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> > > West Midlands Disability Arts Forum: Common Sense
Detail of a person in a space suit, the American flag reflected in the visor.

Whitey on the Moon (detail) by Ben Cove. Oil and Spraypaint on board.

Common Sense is a pioneering series of events, organised by West Midlands Disability Arts Forum (WMDAF). It asks questions about context and identity - amongst other things - and gives disabled visual artists the opportunity to talk about their work to mainstream arts professionals. Tony Heaton had a hair-raising experience in the Ikon lift, but lived to send dao this report from a session at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 20th June 2005

The day event, introduced by Alan McLean, Director of WMDAF was to provide a debate and insight into disability and the visual arts. In his introduction Alan talked of the importance to engage with new work, and new practitioners, to make sure this happened. WMDAF drew together an interesting and diverse set of artists to show examples of - and to discuss their work and methodology.

Ben Cove

First up was Ben Cove in London. This presents a real career opportunity. I was uplifted by his optimism and the quality and rigour of his work and was reminded of why we had been campaigning for all those years. It was good to start to see the benefits.

Katherine Araniello

The Interview like all of Katherine's work is witty, engaging and well observed. Katherine is interviewed about her work by a image conscious girl in pink, (Daddy got her the job, you know how it works…) All the stereotypes are here as the interviewer preens herself in the monitor, checking her image, saying yes and no - she hopes in the right place.

Whilst not listening to Katherine's answers to her increasingly banal and offensive questions - you know, the ones we all get asked, along the lines of Johnny Crescendo's "where did you get that leg?" 

It echoes the refusal to take us seriously, and the assertion that our accolades are driven by pity. Until finally the interviewer asks You don't have hope? - but, I won't spoil the punch-line for you, go and see it!

Anton De Clunes and the ghosts of Eric and Ernie were somehow present in this film though I am not sure why I think that.

A group of people are stood around a cross which appears above the head of Jesus.

Still from The Staircase Miracles by 15mm Films, (a collective of disabled artists). Katherine Araniello plays Jesus.

Juliet Robson and Jordan McKenzie

Juliet Robson and Jordan McKenzie did a kind of double act, discussing issues of collaboration. They had lived and worked together and that familiarity, the un-finishing of each others sentences, the assumption that we knew what they were talking about because they did - and perhaps the fact that I was unfamiliar with their work - meant that I was often unclear about the projects they were describing.

The images they showed were much stronger than the words and I would have liked to see more. There was also little time to explore what they were saying through questions. Alan had packed a lot in and we were running over time. The handouts described Juliet's work. I wanted to see her tragic opera, to experience the tuning of piano strings and architecture. Perhaps next time?

Aaron Williamson

Running throughout the event was a new installation by disability video/performance collective 15mm films, formed by Aaron Williamson who spoke about the development of the project The Staircase Miracles. The installation also presented a documentary directed by Simon Raven, which features revealing interviews with the participants of the project. Go to for details.

Vanessa Clark

The last presentation I saw was given by Vanessa Clark who, like many artists, struggled sometimes to put into words what she wanted to express through her art. Her images spoke for themselves, miniature chair forms… not knowing where the support is coming from… family, friends, comfort/ fragility. She said the work was not about disability but about the interpretation of it. It included visual descriptions of how things feel. A series of photographs took the reality of thousands of cable ties and somehow transported that image to say something very powerfully about muscle pain and the hidden aspects of impairment. The qualities within the work suggested Gormley or Boyd and Webb. From September her work will be on show at the Solihull Arts Go and see it.


What happened to the access anecdote I hear you ask? Well, the Ikon is an interesting space. But for some reason those that needed to use the lift to access the first floor were overruled by the lift mechanism. It lurched past the first floor and juddered to a halt at the second, regardless of which button was pressed. There were those on the ground floor waiting to go up. And those inadvertently on the second floor waiting to come back down to the first. Whilst I cower in the corner of this glass cube, nursing my vertigo, trying not to think of how the clear glass shaft is secured to the outside of the building… Is it irrational, or is it commonsense?