Category Archives: creative work

Creative Work: Say It In Stone (Clay, Wood, Bronze…)

I stumbled across an article on RE/FORMATIONS, an art show featuring disabled women artists that was exhibited last year, and promptly started playing hopscotch across the Internet, looking up sculpture by disabled artists. I’ve always really loved sculpture because it’s such a tactile art form to me, and one of the greatest experiences of my life was going to a gallery where people were actively invited to touch and handle the sculpture. Usually we are told to keep our hands to ourselves, and I feel like I miss out on an element of the artwork by not being able to physically interact with it; I feel more connected to the artist and the work by touching it.

This being the Internet, I’m afraid none of us can touch the sculpture, but we can look at it. Here are some interesting pieces I found in my travels.

A wall mounted motor moves book pages splotched with ink and attached to guide wires. The piece is suggestive of the wings of a bird flapping.

‘Amerika,’ by German artist Rebecca Horn. Her bio from the RE/FORMATIONS site:

Rebecca Horn’s sculptures illuminate how the work of an established artist, traditionally defined as feminist/performance art, can be re-interpreted from a disability perspective. Like many artists with disabilities, Horn’s impairment has been relegated to the biographical, or perceived as a deficiency overcome, instead of an identity embraced.RE/FORMATIONS will investigate the dialogue Horn creates from the lived experience of her lung impairment, and how it intersects with other aspects of her identity. Rebecca Horn’s disability, like her gender and nationality, has invigorated her aesthetic – structurally and thematically.

A female torso, done in black terra cotta. The right breast is missing, and replaced with a mastectomy scar.

‘Black Torso,’ by American artist Nancy Fried.

Nancy Fried began creating terra-cotta torsos of women who had undergone radical mastectomies in 1986 following her own mastectomy. She subsequently chose not to have her missing breast reconstructed. It is Fried’s subtle use of nostalgia, and her ability to bridge the divide between the loss and pain of a mastectomy and the pride and power of diversity, that sets her apart from the majority of her colleagues. Fried’s embracing disability as an identity not to be “overcome” is what makes her work art and not therapy. Fried says she hopes to help “redefine female beauty,” and her torsos do this by virtue of their honesty and power.

A sculpture showing a group of men in loincloths, balancing on oversized mechanical parts. They are heavily muscled and the image suggests power and activity.

I used to walk past this sculpture, ‘The Mechanics Monument,’ pretty regularly when I lived in San Francisco, without really looking at it. Public art often goes unappreciated when you’re scurrying around about your business, and the next time I am in the City, I’m going to try to make more of a point of noticing it, because there’s some very cool stuff right there in public for everyone to enjoy (and touch). This piece is by Deaf sculptor Douglas Tilden; you can read more about him at If These Hands Could Speak… if you’re interested!

D/deaf Characters on Television: Joey Lucas on The West Wing

I have been on a bit of a West Wing extravaganza over the last few weeks, and there’s all kinds of interesting stuff going on in this show that I suspect I will be writing about as I move through my epic DVD set. One of my all time favourite things about the show is Joey Lucas, played by the fabulous and lovely Marlee Matlin. Joey is a fantastic example of a D/deaf character I love, and she’s also a terrific feminist television character.

The West Wing is a depiction of the working lives of White House staffers that aired for seven years in the United States. Fairly early on in the show, we are introduced to the character of Joey Lucas. A California expert for polling is needed, and she’s the woman for the job. What I love about the way she is introduced is that when people first encounter her, they are more surprised by the fact that the California expert is a woman than they are by the fact that she’s D/deaf.

There’s a lot of sexism in US politics, and it’s pretty common to assume that men are the primary movers and shakers, the experts, the consultants. The West Wing confronted that throughout the series with strong female characters like Joey Lucas, challenging the assumptions of viewers as well as characters in the show. A far bigger production is made over her gender than her D/deafness, and we don’t have laughable/ugly scenes where other characters struggle with how to interact with her and her interpreter.

