For the second time in Stockholm – the first time was yesterday – we have Robert McRuer here, an honoured guest. Robert is a professor at the George Washington University in the US and an important developer of crip theory. The name of today’s lecture is Crip Figures. It focuses on the UK-based performance artist Liz Crow and her work Figures from 2015. The project Crip Figures crips the global economic crisis that is used to legit austerity around the world. A big applause for Robert!
Thank you. Is this on? I think it’s still muted. I could trade mics with Zafire.
Thank you again. I’m happy to be back again today. Thank you Christine for that talk. I think there are a lot of ways in which we can be in conversation in the session that follows this one. I think Christine’s talk was really giving us a sense of austerity representation in an ableist culture and excessive ways of not overcoming in an ableist sense but beyond that, austerity in representation. I look forward to the talk about that.
I will take the first few minutes of my presentation to give you some background and talk briefly about what I said yesterday. I’ll have a fair amount to say about the crip images before you on the screen.
I just want to give you an overview of the keyword “austerity”. I recognise that austerity is a rather complicated keyword in Sweden. To my knowledge, you have faced challenging economic times, but systematic austerity has not yet been proposed as the solution, that is, the idea of a disarming your social well-fare system. However, to think about the global condition of disability in our moment, and especially, how crip performances are responding to that global situation; it is important to think about austerity and disability together. Of course, we are connected to the rest of the world. This morning I was reading about a program in Gothenburg where nurses had been working six hour days. The program will end next year because, in the words of a conservative minister, “money is not raining from the skies”. I was thinking this morning about how austerity is a cross-border logic that has traveled and become sedimented in many locations.
I said this yesterday too, I’m finishing a book in the next few months titled Crip Times: Disability, Globalization, and Resistance (formerly titled Cripping Austerity). To repeat that or review a bit about austerity: it has different valences in different locations. In general, we’re talking about a response to the crises of twenty-first century neoliberal capitalism. It is in many ways simply neoliberalism intensifed: like neoliberalism generally, austerity brings you a lowering of government spending, an increase of labor hours for workers (raising retirement ages, for example), cutting benefits and social services, and – wherever possible – privatising those social services. All of these measures, in an age of austerity, are imposed to again spur a fetishized capitalist growth that has stalled.
Austerity in our moment is generally wrapped up in rhetorics of emergency, whether it’s an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan that needs to be paid off, or banks that need to be saved from catastrophic failure, or a supposedly horrific deficit – it’s always emergency that circulates around austerity. The supposed need for “emergency” austerity measures in so many locations was so pronounced by the year 2010 that National Public Radio in the U.S. (“NPR”) reported that austerity had been named word of the year by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. Merriam-Webster is one of the English-American dictionaries that decides the keywords by counting the numbers of searches for that word on its website. NPR itself has become a victim of austerity politics, as its budget has been slashed and a range of diverse programs was cancelled.
Austerity politics takes different forms in different places, and the book that I’m working on largely focuses on the UK, although I reach towards other locations. The UK is a sort of ground zero in many ways for austerity politics. In order to bring those points home, I will focus on the artist who made these clay figures, Liz Crow.
The book in many ways simply aims to make explicit and central what is marginal and peripheral in other studies of austerity – that is the centrality of disability to an austerity politics. Crip Times the book crips the crisis by adding crip and queer perspectives that are seeking to analyse the cultural logic of neo-liberalism and the austerity that is now part and parcel of it. The crip logic should become clear as I proceed today, specifically as I examine Bristol-based UK artist Liz Crow. Bristol is in the southwest of England. I’ll be talking about her performance piece Figures. Here is a close-up of the figures that she sculpted in March and April this year. There is a website and a hash-tag used when the project has been circulating in social media: #WeAreFigures.
I’ll essentially be putting forward an argument that Crow’s piece itself crips austerity, but I’ll only present that argument with very broad strokes today and largely talk about what the project is.
