tactile connection, perhaps free for a moment of inside or outside pressure. Or maybe just aware of the pressures. Not free but aware. That’s a start.