Joey Lucas is presented as a woman political expert, struggling with sexism in politics, having romantic interests in other characters, and having her own opinions on things. She is a character who happens to be D/deaf. She isn’t consumed by this identity. It’s acknowledged in the show, but it’s not made into the central point of who she is and what she does. Sometimes characters say and do ignorant things. They are corrected within the context of the show, and everyone moves on. The show laudably avoided the temptation to include very special educational moments with her character. They told by showing, something television seems to struggle with a lot these days; it’s really ok to just let characters be themselves, to show other characters interacting with them, and to not lecture the audience.

As a feminist television character, there is a lot to recommend her. The men in the show are constantly stepping on her toes and acting like she doesn’t know what she’s doing, and she puts them firmly in place. There’s a great scene where they are preparing to run a big poll, and Josh Lyman is concerned that the pollsters will be chewing gum, and he fusses mightily about this, convinced that Joey won’t remember to tell them not to chew gum; it’s also implied that since she’s D/deaf, she wouldn’t know that chewing gum would be a problem. Lo and behold, when she gets ready to tell the pollsters to start calling, what’s the first thing brought up? Gum chewing. Bam.

Joey’s fully integrated into the landscape of The West Wing. She’s not singled out as a special character or an exception. She engages in brisk discussions, she challenges people, she reminds people that she really knows what she is doing, she has happy and sad days like everyone else. And I love, love, love seeing American Sign Language on television. One of the things that I especially love is that the camera actually shows it. A lot of times, I see a D/deaf character, and the camera focuses on the face or another character while ou is Signing. Not on The West Wing.

This is the right way to do it. Develop a complex character with a lot of stuff going on, let that character just be a person. Depictions like this one do far more than repetitions of hackneyed tropes and stereotypes.

The West Wing may not be airing anymore, but it’s worth checking out if you haven’t seen it, since there is a lot going on in this show; not always good stuff, but such is the nature of television. I think that in particular, the show does a really good job of depicting fussy white liberal attitudes in the United States, with characters being more concerned with how things seem than how they are, and constantly requiring reassurance from minority characters that they’re doing things right on race, or women’s issues, and other -isms.

Question Time: Creativity

Question Time is a series in which we open the floor up to you, commenters. We invite you to share as you feel comfortable.

Do you do any creative things (artwork, web design, creative writing, photography, playing a musical instrument or instruments, crafts, knitting) for fun? If so, what are they, and what do you enjoy about them? Please feel free to share links if you have them!

Alternately, are there any creative things, works, or folks that you’ve been inspired by as of late [please warn for TV show/movie/book spoilers in comments]?

Creative Work: Wolfie E. Rawk

Fiber artist Wolfie E. Rawk explores disabled and trans identities in his work, and is a spinner, which I find tremendously exciting because I’d really like to learn to spin. He also works with youth artists, and is ‘currently facilitating a series of collaborative queer quilting bees with fellow queer, transgender and allied folks in West Philadelphia with the help of a Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grant.’ I think it’s official: I have a new Art Crush.

Here are are some of Rawk’s pieces:

An embroidery on canvas piece. The embroidery is red, and maps out different parts of a body, while leaving lots of white space.

‘Body Mapping–Never Give Up’ is an embroidery on canvas piece that I find intensely visually interesting. Interacting with it personally, it speaks to a lot of the disassociation I feel from my own body as a transgender person struggling with the aspects of my body that are not in alignment with my gender identity, and also to my own ongoing exploration of my body, and the social attitudes about body and propriety that act to reinforce the sometimes overwhelming disassociative emotions I experience.

A pen and ink drawing of a figure in bed, with another figure superimposed. Visual elements like musical notes, animal figures, and scrawling handwriting are strewn across the page.

‘Moar Bubblz.’

Rawk erases and recreates drawings to mirror an epileptic view of the world in which grounds are swiftly changing underfoot, identities are erased and recreated and cultural knowledge comes by personal directives.

