A Month of Mayhem in Australia

A mind map for the Unfixed project

In Adelaide, South Australia, it’s been a Month of Mayhem. That’s the name given to a program of screenings, exhibitions, performances, seminars, and workshops by Deaf and disabled artists for all audiences. Described as a ‘unique and groundbreaking programme… the work in ‘Mayhem’ gives reign to the tangle of human experiences.’ Jo Verrent went ‘down under’ to find out more…

I’ve been lucky enough to be part of all the Month of Mayhem events so far – Sync Disability Leadership Program, Adelaide Film Festival Mayhem screenings and installations, Reasonable and Necessary exhibition and the Unfixed international creative research residency. It’s a real opportunity to learn about the power of linking stuff up to increase momentum and impact.

Each of these elements were planned in isolation – supporting disabled artists to develop skills, share work and increase advocacy – with Access2Arts as a common partner. It was their vision that convinced all the different partners involved that together, the sum could equal more than the parts. So first, the parts…
IMG_5367First was the second SYNC Disability Leadership intensive funded by Australia Council for the Arts and with support from Arts Access Australia (the peak body concerned with disability and the arts across the whole of Australia). It’s based on the work Sarah Pickthall and myself delivered in the UK previously and focuses on the interplay between leadership and disability. A new group of 11 participants drawn from across Australia met for 5 days and will now have 1-1 coaching support for 4 months to enable them to put some of their newly developed plans to extend their influence into practice.
syncThis was followed by the biennial Adelaide Film Festival, which included for the first time a significant screening and installation program of work by disabled artists from around the globe. 31 short films and two documentaries all had Deaf and disabled artists as the key creatives including Unlimited works such as Juan delGado’s The Flickering Darkness Revisited, Tony Heaton’s Breathe Nothing of Slaughter and the other 4 World War One shorts made for Channel 4 OD and both Sue Austin’s and Simon McKeown’s 2012 Unlimited linked works, ‘Creating the Spectacle!’ and ‘Motion Disabled‘. The work was shown in pop up cinema spaces throughout the city – at both state and city public libraries, at the Central Market and screened outdoors at Port Adelaide, as well as some works – such as Sue’s 360 degree immersive experience, being part of mainstream events (in this case, within a showcase of various virtual reality experiential works).
A photograph taken at the Adelaide film festival featuring Motion DidabledReasonable and Necessary is an installation exhibition which I had the honour of opening. It’s an artistic response to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which offers a fresh opportunity in Australia for access and inclusion. John Willanski was lead artist, asking disabled people what they really need to have full and active lives. The results, on yellow post-it notes, form the basis of this ever evolving piece, featuring Auslan (Australian sign language) and embedded audio description, which is currently housed in a shipping container on Light Square and open to the public.
A photograph of John Willanski wearing a Unlimited t-shirtUnlimited paired up with Australian Network for Art & Technology, Access2Arts and Watershed for Unfixed, an international creative research residency. Unfixed is a creative investigation into the characterisation of bodies and minds as ‘disabled’ and ‘abled’ for 10 disabled artists from Australia and the UK looking at compensation, augmentation and a whole manner of things in between. it’s a two week process and it’s one of the most intriguing processes I’ve been part of, simply due to the diversity and openness of those taking part.

And the sum? By linking all these initiatives together, the work has gained a higher profile that it would have if just confined to the single events. It’s gained the attention of funders and audiences. It’s meant the partners involved in each element have become more aware of the other partners attached to each part, and therefore increased the potential for cross fertilisation and growth, and it’s meant that visitors from out of town have been able to justify longer visits in order to take it all in. It’s also meant that the staff of Access2Arts are pretty exhausted as they’ve been involved in delivering all the elements – which is a good reminder for us back at Unlimited to constantly check our capacity.

A Month of Mayhem is an easily replicable initiative, but it wouldn’t be possible without having a strong central message. In this case, recognising the creative potential of disabled artists, and the need for that potential to be harnessed in ways that focus on the creative advantage that creates, rather than simply focused on access or inclusion. This perspective is linked to the UK’s ‘creative case’ – and is one that is increasingly being picked up around the world.

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