Figures is, in Crow’s description, “a mass-sculptural performance that makes visible the human cost of austerity and urges action against it.” With a grant from the Arts Council of England and a community grant (and I’ll talk a bit more about her funding later), Crow and her artistic team excavated river mud from the banks of the River Avon in the Shirehampton area in February this year. I have lots of thoughts on the location and the locations circulating in this project. “Avon” is actually the Welsh word for “river”. The project brings up ancient notions of colonisation since it originates here at the river Avon. It doesn’t stay here. It was a traveling exhibition and performance piece. As the team excavated river mud from the banks of the river Avon in February, they travelled to London in late March, and in the afternoon of March 30, a performance piece choreographed by Crow commenced.
On the south bank of the Thames river, that runs through London, on the foreshore at the Oxo Tower Wharf at low tide, so twice a day, Crow began sculpting. It roughly corresponded to dawn and twilight. For about three hours a session, she made 650 clay figures. Here is a close-up of her, working with the mud on the foreshore of the Thames. Each of the 650 figures that Crow sculpted represents someone across the UK living life “at the sharp end of austerity.” She sculpted about 30 figures a session. They would go on display in a display area behind the tower. As the figures were completed, a narrative archive was released online. Each figure had a story about someone at the sharp end of austerity behind it.
I’ll give you a few of these 650 narratives to give you a tiny bit of context.
Narrative nr 626.
“Kevin is waiting to go into detox treatment and for surgery for a painful foot condition linked to his time as a homeless person. He is in the Employment and Support Allowance work-related activity group. He failed to attend a mandatory interview because he was caring for his two-year old son and was sanctioned. With a remaining food budget of £3.50, he ended up begging and stealing food.”
“Benefits sanctions” in the UK, which have increased astronomically under the conservative government that first that first took power as a Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition in 2010, essentially mean that your benefits are not paid if you miss an appointment, or are late for an appointment, or break any one of a seemingly infinite number of rules.
And another example: “Mark was ruled fit for work against the advice of his general practitioner – his doctor – and despite having complex mental health conditions. He was left with an income of £40 per week. He weighed five-and-a-half stone when he died of starvation.”
As you can see from these examples some of the narratives are about people who died as a result of austerity. Others are still living.
To explain the context for this narrative: From 2010 on, there have been two private companies in the UK: ATOS, a French private IT company and the U.S. company Maximus. These companies are contracted to assess whether recipients of disability benefits are or are not “fit to work,” which basically means “eligible for benefits”. The declaration whether you’re fit to work or no in the UK is often performed through very brief, formulaic, and degrading interviews. Once you are declared fit to work, you are no longer eligible for the benefits you might have been receiving. You can appeal that process and the vast majority of people declared fit to work have won their case on appeal. But several of the 650 narratives are people who died during the appeal process – a process that can take several months.
This is just a picture of the display case where Crow displayed her sculptures in April, as she finished them. The number 650 is, as you can guess, not arbitrary. There are 650 constituencies in the UK and thus 650 members of the House of Commons in Parliament.
When I initially talked to Crow about the project in July 2014, she was hoping for a number that ultimately proved illusory or impossible: she wanted to sculpt figures representing the number of people who had died in the UK as a result of austerity. But you can probably already see the issues there (and our July conversation ranged over these questions):
How do you quantify those deaths? During the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, activists worked with the number 10 000. They had protests with signs and banner saying that ATOS has caused 10 000 deaths, suggesting that 10 000 people had died as a result of being deemed “fit to work”. But to get the number of people – which deaths would be included? Deaths by suicide, certainly (but of course you can’t tell the reasons for a suicide), but also deaths as a result of stress-related illnesses, addiction, alcoholism, homelessness, an increased infant mortality rate etc. The figure that Crow aspired to, proved to be illusory, and she ended up settling for the number 650 with representative narratives from across the country.
Liz Crow is a wheelchair user, and the foreshore where she was sculpting alongside of the river Thames does not have a ramp. Thus, for each of the 20 sessions of sculpting, members of the artistic team (wearing bright yellow “We Are Figures” jackets) used equipment to transfer Crow from her chair to the ladder going down to the bank.
