Bodies in Translation: Activist Art, Technology, and Access to Life (BIT) cultivates activist art produced by disabled, d/Deaf, fat, Mad, and E/elder people through research that explores how creating access to art for non-normatively embodied people and opportunities for the public to engage with this art expands understandings of vitality and advances social justice in Ontario and beyond.
Bodies in Translation is at the mid-point of a 7-year, SSHRC-funded community/university Partnership Grant that builds and expands upon a working relationship between Re•Vision: The Centre for Art & Social Justice and Tangled Art + Disability to bring together 23 community organizations and academic institutions to advance disability arts in Ontario.
Since our last Big Picture Committee meeting, BIT has produced a number of exciting projects including the publication and video animation of the BIT Guiding Principles, the Into the Light exhibit at the Guelph Civic Museum, the 2019 Cripping the Arts Symposium, and much, much more. We highlighted and celebrated many of these projects at this meeting.
Part of a global initiative across 50 cities, Night of Ideas: Being Alive brought together a dynamic mix of international artists, writers, philosophers, performers, and activists to explore what it means to be alive in the multiplicities of the body and the entanglements of identity.
An evening of free lectures, performances, and screenings presented in partnership with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in Canada and Hart House.
Speakers include: writer, philosopher, curator, and trans-activist Paul B. Preciado; queer crip fashion activist and scholar Dr. Ben Barry; genderqueer drag queen, storyteller, and creator Patrick Salvani/Ms. Nookie Galore; and disabled, gender non-confirming/nonbinary trans performer and visual artist Wit López.
Film screenings featuring works by Dr. Loree Erickson and Kent Monkman, performances by RARE Theatre, and a workshop and performance by the Legendary House Mother Snoopy of the Kiki House of Disney and dancers from the Toronto Kiki Ballroom Alliance are also not to be missed.
BIT co-presented a video program, curated by Tracy Tidgwell: 1. Fluid by Mari Ramsawakh 2. Watershed by Jake Pyne 3. A Poem to Everyone In My Life Who Misgenders Me (And Thinks It’s No Big Deal) by Devin Gaine 4. Butch Coyolxauhqui by Karleen Jimenez
Location Hart House Art Museum at the University of Toronto
Ancestral Mindscapes is an autobiographical collaboration using video, sound and photography to explore the intersection of madness, indigeneity, colonialism, environmental destruction and the healing power of nature.
Ancestral Mindscapes is a collaboration between Rick Miller, who self-identifies as a Mad artist in discovery of his Indigenous ancestry; Jules Koostachin, a Cree artist and academic; and Geneviève Thibault, a Gaspésienne photographer.
Constructed Identities, a major show of new work by Persimmon Blackbridge, uses mixed media wood carving with found objects to question how disability is framed as a fracturing of ordinary life rather than a normal, expected part of it. Her exploration of the figure begins in disability, but necessarily complicates itself as our embodied identities intersect and overlap.
This short documentary captures both the 2019 exhibition at McMaster University and an interview with the artist in her home studio on Hornby Island, British Columbia.
Constructed Identities was the opening exhibition of Tangled Art Gallery in 2015 and has been touring multiple Ontario cities since, most recently at the Canada Council for the Arts in Ottawa. Tangled is dedicated to enhancing opportunities for artists with disabilities and boldly redefining how the world experiences art and those who create it.
Blackbridge has worked as a sculptor, writer, curator, performer, fiction editor, cleaning lady and a very bad waitress. In this fully accessible exhibition, she uses hand-crafted wood figures, metal and found objects to confront and complicate notions of disability.
Blackbridge has been awarded the Ferro-Grumley Fiction Prize, the VanCity Book Prize, the Lambda Literary Award, the VIVA award for visual arts and the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design Distinguished Alumni Award. Her art has been shown across Canada and the U.S., as well as in Australia, Europe, and Hong Kong. She lives on Hornby Island in British Columbia.
