Difference-Attuned Witnessing: Risks and Potentialities of Arts-Based Research

Authors: Carla Rice, Katie Cook, K. Alysse Bailey

In this paper, we interrogate notions of affect, vulnerability and difference-attuned empathy, and how they relate to bearing witness across difference—specifically, connecting through creativity, experiencing the risks and rewards of vulnerability, and witnessing the expression of difficult emotions and the recounting of affect-imbued events within an arts-based process called digital/multi-media storytelling (DST). Data for this paper consists of 63 process-oriented interviews conducted before and after participants engaged with DST in a research project focused on interrogating negative concepts of disability that create barriers to healthcare. These retrospective reflections on DST coalesce around experiences of vulnerability, relationality, and the risks associated with witnessing one’s own and others’ selective disclosures of difficult emotions and affect-laden aspects of experiences of difference. Through analyzing findings from our process-oriented interviews, we offer a framework for understanding witnessing as a necessarily affective, difference-attuned act that carries both risk and transformative potential. Our analysis draws on feminist Indigenous (Maracle), Black (Nash) and affect (Ahmed) theories to frame emerging concepts of affective witnessing across difference, difference-attuned empathy, and asymmetrical vulnerability within the arts-based research process. 

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Elements of a Counter Exhibition: Excavating and Countering a Canadian History and Legacy of Eugenics

Authors: Evadne Kelly, Dolleen Tisawii'ashii Manning, Seika Boye, Carla Rice, Dawn Owen, Sky Stonefish, Mona Stonefish

Into the Light, a recently mounted co-curated museum exhibition, exposed and countered histories and legacies of 20th century “race betterment” pedagogies taught in Ontario’s post-secondary institutions that targeted some groups of people, including Anishinaabe, Black, and other racialized populations, and disabled and poor people, with dehumanizing ideas and practices. This article advances understandings of the transformative potential of centralizing marginalized stories in accessible and creative ways to disrupt, counter, and draw critical attention to the brutal impacts of oppressive knowledge. The “counter-exhibition” prioritized stories of groups unevenly targeted by such oppression to contest and defy singular narratives circulating in institutional knowledge systems of what it means to be human. The authors draw on feminist decolonial and disability scholarship to analyze the exhibition’s curation for the ways it collectively and creatively 1) brought the past to the present through materializing history and memory in ways that challenged archival silences; and 2) engaged community collaboration using accessible, multi-sensory, multi-media storytelling to “speak the hard truths of colonialism” (Lonetree, 2012, p.6) while constructing a new methodology for curating disability and access (Cachia, 2013). The authors show how the exhibition used several elements, including counter-stories, to end legacies of colonial eugenic violence and to proliferate accounts that build solidarity across differences implicated in and impacted by uneven power (Gaztambide-Fernández, 2012).

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Relaxed Performance: An Ethnography of Pedagogy in Praxis

Authors: Carla Rice, Chelsea Temple Jones, Jessica Watkin, Kayla Besse


In this co-written ethnography, we offer a co-curated account of how it feels to build, negotiate, witness and benefit from a community of practice nurtured by the principles of relaxed performance (RP). RP is a movement that invites all involved in a performance— from directors to performers to audiences—to be themselves (LaMarre, Rice and Besse). This invitation speaks to both technical interventions (such as dimmed lights and reduced ticket prices, among others) and social interventions rooted in disability justice frameworks, which offer an intersectional approach of thinking about body-mind difference in context. RP is an increasingly common intervention to performance production that pushes back against the “quiet or invisible” audience (Simpson 277), thus cultivating a new community of practice within which the four authors of this paper are deeply embedded. Our work teaching and researching RP takes place within neoliberal and colonial structures of post-secondary education and academic ableism across Turtle Island (northern part of the lass mass known as America) (Dolmage). Our deeply reflective accounts, informed by performance pedagogy and critical approaches to education, invite further thought on race, disability, gender and efforts to decolonize performance ethnography, as we deliberately draw on our intersecting positions as researchers, performers, writers, theatre-goers and audience members steeped in emergent and, at times, radical RP pedagogy. Here, we offer a relational account of our experiences moving between three multi-sensory performances and the university classroom, describing our own participation in the complex processes of community-building with body-mind difference in mind. 