This is a slide of London graffiti. A child is running by and someone has spray-painted the wall with the words ATOS kills.
Here you have the bank where Liz Crow was sculpting. The team would use special equipment to carry her up and down this ladder.
This process of carrying her up and down generated a great deal of attention among passers-by, so other members of the team (including myself, for part of the time she was there sculpting) were charged with talking to the public during the time, giving them an explanation. The standard opening for my own explanation, for instance, was something along the lines of “It’s okay; she’s an artist. It’s a performance piece. She’s sculpting 650 figures out of river mud to represent lives impacted by austerity. Each figure represents someone’s story, and the stories go online as she completes each piece.”
Obviously, every conversation was different and actually quite international; for instance, a lot of Spanish-speaking people now live in London because of austerity in Spain (where the unemployment rate for young people is close to 50%). With those conversations, I would switch to Spanish and attempt to shift the conversation to another location, to Spain: “Ella es artista, y cada estatua pequeña, cada figurita, representa una persona que ha sufrido por la austeridad, como en España. . . .” She’s an artist. Each statue represents someone who has suffered from austerity just like in Spain. To which the majority of Spanish speakers would respond, “Ay, sí, entiendo.” I understand.
As the project continued, the figures were put on display in an exhibition space behind the Oxo Tower.
You see an empty shelf here. By the time Crow finished the project, the shack that held all the 650 figures, was filled with the statues she had finished. At the same time, there was video equipment, monitors, alongside the shacks so that commentary and social media could be streaming at the same time.
Some of the interactions among the artistic team during the performance were dismissive. Lots of people would tell me or other members that she’s wasting her time: Art doesn’t do anything. She’s not going to do anything by engaging in this project.
Some of them were deeply engaged in national politics, international politics, sometimes reflecting the power in in the specific UK constituency. This was before the election in May. There were a lot of discussions in certain areas whether you should vote green, for instance, or whether you were throwing away your vote if you were voting for a green member of the parliament. Just like in the US, Britain has a system called “first past the post” so it doesn’t matter who came in second. What matters is who came first and that person becomes the Member of Parliament for the whole constituency. So some of the conversations were very specific about politics and ways of thinking about that. Some of them were light and airy and even flirtatious. At least one young man came up three times and talked to me about the weather. The other member of the team wandered away as the conversation continued.
Sometimes, passers-by would descend the ladder to the foreshore themselves. After they received the initial explanation of what was going on, they would take photographs of Crow down by the water or would engage in conversation with her.
Comedian Franky Boyle was one of those who was in attendance during the performance, and also the performance artist Marc McGowan who is on the screen now. He is better known for some in the UK as the artist taxi driver who puts all sorts of angry videos about the effects of austerity on everyone, including disabled people in the UK.
As I said, the shelves in the exhibition space behind the tower filled as the performance as the performance was completed.
Here is a picture of me in conversation with Crow while she was sculpting.
Crow’s figures toured the UK in a five-day mobile exhibition back to Bristol. London is in the southeast of the UK. The team brought the figures back to Bristol in a van, immediately before the elections that took place on May 7th 2015. It was in that general election that the Tories, the conservative party, took enough seats to govern outright.
Crow noted consistently, including in this conversation, that she didn’t try to do a performance piece on this specific election. In fact, up until recently, the liberal party on the centre-left, the Labor party, was perceived as the party that would implement austerity, although a light version of what the conservative Tories were doing. This is changing now. If you’re watching what happens in the UK, as almost by accident, the socialist member of parliament, Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the party against all the hopes and wishes of the still very Tony Blair-dominated Labour party. He will now be the official opposition leader. But at the time of the election, Crow made it clear that both the Tory and the Labour parties were essentially both implementing austerity and she wanted this project to reach out globally and beyond this particular election.
Crow’s five-day tour with the figures back to Bristol was deemed too political to appear in a range of locations. On their way back to Bristol, the team, the figures, their van and banners, engaged in a range of guerrilla performances or appearances. One of those was in Trafalgar Square in the centre of London. You can see the pole. I will talk more about Trafalgar square in a moment.
