Relaxed Performance: Exploring University-based Training Across Fashion, Theatre, and Choir

Authors: Chelsea Temple Jones, Carla Rice, Kimberlee Collins, Susan Dion

Over the course of the 2019—2020 academic year, the British Council and Bodies in Translation (BIT) at the Re•Vision Centre for Art and Social Justice at the University of Guelph partnered with three universities in Turtle Island, in the province known as Ontario, to introduce Relaxed Performance (RP) training modules into existing fashion studies, theatre, and choral studies curriculums. Through this RP Curriculum Pilot project, up to 240 students at X University, York University, and the University of Guelph, respectively, learned best practices and how to incorporate RP principles into their mid-term and final projects, which were open to the public.

This report chronicles the RP Curriculum Pilot, a project built on findings from the 2019 “Relaxed Performance: Exploring Accessibility in the Canadian Theatre Landscape” report, which pointed to the promise of disability justice–led RP training and delivery for improv- ing accessible performances. Over the course of this training, BIT researchers employed a mixed methods framework using surveys, interviews, participant observation, and analysis of materials produced through the RP training. Through this data generation, we gained insight into RP as a vibrant, creative intervention with roots in European theatre–based disability activism. Each discipline engaged in RP for different reasons and developed its own set of strategies around making a crip fashion show, a relaxed theatre production, and a choral ensemble performance more accessible; all of these performances reflect RP’s growing application across sectors.

The work of RP is community-based and must be community-led, beginning with the meaningful inclusion of disabled people as RP trainers, also known as Access Activators. Following the guiding principles of disability justice, RP’s community-based approach must preserve and nurture its vitality by expanding its context-specific relationships with those who report being underrepresented in RP, specifically Deaf and Indigenous communities. Additionally, it is clear that as a justice-oriented praxis, RP must continue to strive to respond to and develop context- and industry-specific “vital practices” that will vary across performances as RP continues to grow, becoming transdisciplinary and increasingly transnational in scope.

Jones, C. T., Rice, C., Collins, K., & Dion, S. (2022). Relaxed Performance: Exploring University-based Training Across Fashion, Theatre, and Choir. Re•Vision: The Centre for Art and Social Justice, University of Guelph, Guelph.

Representing Disability, D/deaf, and Mad Artists and Art in Journalism: Identifying Ableist Fault Lines and Promising Crip Practices of Representation

Authors: Chelsea Jones, Nadine Changfoot, Kirsty Johnston

This paper revisits the dynamic discussion about journalism’s role in representing and amplifying disability arts at the 2019 Cripping the Arts Symposium. Chronicling the dialogue of the “Representation” panel which included artists, arts and culture critics, journalists, and scholars, it reveals how arts and culture coverage contributes to the cultivation of disability, D/deaf, and mad art. Given that the relationship between journalism and disability communities continues to be fractured in Canada, speakers were invited to reflect on journalism and disability arts in relation to their own engagement with media as subjects, authors, and critics of disability arts reviews. The methods for presentation were cripped in multiple ways to provide the fullest access possible. The panel concluded with examples of ableist fault lines in representation practices where the disabled figure is an absent “ghost” in journalistic representation, warnings against journalistic reliance on traditional and objective narratives, and a call for artists to claim and write their own stories. Ultimately, disabled, D/deaf, and mad artists need both control over artistic endeavours and output and influence over representation. This article reconnects journalism and disability communities, ultimately demonstrating that representation is a critical, co-constitutive process that can become more aesthetically and politically oriented toward social justice in its focus on disability, D/deaf, and mad arts.

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.

Reflections on Cripping the Arts in Canada

Author: Eliza Chandler

Tangled Art + Disability is a nonprofit organization in Toronto dedicated to cultivating disability art through supporting the artistic development of disability, Deaf, and Mad-identified artists (here collectively called disability artists), creating exhibition opportunities for disability artists, and working to bring about systemic change toward a more inclusive arts culture.

Since the 1970s, disability arts organizations across Canada have been working independently and collectively in an effort to bring disability arts into recognition at the levels of audience engagement, funding support by arts councils, and growth in exhibition opportunities.

Disability artists and curators have worked to gain public recognition by producing politically and creatively important artwork, by developing professional practices within and outside largely ableist and inaccessible arts training programs and facilities, and by collaborating on efforts to educate provincial and federal cultural funding bodies about what disability arts are and how to create culturally responsive funding streams to support the development and showcasing of this arts sector.

Cripistemologies in the city: ‘walking- together’ as sense-making

Authors: Eliza Chandler, Megan Johnson, Becky Gold, Carla Rice, Alex Bulmer

Throughout this article, we take up works of disability artists whose practices engage with the act of walking/traversing as a method and form of sense-making. Specifically, we take up two performances by blind theatre artist Alex Bulmer—May I Take Your Arm (2018) and Blind Woman in Search of a Narrative (2018-2020) —in which walking, specifically ‘walking-together,’ is embedded as both a performative element and an integral mode of inquiry. We think about what Bulmer’s works, along with works by Carmen Papalia and Arseli Dokumaci, teach us about knowing and being known through an urban landscape, creating a “cripistemology” (McRuer & Johnson 2014) that builds on David Serlin’s (2006) notion of “disabling the flâneur.” Throughout this arts- based inquiry, we suggest that Bulmer advances a practice of “cripping the flâneur” (Campbell, 2010) as she demonstrates how we might come to know ourselves, our cities, our neighbours, and blindness through the epistemological vantage-point of blindness.

Introduction: Cripping the Arts in Canada

Authors: Eliza Chandler

Disability arts are political. Disability arts are vital to the disabled people’s movement for how they imagine and perpetuate both new understandings of disability, Deafhood, and madness/Mad-identity and create new worldly arrangements that can hold, centre, and even desire such understandings. Critically led by disabled, mad, and Deaf people, disability art is a burgeoning artistic practice in Canada that takes the experience of disability as a creative entry point.

Disability Art and Re-Worlding Possibilities

Authors: Eliza Chandler

Fredric Jameson writes, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” In conversation with Jameson, Rod Michalko offers, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than a different one,” referring to the way that a life with disability is too-often understood as the end of a life, a life not worth living. It is easier to imagine the end of our life, and the end of the world, than a life with difference and the creation of a different sort of world. In the midst of such ableism, disabled people have always demonstrated that a life with difference—and a different sort of world—is possible.