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> > > Unlimited 2014: Aidan Moesby and Pum Dunbar: Fragmenting The Code(x)

Fragmenting The Code(x) is a collaboration between two artists, part of a raft of a Unlimited Research and Development Project. John O’Donoghue talks to Aidan Moesby about the analysis of language at the basis of this site-specific work

black and white collage photo of a man wearing a bowler hat, his face covered by a tray, standing behind a woman with long hair who holds her hand across a featureless face

When Aidan Moesby heard about the latest round of Unlimited he did what any savvy twenty-first century artist would do. He went on Twitter to find a collaborator and the upshot of his tweet was a Research and Development commission from Unlimited, ‘Fragmenting The Code(x)’.

I call Moesby at his home in Newcastle and he tells me about the project.

“I’m Bipolar and the artist I’m working with, Pum Dunbar, is Autistic. We’re going to make a site-specific work; the result of a series of conversations exploring the visual and the textual, inner private space and outer public space, the autistic and the non-autistic. The piece will be about language, and space, and how the two can interact. For instance, how language and space can interact to create access issues.”

Down the line from Newcastle I ask Moesby about the process of working with Dunbar.

“When we started I talked to her about my idea of collaboration. I said that I see it like a Venn Diagram, two circles that overlap with the bit in the middle where the circles come together representing the collaboration. Pum said she saw things very differently. For her it was two circles as far away as possible with the empty space in the middle representing the collaboration. So straight away we have two quite different ways of seeing and experiencing the world.”

What about meeting up, I asked. How does that go? “Pum is reluctant to travel. She doesn’t like changes to her routine, so we have a facilitator, Mairi Taylor.”

Moesby finishes by saying he’s delighted that Unlimited are supporting the Visual Arts through this round of commissions. He hopes to create an ‘intimate spectacle’ that will stay with people who experience it days afterward and then for years beyond.

It all sounds a bit abstract but then I think over what Moesby says. All through my life language and space have been front and centre. Take my parents coming over from Ireland in the Fifties. They told me about the ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’ signs that greeted them as they looked for accommodation. Then when I first went to school in the East End I had a slight Irish accent – it was soon knocked out of me. And I vividly remember a neighbour of my mother’s going on about ‘the mad Irish.’ Then there’s the labels I’ve picked up along the way – Manic Depressive, Bipolar, Disabled, and all of the places I’ve been in: asylums, homeless hostels, prison, as a result.

And what about that piece of public language so subtle most people never think about it – why is the most common symbol for a disabled person a stick figure in a wheelchair? How many disabled people are actually wheelchair users? And what about Russell Brand’s take on the House of Commons, how its architecture looks familiar and comforting to those who’ve been to public school and Oxbridge, but intimidating and threatening to those who haven’t? 

And I think about the recent protests there, against the axing of the Independent Living Fund, and the Assisted Dying Bill. Language and space – they’re crucial elements in everyone’s lives, but particularly in the lives of disabled people. Comforting and familiar, or intimidating and threatening?

Suddenly I start to see Moesby’s fragging and coding in very real, very palpable terms.