One of these guerrilla actions took place outside the campaign headquarters of David Cameron, the prime minister. Also as a member of parliament he has a constituency, which happened to be midway between London and Bristol. They brought the figures in front of his office.
I find it very interesting that this crip performance took place in Trafalgar Square. It is a complicated disability space, not even seen as a disability space. The figure on the top of the statue in the centre of the square is Horatio Nelson, a war hero who, as you can see, had much of his arm blown off in a battle. People often see him standing with a cane, being disabled in that way, but actually his disability is not connected to his legs but to his arm. He was also not able to see in one eye so he is sort of multiply disabled. Most people in Trafalgar square don’t think they are looking at disabled art when they look up and see the figure who stands at its center, even though they are. This is one reason why this was chosen for Crow’s performance. Another reason is a sculpture by Marc Quinn. It was called Alison Lapper Pregnant. Alison Lapper is a UK artist and this nude statue of her is very large. It appeared on one of the corners of Trafalgar Square for some time. The fourth plinth of the square is used for showing rotating art. This piece is the most famous that has appeared there.
There is a lot to say and celebrate about this beautiful statue of her. What is interesting to me is how quickly this statue became canonical in disability culture. This image is, for many disabled people and groups, instantly recognisable. In fact, in the UK, the fourth edition of the Disability Studies Reader had this image on its cover. The sky is uncharacteristically blue in the picture.
In fact, a giant replica of this statue was included at the London 2012 Paralympics game. That suggests that by summer 2012, thus statue had become so recognisable that it could appear in this performance without any explanation needed.
I’m dwelling on the different ways of how disability materialises on Trafalgar square, with Nelson on the column, to Alison Lapper here – and Liz Crow’s performance piece, which is very different from the war hero and the pregnant Lapper. I like the sculpture very much, however, I want to suggest that Crow’s performance piece is very different. It’s a crip intervention previously unseen in Trafalgar Square.
Disability, in the project and the performance that I’m talking about, is continually and simultaneously appearing and disappearing so you’re never quite sure if the story put on display is a disabled story as such or a crip understanding of one. It is a crip project that reads disability as more illusive, troubling and challenging. I think the French theorist Roland Barthes would call it a text of bliss rather than a text of pleasure. For Barthes, texts of pleasure are texts that talk about our relation to culture – it makes us feel we understand it, we know who we are. A text of bliss is a text that undoes us, unsettles or unmakes us. My point is that, whether you’re thinking about the Nelson or Lapper statue, they are both texts of pleasure. The guerrilla appearance of Crow is a text of bliss.
I want to be careful – as I said yesterday, it’s not as if neoliberal capitalism can’t incorporate virtually anything and domesticate it. Still, I think it’s going to be a long time before you see a giant replica of one of Crow’s figures reproduced and brought out at a Paralympic ceremony.
Back to London. The exhibition space, where Figures first appeared before going on tour, was in the shadow of the South Bank Tower construction project, which as you can here with a banner that says “Living high”. As the project was commencing on the foreshore, consumers were offered the chance to live the high life in London. The development includes “stunning light-filled one bedroom apartments with floor-to-ceiling windows situated within a fabulous new development at the heart of the Vibrant South Bank area.”
The apartments in this building are 400-square feet and they start at £935,000, roughly USD $1.4 million at the moment. To say that such a figure is a far cry from Kevin’s food budget of £3.50 would be a virtually paradigmatic understatement, the very definition of understatement, in other words. I put the two figures before you (935,000 and £3.50) simply to illustrate how jaw-droopingly immense income inequality is in the UK in an age of austerity.
It is actually equal to income inequality in Nigeria, which has been subject to various forms of austerity. The income inequality is also worse than Ethiopia.
During the economical crisis, income inequality has increased the most in Spain. This suggests that austerity doesn’t work. In fact, the places where it has been implemented the most harshly has suffered the most.