This video was filmed by Dale DeVost and Marion Gruner, edited by Marion Gruner of Billion Ideas and produced by Bodies in Translation: Activist Art, Technology and Access to Life, a project of Re•Vision: The Centre for Art & Social Justice. bodiesintranslation.ca
Jake Pyne, Jen Rinaldi and May Friedman are working on a multi-media storytelling project on trans approaches to weight stigma.
Call for participants (past):
Seeking trans, Two-Spirit, genderqueer, non-binary, genderfluid, butch, femme, fairy folks with a relationship to fat and/or who experience weight stigma
Do you have a story to tell about your gender in relation to your body size and shape? Does your relationship with fat, weight stigma, and/or eating practices impact your experience of gender identity or expression? Come tell your story in our video-making project! All body sizes and gender identities and expressions welcome!
Participation will include: An hour-long telephone interview A half-to-full day writing workshop Three one-on-one sessions with artists to produce a short biographical video
You will be given an $100 honourarium for your time.
In-person meetings will take place on Ryerson campus in downtown Toronto, or the ‘Dish With One Spoon Territory’ established by treaty between the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas, and Haudenosaunee peoples.
We are committed to providing an accessible environment, including physically accessible space with gender neutral washrooms. Please inform the team if you have specific accommodation needs.
This study has been reviewed by the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (Ontario Tech University) Research Ethics Board 15397 on June 10 2019, and by the Ryerson University Research Ethics Board 2019-329 on August 21 2019. For more information, or to express interest in participating, contact TransBodyBoundaries@gmail.com.
Acceptance of change and change through acceptance—Fault Lines explores processes emblematic of observant insight and growth gained from conditions of challenge and disruption. It approaches disturbance with openness and optimism, and challenges the problematic and commonly accepted ideas about disability and aesthetics. Using altered photographs, video, fabricated materials, and immersive installations, artists Leala Hewak and Laura Shintani mindfully embrace ambiguity through spirited works that speak to lived experiences of neurodiversity and embodied difference. Reclaiming trauma and uncertainty, the artists explore ways of constructively reframing notions of recovery, adjustment, and adaptation.
Fault Lines honours how these nuanced investigations of brokenness reconcile in relation to the unique formation of identities, experiences, and ways of being. Fault Lines is presented by two of the leaders in disability and mental health in the arts: Tangled Art + Disability and Workman Arts. Tangled Art + Disability operates Canada’s first disability art gallery, and Workman Arts is a multidisciplinary arts organization that promotes a greater understanding of mental health and addiction issues through creation and presentation.
Alice Wong’s podcast episode #51 features an interview with Jeff Thomas, urban Iroquois photographer, artist, researcher, public speaker, curator and BIT collaborator. Jeff talks about racism, indigeneity, colonialism and how his photography re-contextualizes historical images of First Nations people.
Aging Vitalities was a 3-day Digital Storytelling Workshop, April 15, 16, 17, 2019 with aging identified and/or older adult (55+ years young) participants who created short multimedia digital stories. Agin Vitalities brought into creation, especially in Peterborough/Nogojiwanong, diverse representations of aging with difference by older adults and persons who identify as aging.
Nadine Changfoot is Associate Professor of Political Studies, Trent University, a member of the Trent Centre for Aging Studies Executive Committee, and Senior Research Associate with Re•Vision: The Centre for Art and Social Justice.
Kayla Besse: What drew you to BIT in the first place?
