Otherness

I had a realization this morning driving into Glór. I was in the car and I saw a group of school kids in a procession along the pavement, off out with their teacher somewhere. They looked to be about 7/8 years old. Bringing up the line, at the back, was a little girl in a wheelchair, being pushed along by a lady, probably her SNA. Trying to keep up with the others, pigtails flying. The sight hit me in the gut. Yes, I have a kid who uses a wheelchair, who has a wonderful Special Needs Assistant. Who is also most likely at the back of the line in her chair when they go places.

I just knew instinctively that this kid in the wheelchair this morning did not want to be at the back of the line. She would have preferred to be in the middle of it, skipping along, chattering to her school friends. Not to be at the back, separated and different through no fault of her own. She had a cool little purple chair, with decorated wheel plates etc etc, as nice a chair as a small girl can have. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that she would most likely rather throw the chair in the river and be skipping along with her mates, the same as the others. Yes she is probably a happy well loved kid, Who has a good life and has friends and a family, and also no, it’s not fair that she has a disability and is in a chair through no fault of her own, and yes I know we all have our problems, some that you cannot see, some that you cannot, etc et cetera.

It just got me, this little kid with her purple chair and pigtails, thinking about otherness, and how my own kid for example, whom because of her physical disability deals with being different, unlike the others in her class in school, all day long, every day.

I realised that I am trying to make myself different through my work, to deliberately create a sense of otherness from other people, because my kid has it to deal with every day and I want, need to be able to share that with her. Indeed I almost feel a sense of duty to go through this. Crawling along the pavement on a saturday night is an example of ‘otherness’ behaviour. But at the end of that performance, during which I deliberately cultivated as much of a sense of otherness as possible by behaving in a socially atypical way, I stood up, took off my balaclava and hey presto, no one was looking at me any more. I was no longer the other. I was able to take off my other crawling performance artist persona and be ‘normal’ again. Unlike that little girl I saw this morning or my own kid.

So for someone like me I am really only playing with Otherness. When you think about it its a privilege to be able to go and do these performances. I’ve dealt already in earlier posts about my position of privilege in actually making work like Night Crawl, where I can put myself in a position of vulnerability in a public space, but crucially, then leave that space post-performance. Unlike homeless people for example, who have no respite from exposure to drunken uninhibited acts towards them by members of the public.

So what are performances like Night Crawl for? Why do them? I went to see Paul Corey yesterday, the photographer who filmed the performance, to watch the footage, and we discussed a potential audience for the film he is making of the event.

The most interesting thing to me about the footage he took is not me crawling along dressed in red, it is the variety of different reactions of the people who respond to it. And as he pointed out, the film could be about the endemic drinking culture on this island of ours, as is so plain to see in the film. Most of the people about that night were varying degrees of slightly to extremely drunk. So yes, I am 100% guilty of exploiting that situation. I knew very well there would be drunk people around. I also knew this fact would mean that any reactions to the performances that we might have would be more exxaggerated due to people being less inhibited. Should I have done this? Maybe not. Maybe if I had crawled along that morning instead, disrupting the saturday morning shoppers, I would have had less abuse and reaction, or maybe more? I dont know. I remember crawling along last Saturday night, feeling relatively calm, amidst the shouting and shrieking and pavement deitrius and laughter, thinking F*ck you all I will crawl along the pavement If I want.

So who is the work for? Anyone really. Anyone who has ever felt different or Other. Anyone who likes an occasional spark of subnormalness to pierce the usual socially conditioned conveyor belt constructed world we live in.

So it’s not a subtle work. And I dont have nuanced art speak to describe it. The extremity of feelings I have towards my kids disability are mirrored in the extremity in the work. Which could be matter very little or matter an awful lot.

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