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Letting bodies be bodies: Exploring Relaxed Performance in the Canadian performance landscape

Authors: Andrea LaMarre, Carla Rice, Kayla Besse

There is an increasing movement toward accessibility in arts spaces, including recent legislative changes and commitments at individual, organizational, and systemic levels to integrating access into the arts across Canada. In this article, we explore Relaxed Performance (RP) in the context of this movement. We present the results of a reflexive thematic analysis of interviews conducted with participants who completed RP training offered by the British Council to . understand the training’s effectiveness and impact. We explore the significance of the training, and of RP in general, and in relation to disability studies and cultural and political activism. We undertake this exploration against a backdrop of interrogating who RP is for and by. The themes we describe are: Committed to Access, Training is Critical, Inviting Bodies to be Bodies, and Imagining Audiences. These themes tell a story of how RP relates to broader access work, the importance of training grounded in and led by disability/difference, the need to consider the relationships between bodies and spaces, and the tensions inherent to billing RP as “for all.” We conclude with an exploration of possible modifications, enhancements, or theoretical imaginings that could help RP to become more radically open to difference as it emerges, shifts, and changes.

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Decolonizing Disability Through Activist Art

Authors: Carla Rice, Susan D. Dion, Eliza Chandler

This paper mobilizes activist art at the intersections of disability, non-normativity, and Indigeneity to think through ways of decolonizing and indigenizing understandings of disability. We present and analyze artwork produced by Vanessa Dion Fletcher, the first Indigenous disability-identified Artist-in-Residence for Bodies in Translation (BIT), a research project that uses a decolonized, cripped lens to cultivate disabled, D/deaf, fat, Mad, and aging arts on the lands currently known as Canada. We begin by setting the context, outlining why disentangling the disability, non-normativity, and Indigeneity knot is a necessary and urgent project for disability studies and activisms. Drawing on Indigenous ontologies of relationality, we present a methodological guide for our reading of Dion Fletcher’s work. We take this approach from her installation piece Relationship or Transaction?, which, we argue, foregrounds the need for white settlers to turn a critical gaze on transactional concepts of relationship as integral to a decolonized and an indigenized analysis of disability and non-normative arts. We then centre three original pieces created by Dion Fletcher to surface some of the intricacies of the Indigeneity/disability/non-normativity nexus that complicate recent discussions about recuperating Indigenous concepts of bodymind differences across white supremist settler colonial regimes on Turtle Island (North America) that seek to debilitate Indigenous bodies and lives. We intervene in these debates with reflections on what might be created—and what we might learn—when the categories of Indigeneity and (Western conceptions of) disability and non-normativity are understood as contiguous, particularly focusing on meaning-making within Dion Fletcher’s developing oeuvre.

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Toward TechnoAccess: A narrative review of disabled and aging experiences of using technology to access the arts

Authors: Chelsea Temple Jones, Carla Rice, Margaret Lam, Eliza Chandler, Karen Jiwon Lee

This paper presents a narrative literature review that addresses the issue of how disabled and aging people access the arts through technology. Our review synthesized 56 studies about disabled and aging people’s experiences of access through technology, with a focus on methods used and accounts of user experiences/stories to inform a Canadian research and development initiative called Accessing the Arts. We urge designers and developers to consider the complex, multimodal sociotechnical relationships surrounding technology and access—or TechnoAccess—as they develop technology with disability, aging and access in mind. Although existing evidence offers ways to improve everyone’s access to the arts, recommendations are provided for research around access and technology as an inherently politicized topic that must be informed by disabled and aging people’s intersectional cultural experiences, including how they wish to use technology to access the arts.

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