Nadine Changfoot: What drew me to BIT was the vision and commitment to bring non-normative experiences loudly and proudly into the world through artistic and research creation that is both serious and playful. I’m very excited to be part of BIT’s creative and intellectual wave of artistic creation research and technological innovation and leading one of its projects, “Aging Vitalities.” I had the amazing opportunity to work with Carla Rice and Eliza Chandler and the fabulous team at Re•Vision to bring disability experiences into the world through the project “Mobilizing New Meanings of Disability and Difference” (CIHR funded). The impact of storytelling from lived experience into multimedia and accessible short documentary was incredibly powerful for storytellers, researcher-storytellers, and audiences. Stories that needed and wanted to be seen and/or heard, got to be told, and there were audiences ready and hungry for them. From this project, I learned that marginalized older persons have stories to tell and there are audiences who want to see/hear these stories, but there is a gap between the two and the two need to be connected. The idea for the BIT project “Aging Vitalities” germinated from this idea.
KB: Could you tell me about your Aging Vitalities project, for folks who wouldn’t know anything about it?
NC: Aging Vitalities starts from the premise that diverse older persons have vibrant energies and experiences, however, these are often not welcomed into conversations and public spaces. For the first Aging Vitalities workshop held in Spring 2019, older persons, which unsystematically turned out to be all women, were each invited to share a story of their lived experience of aging, and create their own short 2-4 minute multimedia documentary. With the support of Re•Vision’s artist facilitation team, twelve beautiful stories were created by women ages 55-89, identifying as settler, Indigenous, Holocaust survivor, living with disability, racialized, and queer. From these stories, new meanings of aging are emerging which can be mobilized to support new imaginings and possibilities of growing old. The stories were recently presented and warmly received at ReFrame Film Festival 2020 in Peterborough/Nogojiwanong.
KB: What are some of the key themes or insights that delighted you, or that you learned from working with these storytellers?
NC:KB: What are some of the key themes or insights that delighted you, or that you learned from working with these storytellers?
NC: Key themes emerging from the stories that are a source of delight as well as serious reflection are the multiplicitous ways of aging, the time immemorial Indigenous traditions and ways of aging which are to be respected and honoured, and the wellspring of creativity experienced by storytellers. Within the twelve stories, there is expressed a multiplicity of meanings and experiences of becoming older, something not surprising in light of the diversity within the group. We are socialized and shaped to think of a human life in singular terms, as linear, proceeding forward in time in an able-bodied and minded way, and also in an acquiring way. We acquire this, we acquire that. We get better at this and or that. Then, once a certain time of life has been reached, age-wise, which often becomes linked to a loss or decline in physical, cognitive, financial capacity, boom, and with frequently accompanied ageist and ableist pitiable responses, aging becomes represented or imagined as a downward downhill trajectory which can be understandably quite disheartening, fearful, and anxiety-inducing when they are presented in this way. To buttress against fear and anxiety around this view of aging, there is a huge anti-aging industry to provide so-called “fixes” to fight against aging. In contrast, the stories of Aging Vitalities tell viewers that a person need not fight aging. Instead, of fear and anxiety and “fixes,” aging offers experiences to be welcomed, savoured, and shared! The stories offer welcome alternatives for embracing and proudly aging. They bring into the world experiences of aging that are desirable and rich in reflection of vivid, vivacious lives, relationships, and community.
Aging Vitalities is honoured to have stories told by Anishnaabe Kwey who brought into the world Anishnaabe experiences and traditions whereby becoming older is welcomed and intimately connected with all relations, both human and non-human, and in relationship with the land. Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg interdependencies among humans, animals, plants, ancestors and more come alive in these stories. Resistance against colonial dispossession, disappearance, and cultural genocide and the vitalities of Anishnaabe ways of knowing, healing, and living in good ways are beautifully presented with great care. There is much to learn much from these stories for their many gifts.
The stories, Anishnaabe and settler, do not shy away from pain and loss experienced during a lifetime. What they do is share the profound depth of life changes and their visceral, affective, multiple layers, as well as the transformative becoming they usher into the fullness and wholeness of aging, a fullness and wholeness experienced importantly in relationship, in community. Thus, these relationships and communities need very much to be well supported. This support includes robust funding for institutions of healthcare, long-term care, and community care accessed by older persons, including and especially in Indigenous communities. Just as important as the support, is the needed leadership from diverse older persons: Indigenous, those living with disability, on lower incomes, racialized, and queer. Their leadership is crucial for the very design, interactions, technologies, and programming that these institutions will deliver.
