Role of the artist in ‘Disability and Curatorial Activism’

Yesterday I was able to attend a lecture on ‘Disability and Curatorial Activism’ by the independent curator and critic, Amanda Cachia. It was a really great talk, and I particularly appreciated the way Cachia talked about the difficulties of curating accessible exhibitions frankly; what does and sometimes does not work and how she approaches working with artists who do and also do not identify as disabled. Much of her research focuses on disability, politics, choreography and the way disabled bodies move through space.

Cachia was visiting Sackville NB because in Fall, 2018, she will curate Automatisme Ambulatoire: Hysteria, Imitation, Performance, for the Owens Art Gallery at Mount Allison University. In this exhibition six international artists have been invited to consider how “hysterical” gestures can work to subvert, undo, transform and re-imagine the body and language in art. This project is being supported by a grant from the “New Chapter” fund at the Canada Council for the Arts and will feature work from Pauline and Renate, Emily Rosdon, Brendan Fernandez, My Barbarian, Claire Cunningham and Diane Borsato.

Christine Sun Kim, a noise without character, 2013, Statement drawing
Scary Boyle, Silent Dedication, 2013, Written, directed and art directed by Shary Boyle, Translated and performed by Beth

This latest project has come out as a product of four other projects Cachia worked on, and were the ones she focused on in her talk. Though the specific exhibitions were fascinating conceptually, it was exceptionally incredible to hear from her about how the public actually interacted with these works, something I don’t think curators often talk about, but is at the core of the success or failure of an exhibition.

Many of the exhibitions Cachia works on involve what she described as making accommodations for all visitors. This included braille and large format signage and print,  ASL interpretation, audio or written description, altered hanging highs and touchable work. I was interested in the way she asked artists to build accessibility into the work they were showing from the beginning of their working relationships. This included adding touchable pieces to accompany videos, works that were made to be touched or put on a body, and vibration works accompanied by the appropriate descriptions of sounds, smells, or visuals. She described these as layers of accessibility that she wanted the artists to be conscious of when making the work and thinking about their audience.

Sara Hendren, Unknown Armature: Body socks, 2012, Wearable

This notion of thinking about audience has been brought up so many times in the course already, and while my audience might be quite small and mostly able bodied now, would it be beneficial to be thinking about my ‘dream’ audience of public galleries, which includes people of all levels of ability? It is generally agreed that most institutions are not doing enough in terms of accommodation, so is it possible for the artists to begin thinking differently about making work, to change the way the institutions function? Even the really large, national and international organizations tend to focus on one area of expertise (and do it really well, ie. Met Touch Tours) but not all people can always have every need met right now. Is it the curators job to ask for accessibility, or should it be the artist’s role to ensure that is there from the very beginning, in the hopes of making the gallery more accessible from the artwork out.

Lindsay Fisher, (left) Peepshow, 2014, Video installation, 0:09 minutes; (right) How to paint your nails perfectly, 2014, Video installation, 3:09 minutes








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