On dis/ability and risk

Three students stand on a board, which hangs over water. One is at the far end, only stopped from falling in the sea by her friends weight at the other end.

One of the fascinating things about our recent Copenhagen workshop was to find out the extent to which students could creatively subvert their own (mainly) able-bodied assumptions. Students and tutors who have experience or knowledge of impairment tend to get what we are talking about very quickly, and can start building immediately on the creative potential of their different ways of being in the world.

But for abled people – especially if they have the extra, unnoticed privileges of being young, healthy, male, white, middle-class – it is much harder. There is such a powerful subconscious belief in the essential value and importance of individuality, independence, personal agency, quick thinking, easy/ fast movement, and control over your own body; matched by an equal fear of being dependent on others, immobilized, unfit, or slow. This is underpinned – as elsewhere – by strong societal attitudes. Students told us that in Danish, there are expressions about being either activated or de-activated; with de-activated an obvious negative linked to being unemployed or homeless – that is, being of less worth because ‘passive’ and non-productive’.

What was wonderful about the drawings, installations and performances that student groups made in response to the three different artist briefs was that almost all made work beautifully expressed interdependency. Bodyminds were affected by, and affected each other in rich and creative ways. But at the same time, many of the pieces were also based on the pleasure of risk.  A powerful and preferred valuing of individual bodies taken to their physical limits (even if together with others) has come through in previous projects, especially Tilted Horizons. In the DisOrdinary Architecture Project we have been talking about how risk-taking by disabled people is often assumed impossible (or anxiety provoking) by non-disabled people. So exploring risk together with non-conforming bodies is complicated and needs ‘troubling’. For example, how does risk intersect with assumptions of individual able-bodiedness, agency, competency, mobility and autonomy? This raises questions it would be good to take further. Noemi Lakmaier‘s own creative practice is often ‘risky’ – making demands on both her own body and others, but is also inseparable (in my interpretation) from a creative and critical engagement with vulnerability, loss of control, and making expressive the potential limits and effects of stressed embodiment. It thus challenges the carefree and unproblematic riskiness that our student participants assume their bodies capable of.

Amazing workshop @ KADK Copenhagen

Students stand in a line, drawing on each others backs.

DisOrdinary artists Dave Dixon, Noemi Lakmaier and Raquel Meseguer worked with 150 incoming Masters students yesterday in 3 intensive all day workshops … and there were some fabulous outcomes. Workshop titles – Alterator, Body in Relation and Crash Course in Cloud Spotting… definitely prototyping some innovative and creative ways of doing disability differently.

The image shows one of the Alterator groups. Students were asked by Dave Dixon to think of bodily extensions and prosthetics that were neither about ‘being more normal’ or being ‘superhuman’ but instead explored the power of embodied differences. This group investigated a collective mode of drawing differently, where each individual in a line had to feel what the person behind them was drawing on their back and then try to reproduce it.

Many thanks to Masa Kajita and colleagues from the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Art Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation (KADK) and to all the students.

DisOrdinary goes public!


Shows a page from the Funambulist magazine, explaining 7 steps to doing disability differently in design

Pleased to have been asked by the Funambulist magazine to contribute to their upcoming September issue 19 called ‘Spaces of Ableism.’ DisOrdinary has an eight page ‘Handy Guide for Doing Disability Differently in Architecture and Design’ – an attempt to clearly explain (with examples) what is different and exciting about our approach compared to mainstream access and inclusive design.  Over the years, the Funambulist has run some very interesting connected articles, some of which can be found in  our Resources section.