Storytellers also shared that they thoroughly enjoyed the discovery of their own creativity during the workshop process and continue to seek and bring more creativity in/to their lives. They also really enjoyed having access to the cutting-edge Re•Vision computer and software technology used to make their documentaries. The workshop was a pivot point for storytellers in that it provided a place to stop and reflect upon their lives. The community created by the storytellers remains a lasting important memory, and a wellspring from which their growing creativity continues and flows. That we can come together to mobilize the stories at venues such as ReFrame Film Festival or the Canadian Indigenous and Native Studies Association (CINSA) resurges and extends the energy of the community created by the workshop into diverse audiences.
KB:What does aging (and/or disability) have to teach us in the time of self-isolation and COVID-19?
NC: Aging Vitalities Storytellers were invited to reflect upon the following question: “What does aging (and/or disability) have to teach us in the time of self-isolation and COVID-19?” Their answers and stories are provided below.
Alice Olsen Williams: “Is inadequately addressing Indigenous people’s vulnerability to a disease like COVID-19, yet another settler way of getting rid of us?”
I am Indigenous, an Anishinaabe-Kwe from Namegosibiing (Trout Lake in Treaty 3 territory), but now living in Oshkiigmaang (Curve Lake First Nation) in the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabe territory.
Self-isolating in this time of working to stop the spread of COVID-19, has given me lots of time to think about what is going on. I wonder, “How is this COVID-19 serving the ruling class?” Throughout settler history, Indigenous peoples have been deemed expendable by our governments to infectious diseases introduced by Europeans, and more recently from the H1N1 flu epidemic in 2009. Even while there is recognition from the Minister of Indigenous Services Canada of the increased vulnerability of Indigenous communities to COVID-19, I wonder how much will really change for Indigenous peoples. The recovery of the economy from this pandemic will also involve the continued view that Indigenous peoples’ lives can be shortened and expendable to do the “dirty work” or work “no settler will do” of extractive industries. Meanwhile, broken treaties result in inadequate housing, education, healthcare, income supports, unsafe drinking water and repeat settler history that Indigenous peoples are treated less than human. Is inadequately addressing Indigenous people’s vulnerability to a disease like COVID-19, yet another settler way of getting rid of us?
Joanne Pritchard: I am vulnerable as I tick boxes of being a senior, living with lifetime bronchial weakness, heart and kidney disease, and living alone.
I am a senior alone in my home. I am fortunate that I have learned how to acquire my bread, dairy, and vegetables through the support of my local small businesses and farmers. I am thrilled by all I am learning and how local businesses are adapting. There are losses: my adult children have lost their income, two having to have closed their small businesses. As a parent, their worries have become mine.
I am missing volunteering, social contacts, and a full calendar. I am aware of my vulnerability, living alone, and living with lifetime bronchial weakness, heart and kidney disease. I am also fortunate to be able to receive healthcare by telephone and continue my lab testing with all precautions. Finding self-balance is important. My arts practice gives me a sense of accomplishment and joy.
“A lot of improvements to the system of long term care are needed, including proper staffing levels, improved salaries so workers can earn a living wage without having to go to several work places to make ends meet, benefits including paid sick days, and improved regulation of the industry.”
Before Covid-19 turned up in our lives I was a woman who had gone through the stages of being a partner then a caregiver then a supporter to my husband of 55 years. Now I can add the label of distant observer to that list.
This pandemic turned up 7 months after my husband moved into a long term care home. He has what is sometimes described as Parkinson’s dementia which affects both his physical and cognitive abilities. He had reached a point where I was no longer able to support him at home even with lots of help from health care people. He settled into his new home and was well looked after by good staff. I would visit 3 – 4 times a week to tell him about family and friends, push him around the home and gardens, attend social activities, sit with him, hold his hand and hug him. I was the link to who he was and the person who knew him best .
