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June 30th 2017 – Change Maker Artist’s Labs at Metal


(Julie Cleves – photo by Kate Marsh)

As a person with a disability, a disabled person, a dis-ah-blayed[1] person or (Dis)abled[2] person or a weirdo[3] I have often spoken about my enjoyment in defining myself as ‘different’. This has not always been the case, I was born without a hand, well not without entirely, I’ve got the one. Growing up I wanted to be the same as everybody, same scraped back hair held with scalp-searingly painful comb clip, same stone washed jeans and same body please. I developed various tricks for hiding my one handedness, hand in pocket, hand up sleeve, hand down trousers and I got by like this. It was only as I got older that I could put my finger on the feeling that had been nudging away at me for years – I was ashamed, ashamed, that I had hidden a bit of me, the bit of me that had always been part of me, it did not feel good to keep a part of me hidden, largely to avoid other people’s shock and embarrassment.

So, I stopped hiding, in quite a big way actually, I started to perform, inviting people to look at me, to take me in, all of me. Performing gave me a platform (sometimes literally) to reveal myself. In truth when I perform I’m protected from really seeing and feeling the moment when people notice, that everso slightly uncomfortable “you looked and I saw you looking and now I’ll pretend I didn’t see etc”. It’s true in my ‘real’ life I still have to brace myself to wear a vest top or go without something to hide my left arm in case I feel the

need. I think it’s possibly the impending invisibility of ageing[4] that has given me more confidence and now from time to time I actively seek the curious gaze.


(Sam Kennedy, Jo Bannon, Welly O’Brien, Robbie Synge, Julie Cleves and Cath Hoffmann – photo by Kate Marsh)


More than confidence though, performing has attached me to my fellow ‘oddballs’ – those resisting, rebelling or just not invited to ‘normal.’ This represents a seismic shift in how I present myself in the world, my encounters are less controlled by the stares or perceptions of others. I’m sure there are still people who see me and make assumptions about what I can or cannot do – or create a narrative around my hand. I choose how to react, how to reveal. Feeling part of a wider ‘something’ (group, community – none of the words are quite right) gives me a sense of belonging to something bigger, more beautiful.

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(Scottee, Noemi Lakmaier, Gareth Cutter, Gemma Nash, James Rose, Tim Casson, Mark Richards, Tiiu Mortley and Sarah Haythornthwaite – photo by Ruth Campbell)


This sense of being ‘within’ something was sharpened for me during the first two Change Maker Artist Labs at Metal in Peterborough and Southend. In the callout we had invited applications from people who were interested in being or feeling ‘other’ in whatever way that meant to them. We also asked that people were interested in movement and the body as part of their artistic practice. We did this to resist (rebel against) an increasingly dominant binary or ‘normal’ and ‘other’, ‘disabled’ or ‘non-disabled’, ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ etc. We received so many applications each one exciting, enticing in its own way, many artists so clearly interested in questioning existing binaries.


(Welly O’Brien and Cath Hoffmann- photo by Kate Marsh)


The 14 artists I have encountered so far, brought with them vastly different questions and experiences alongside many parallels in their thinking and practice. Over talking and eating and touching and moving, I began to pick up on a commonality between these people, which reminded me of two recent conversations (thanks Kimberley Harvey and Scottee) about belonging and owning a space as opposed to being invited into a pre-existing space, being ‘allowed’ a table in the corner (as long as you behave). It feels insufficient for our place in the arts to be dictated by dominant notions of what is ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’. In this scenario there will always be a hierarchy of ‘normal’ and ‘other’ and permission or tolerance as opposed to autonomy and equality.

It has become clear to me through the first of our Change Maker Labs and subsequent collaborations that this is what I want to provide, a space to question and explore to make mess and mistakes on terms that are defined by the mess-makers.


(Sam Kennedy and Julie Cleves – photo by Kate Marsh)


At this moment myself and the team at Metal are looking forward to seeing relationships and conversations continue from the first two Labs and excitedly planning the final Lab in Liverpool in November. The word family has come up a lot during my first 6 months at Metal and in many ways I see more and more how relevant this word is, we are thrown together to eat and move and talk and through this links are forged and relationships made. I don’t know yet if I am mother, father, sibling or eccentric aunt to this wonderful bunch yet, maybe a messy mix up of all of them.

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(Gareth Cutter, Tim Casson, Noemi Lakmaier, Kimberley Harvey Rob Hesp, Hamish McPherson and Tiiu Mortley – photo by Ruth Campbell)

[1] Credit Annie Hanauer

[2] Credit Tanja Erhart

[3] Credit Scottee

[4] A blog title in itself


Change Makers Blog: June 30th 2017 – Change Maker Artist’s Labs at Metal