Crow’s figures toured the southern UK in a five-day mobile exhibition in the first part of May. They were then returned to the riverbank in Bristol, where they were burned in a bonfire on May 6, the night before the disastrous 2015 UK general election. As the fire burned, the 650 narratives were read aloud, and eventually, at first light, the ashes of the figures were collected. On the day of the start of the new parliament with David Cameron with full power and no longer in a coalition government, Crow took the figures out to the open sea and scattered the ashes into the ocean off the coast of Portishead.
You see her here, after the scattering has taken place. It’s incredible to think about this juxtaposition on May 27th, where you have the prime minister newly empowered and involved not only in maintaining the cuts implemented the previous years, but also to make those cuts even harsher. He delivered a speech to the parliament delivered by the Queen. The speech was about how we are all one nation that we should come together. I’m sure you can imagine – at the exact same time as the speech was being delivered, at the other side of the country, these ashes were being scattered into the sea, representing those lives that had been cast-out of his project of the now global politics of austerity.
The open sea represents Crow’s intention of the performance to be understood globally and not only connected to the local conditions in the UK.
That is the performance of Figures. What I want to do is to begin to slowly wrap things up and give you a sense of my writing on Crow’s Figures and the project as whole. This is the final chapter of the project.
The three principle chapters of Crip Times include a focus on a specific keyword; in the chapters preceding this one on Crow, I examine dispossession and displacement as necessary components of neoliberalism and austerity.
My analysis of Figures includes theorisation of the keyword aspiration, which is appropriate for the project and for crip projects in general, like the one that has been going on here the past few days.
Let me talk a little about what I mean with aspiration and why it’s a tricky and complicated keyword.
In the UK in the 1980s, when neoliberalism sedimented, as the journalist and writer Owen Jones makes clear; rhetoric’s of aspiration were “part and parcel of Margaret Thatcher’s determination to make us think of ourselves as individuals who looked after ourselves above all else. . .“ Aspiration, as Jones explained it, was “no longer about people working together to improve their communities; it was being redefined as getting more for yourself as an individual, regardless of the social costs”. This word is big in UK politics and in neo-liberal politics worldwide. In that speech that Cameron gave in late May in front of the parliament, he talked about returning to a society of aspiration.
When Labour lost the election, they blamed it on not being aspirational enough. This word has for several decades circulated as a word that talks about individualism and getting ahead. Of course, it’s easy in this sense of aspiration to picture someone “living high” in a stunning, light-filled South Bank Tower flat. Jones argues that Thatcherite aspiration generated what he calls “left-behinds” who “faced the consequences of official disapproval”. Some of those consequences are related to two of the other keywords that I mentioned; dispossession and displacement.
In the UK, that generation of left-behinds over the past five years in particular and especially people with disabilities, has come with a conservative rhetorical effort to demonise and stigmatise. That happens through the rhetoric of scrounging: benefit scroungers are those who supposedly eat up the public wealth. Some of the terms used to stigmatise and marginalise are shirkers, malingers.
There has been an effort by some radical local crip activists to reclaim that language. The activists that I showed you, if you were here yesterday, blogs as “benefit-scrounging scum”. I love that attempt to inhabit, explode and take back the rhetoric. It’s a queer and crip tradition to do so: to take language back and re-signify it. The larger point here is that rhetorics of aspiration have generated the flip side: those who are left behind. They are generally discounted through rhetorical campaigns, such as what we’ve seen with the words like benefit scroungers.
It brings us back to crip hopes and futures, such crip futures as Christine was evoking in her talk last session. Aspiration has had other valances. As a conclusion, I would like to tap into some of those valances in a theoretical sense.
Aspiration has specifically had Marxist valences and I would argue that Crow’s performance piece accesses those valences and allows audiences to access them. An “aspiration to totality,” in the Marxist sense, attempts to grasp, even if only contingently or momentarily, or even while recognising that thinking “totality” is both necessary and impossible, the complex web of social relations that characterise a given moment.
In queer theory, the theorist most famous for thinking about an aspiration totality is Kevin Floyd. In his book from 2009, The Reification of Desire: Towards a Queer Marxism, Floyd argues that aspiration to totality is when one attempts to approach the universal from the vantage of a specific location within that web or social relation.