It has been 5 weeks now since I saw or connected directly with him. Before that it was clear that sometimes he knew who I was and other times I wasn’t sure he made the connection. He was able to feed himself and the staff, who are trained to move and lift him, looked after personal care needs. I never had to provide the essential services that some family members do for their loved ones but spending time with him was important to both of us as well as staff.
Now of course I can’t visit him. So I am reduced to sending cards and treats which are put in quarantine for a few days and then given to him by staff. Because of his challenges he hasn’t used a phone or iPad on his own for years and it is very hard to understand what he says. I have phoned occasionally to see if I can find out how he is doing but seldom get a reply. I know people are tired and doing their best and feel guilty about pulling them away to answer my call. Am I adding one more thing to their work if I ask if they can help him with a phone? Would hearing my voice help or confuse him? Would it help him or them if they had to tell me he is declining? Would it help me? These are just a few of the things that run through my mind at those times when I don’t have distractions.
So once again I have been reminded what many of us who are aging already know. We don’t have total control of our lives. Things won’t always go the way we planned. There are some things we can control and other things we have to let go of. Staying connected with family and friends can make a difference. Don’t be afraid to share real feelings. Take care of yourself. Don’t shy away from making end of life plans.
What changes might help in a future situation? A lot of improvements to the system including proper staffing levels, improved salaries so workers can earn a living wage without having to go to several work places to make ends meet, benefits including paid sick days, and improved regulation of the industry. Perhaps it is time to question whether there is a place for private homes in the long term care industry.
And expanding the ways that new technologies can be used to enhance communication and connections between families, their loved one and staff on a regular basis. As an older person I am aware of the limitation of my skills in this area but see the potential for increasing connection even when distance or viruses keep us apart.
Mary Gordon: “We can use this period of isolation to prepare for the future, to live more simply.”
I’ve been working with a small, dedicated group in my city for several years, with a philosophy called Bridges Out of Poverty. It’s not your usual do-gooder charity. In fact it turns the conversation about poverty upside-down, and gets people talking to each other across the lines of economic class that we’ve drawn in our western world.
Our Bridges teams aren’t trying to lure poor people into the middle class. In fact, we’re learning about the resources that other economic classes have to offer us. They become the leaders in our workshops and weekly gatherings. The theme that has underpinned this community movement since its pilot group is “food, fun, and story-telling.” Nothing happens without it.
We bureaucrats, teachers, farmers, hospitality workers, and tradespeople learned quickly to shut up and learn.
As we redesign our community processes around a pandemic and isolation, the lower-income prophets in our group told us they felt like the rest of the world is just “catching up” to them in terms of world view. We are learning to live without some of the things we’re accustomed to. We don’t go out to bars or restaurants. We can’t go watch a hockey game. We’re not allowed to go to the cottage. Can’t even get to church! We are learning to live with ourselves, without “losing it”.
They tell us that friends and family are what’s important. Our relationships. Having friends who can lend us soup till the next paycheque; who can fix our flat tire; who can pick up our meds and drop them off; people who care about how we’re feeling.
We have a lot to learn from these citizens, the true “experts” in poverty. After a lifetime of puzzling over the myriad schemes for reducing poverty, I am learning to look at it from the inside out. We use zoom technology to capture the food, fun, and storytelling of our Bridges experiment, to solidify the relationships we’re building, and to rely on our friends with long experience in “living with less”.
We can use this period of isolation to prepare for the future, to live more simply.
In this interactive performance, Vanessa Dion Fletcher considers how systemic colonial oppression intersects with her relationship to language as a learning disabled person. Finding Language was performed at the Cripping the Arts symposium in January 2019 in Toronto.