A vantage point for Floyd is a queer vantage point, but is one that necessarily abstracts everything in colouring everything it sees, but also makes possible ways of seeing and broad understandings of social reality unavailable to other perspectives.
To put all of that in every day-language, clearly, looking att Marc, begging or stealing food, marks an extremely specific location within the web of social relations of our moment.
The theoretical point here is that aspirations to totality take a very specific situated perspective – for Floyd, it is a queer perspective, for me and Crow, it is a crip perspective, and use that located perspective as a site from which to grasp the larger intertwined work of the social at any given moment. Clearly, someone begging or stealing for food, marks an extremely specific location but as that figure becomes abstracted as a figure in Crow’s perspective it enables us to understand the ground workings of austerity, the location of disability and the connections of various groups at any moment but especially at the moment we’re living through right now.
I don’t have time to fill this out today, but in the larger chapter, I include a reflection on the ways in which discourses of public art more generally can be used to subtend Thatcherite “aspiration”.
To make that contrast, I look at another public art installation from the past year. It was an installation of poppies that appeared outside of the Tower of London. These are 888 246 ceramic poppies that are meant to represent Britain’s war dead. My point is to look at these projects next to each other. The poppy project was praised by virtually every public figure and politician at the time it was installed. It was scandalous to anyone to criticise it. Cameron himself said that it had become, in its short time of existence, a much beloved and honoured monument. My point in juxtaposing the two projects is that public art of this sort is used as sort of a smoke screen to keep people from seeing the ways in which politics and economics are actually functioning in a given moment. I’m contrasting that with Crow’s Figures, which also include a number, where the numbers are used to expose the workings of austerity in neo-liberalism.
In conclusion, I want to suggest very briefly at least four ways that Crow’s installation crips austerity. I’ll go through the four of them.
First, perhaps obviously, I argue that it crips austerity by putting forward critically disabled perspectives on austerity; it positions disability as an epistemological site, or cripistemological site, from which we can look critically at austerity.
Second, and this is merely to gesture towards the ways in which “crip” has become a more radical term for artists and activists, the projects forges or dares to imagine or sculpts into existence a coalition of “left-behinds” who may or may not identify as disabled but who can be comprehended as connected somehow through a crip analytic committed to theorising vulnerability, precarity, and resistance expansively.
Third, Figures crips austerity in a perhaps more straightforward sense: it short-circuits austerity, throws a wrench in it, jams the system, or we might say, more provocatively, works with and against the system simultaneously. As I said, Crow’s performance comes from a UK grant from the arts, in which she didn’t even use the word austerity. She was sort of biting the hands that feed her; getting the money in order to put forward what would be critical of the entity that had funded her work.
Finally, Figures crips austerity by aspiring to a vantage point from which we can attempt to observe the totality of austerity’s operation. To my knowledge, a century and a half of Marxist theorising on “totality” has never really taken to account disability; I’m essentially asserting here, however playfully, that one can’t aspire to totality without cripping. Thatcherite aspiration, arguably, was and remains an able-bodied activity: look after yourself above everything else. Our crip aspirations to totality, in contrast, are always necessarily, inescapably, disabled: attend to those who are not you, to those who are different from you; different embodiments, different minds, different behaviours, and attempt in that interdependent attending to apprehend the web of social relations in which we are currently located—social relations that can (of course) be figured, and that can (of course) be changed.
Thanks! If you want to say a question, comment or thought, I can repeat it into the mic.
This is a request. I work for mr. Bengt as his personal assistant. He asked me to tell you this: he is quite spoiled and rather lazy so I have to do everything. I think the reason is that he has cerebral palsy, and he has suffered a lot. Life isn’t easy sometimes. In fact, I am quite happy being able to assist him and help him. So he has asked me to tell you and everybody here that he is going to conduct an interview with Robert tomorrow. This is going to be published at
So watch out for this interview.