Vanessa Dion Fletcher is a Lenape and Potawatomi neurodiverse Artist. Her family is from Eelūnaapèewii Lahkèewiitt (displaced from Lenapehoking) and European settlers. She Employs porcupine quills, Wampum belts, and menstrual blood reveals the complexities of what defines a body physically and culturally. Reflecting on an indigenous and genderd body with a neurodiverse mind Dion Fletcher creates art using composite media, primarily working in performance, textiles, video.
She graduated from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2016 with an MFA in performance and York University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She has exhibited across Canada and the US, at Art Mur Montreal, Eastern Edge Gallery Newfoundland, The Queer Arts Festival Vancouver, Satellite Art show Miami. Her work is in the Indigenous Art Centre, Joan Flasch Artist Book collection, Vtape, Seneca College, and the Archives of American Art. Vanessa is a 2020-2021 Jackman Humanities Institute fellow at the University of Toronto.
Presented by The Peripheral Visions Speakers Series, Tangled Art + Disability and the Bodies in Translation Project
Friday March 29, 6-8 pm, reception to follow Location: Tangled Art + Disability, 401 Richmond Street Wheelchair Access, ASL
This lecture will celebrate the critical and creative power of blindness. Through a discussion of examples from 19th century French literature and art, Professor Thompson will argue that blindness is a fruitful theoretical stance available to both blind and non-blind people, Thompson’s Critical Disability Studies approach will dismantle the traditional hierarchy of the senses and invite new ways of beholding familiar texts and images.
The Aesthetics of Audio Description Master Class:
Thursday March 28, 11 am -1 pm Sensorium Loft, York University Wheelchair Access, RSVP email@example.com
This class will use insights from critical disability studies to explore how audio description might enhance the aesthetic experience of both blind and non-blind beholders. Drawing on articles published in the 2018 special issue of Disability Studies Quarterly, ‘Blindness Arts’, we will explore what non-visual ways of engaging with art and artefacts might teach the visually dependent world. When it is made available to everybody and included in the conception of an exhibition or artwork, can audio description be celebrated as a privileged example of “blindness gain” which works to challenge ocularcentric understandings of the hierarchy of the senses?
Professor Hannah Thompson
Professor Thompson has published widely on French literature and theory, the body, gender, sexuality and disability. She is the author of three books on French literature and culture including Reviewing Blindness in French Fiction (1789-2013) (Palgrave, 2017), which marks the start of Professor Thompson’s influential work on the cross-overs between French Studies and Critical Disability Studies. Professor Thompson has published two edited volumes: New Approaches to Emile Zola and Corporeal Practices: (Re)Figuring the Body in French Studies (with Julia Prest). In 2015 she co-organised the Blind Creations conference and micro-arts festival with Vanessa Warne and she is the author of the popular Blind Spot Blog.
Accessibility and Location Information Details:
Tangled Art + Disability, 401 Richmond Street Wheelchair access. ASL interpretation. Tangled Art + Disability is in an accessible building near the Southeast corner of Richmond and Spadina. Wayfinders will be present to direct visitors to the gallery. Please help us to make this a scent-free environment (click here).
Sensorium Loft. The Loft is on the 4th floor of the Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts, York University.
York University subway is an accessible station on the University Line. Wayfinders will be present to direct and guide participants to and from the subway (other locations by request). Wheelchair access requires an elevator key, so please contact us in advance. For further access information and to rsvp email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Peripheral Visions Speakers Series is a partnership of the Sensorium Centre for Digital Arts and Technology, VISTA: Vision Science to Application and the Peripheral Visions Lab. This event is co-sponsored by Tangled Art + Disability, Bodies in Translation: Activist Art, Technology and Access to Life, the Graduate Program in Critical Disability Studies, The Departments of Theatre and Cinema and Media Arts, and the Performance Studies (Canada) Speaker Series. We are grateful for support from the Canada Research Excellence Fund and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).
The Peripheral Visions Speaker Series is co-curated by Mary Bunch, Laura Levin and Lauren Sergio.