Thank you, I’m looking forward to that interview. I think that we can talk about this the next session but I love the ways crip culture production has been crossing borders over the past decade or more. The interview that will happen tomorrow reminds me of a great collective in Vienna called Freak Radio. I mention this just because there are really amazing things happening with crip cultural production everywhere and often the media are radio and news that allow us to go beyond the state-based appeals to make something accessible. Radio, performance and other venues allow us to get aspirations that go beyond borders so I’m looking forward to that.
Are there other observations, questions?
I just wondered if you could say something about the relationship between effectivity and disability or disfunction.
Effectivity in what sense?
You were talking about productivity in society. If you are not a producing body, if you are not an effective body, you are not worth so much in society.
There is so much to say. We are living in a moment of real transformation of ideas. Where to start… There is a relatively dry but very important book from the 1980s that looks into disability as a cultural construction, by Deborah Stone. The book is called “The disabled state” and Stone makes the case that disability emerges as a category from the rise of industrial capitalism; so very much from the sense of effectivity and productivity. Stone’s point is that industrial capitalism gives us two different systems. One is a work-based system into which the majority are compelled to go. In capitalism you are free as labour power but not free to do anything else. It’s the work-based system that most people are shuttled in to. But for Stone, simultaneously, there is a need-based system. The state is charged with figuring out who fits in to which category. The problem with the capitalist system was that rhetorically, something had to happen to make the work-based system the one that is ideologically preferable. Otherwise, why wouldn’t everyone be in the need-based system and not have to free themselves as labour power but not free to do anything else. Stone makes clear that the need for the work-based system to be superior generated the rhetorical disqualifications that I have been talking about. So if you are in the need-based system, you need to be stigmatised, dismissed, excluded, marginalised.
What is happening in the UK is what has been happening all along in the history of capitalism. I argue that it is more articulated now in the UK, and in other locations. The UK is really just a mirror of what is happening in many locations around the globe.
With that said, what I think is interesting about the UK and other sites where a strong social network has been aplace, is the disability movement for the right not to work. In the US with its individualist ethos, the main argument was “get me out of that need-based system, I simply want the right to work. I want to be like anyone else”. It is a very important rhetoric that moves towards the independence of the right to work. But it’s important to argue simultaneously to the right not to work.
I was wondering if you know anything about the reception of Crow’s work in the disability communities or communities affected by austerity?
This is a key question. If any of you are involved in performance, you know it’s not only about the production side but also about the reception side. In order for a performance to have meaning, you need people who are responding.
I told you about passers-by responding, often deeply connected to their own lives. Secondly, I would say, what exist is a visual record and a written record of people who visited the exhibition space or the sites where the mobile exhibits stopped during the tour. Some of these are visible on the wearefigure’s website or Instagram account. People left notes and drawings as they visited the exhibition. You can see that the figures are wonderfully abstract. I love crip abstraction. Probably because many forms of disability in arts has been about representation. Here is a representative universal figure of disability, often a figure in a wheelchair. But crip art often is much more abstract. Yesterday we talked about feminist crip artist Catherine Sherwood who has a traumatic brain injury since a stroke. She has a cognitive condition linked to the brain. If you look at the cover, you see a puzzle where you need to figure out what’s going on. The same can’t be said about the figures from Crow’s exhibition. Obviously, they are human-like figures. They look a lot like the mud from which they came. There is something religious about the dust-to-dust impact of this performance. People went to the exhibit and read into the figures what they wanted to see. One note someone left behind was a long description about what that person saw and went on to talk about the specific situation of what it means to be old in the UK right now.
Some people who visited the mobile exhibition knew some of people whose stories were included.
One thing that I like: the stories come from public records; newspaper accounts, parliament records. A range of public sites where disability was sort of reduced to one univocal meaning or suffering was reduced to one univocal meaning. In sculpting an abstract representation of that story, Crow makes it speak otherwise. I like that crip turns things on its head. They are making a film about the whole process so the reception will continue; it will be done in 2016. Part of the reception is also things like this, where I as one scholar get a little taste of the reception.
Thank you so much.