You can see a video interview with Rawk here (with a spinning demonstration!). Here’s a transcript, kindly provided for me by Rawk:

My name is Wolfie E. Rawk and I moved to Philadelphia in 2008, and I came here because of the queer, transgender and arts community. My medium of choice is fabric art and fibers. And this piece is called, tentatively, “Stick with your kind” I think it’s about violence and being trans. It’s like, “stick with your kind,” like, someone else telling you that but also internally thinking that for safety. Well, I use fabric as a medium because I think it’s really utilitarian, being a transgender and disabled person I have like a really fragmented view of realities sort of? Or like, like, I have epilepsy and when I have seizures it’s kind of like it can be, like, a really violent jarring break from reality, or it can be this really sort of like soft like sedated experience. I make my own yarn, some of it is like this stuff right here. Using fabric in my work I can like mirror this sense of violence that I’ve had internally and also, like, done to me. And I can sort of make steps to heal that by sewing the pieces of fabric or by mending them or kind of recreating this sense of reality that more matches my internal existence. I think art for social change, in my interpretation, is kind of…there’s an internal process where art can be very healing or have this really healing power that can kind of soothe wounds that are inflicted on people, either on an individual level or on a community level. My visual experience as a person with epilepsy is like having this really like double time, superimposed, fragmented reality when I have seizures sometimes. The visuals just like hit me, kind of like almost like hit me in the eyeballs. (laughs) It’s hard to explain, but I think that’s why I layered the tissue paper so much and also had this violent aspect of tearing it. I think that I wanna continue working with transgender and queer people on, like, community healing projects. I think that having that extra money just really invigorated the project, like, I wouldn’t have been able to get a spinning wheel or like the batting for the quilts or a quilting frame, things that are really important that I could have done the project without but it would have been a lot harder I think. My epilepsy as well, it’s kind of like this repetition of like the seizing and the convulsing and how that can actually be calming I think. There’s a lot of ableism out there that looks at disability like it’s undesirable or like it’s kind of like a life experience that isn’t worthwhile or kind of like should be bred out of people. But I don’t experience it that way at all, I wouldn’t give it up. (laughs) Like art and social change for me, kind of, lifts up those voices that are routinely suppressed or ignored or shut down and it gives them space in the world (laughs).

Creative Work: Blind Photographers

As some FWD readers may be aware, photography is a hobby of mine (which I haven’t had nearly enough time lately to indulge in!). I love being behind the lens, I love looking at the world around me in new ways, and I adore working in the darkroom. I’m mostly working with digital photography these days and I miss the smell of fixer and developer on my fingers and the deep satisfaction of nailing an enlargement and having this whole new world of detail appear.

I love looking at work by other disabled photographers, and when I discovered the Blind Photographers group on Flickr, I was drawn not only to the images, but to the way that people write about photography and their relationship with the lens and the camera.

Poppies growing along with weeds, shot against a white metal fence. A road can be seen in the background. The focus of the composition is on an exuberant weed that fills the middle of the frame.

This piece is by Shmulik, an Israeli photographer:

I was born in Israel. I became blind at the age of 9. I am single and I am fond of trying new things. I am involved in varied activities including cycling, rowing, ceramic sculpting, singing, and more. I take pictures of everything: my close surrounding, objects and people, but especially nature and extreme sports, which I like to practice.

I really like the way the focus plays out here, how the world outside the fence is blurred, and I also adore the composition, with the lone poppy isolated off to the right. More of Shmulik’s work can be viewed on The Blind Photographer, a site which also has work by other Israeli photographers.

A photograph of a young boy in a diaper and nothing else, shot through a spray of water. He appears to be laughing, and the image is full of energy.

‘Frenetic,’ by Bruce Hall. This photograph was featured in ‘Sight Unseen,’ an exhibition at the University of California, Riverside.

Here’s another photographer, Craig Royal, in an interview at Blind Photographers (a site I would highly recommend!) talking about how he approaches photography:

BP: How do you think your images are affected by your eyesight?

Apart from trying to express my visual reality by way of a visual art form my desire to see more of the detail that surrounds me, though it being after the fact, plays a part in my choices of subject matter. Being very nearsighted I am not drawn to landscape photography.

More of Craig’s work can be found on Flickr.

A train yard, with an orange locomotive in the foreground and two red cabooses in the background on another track.

‘Today’s Engine Yesterday’s Caboose’ is by Riverrat, a member of the Blind Photographers Flickr Group. Although the image is stationary, it’s framed in a way that feels very dynamic and filled with action. I almost except to see the locomotive whisking off to the left.

Riverrat’s profile has a brief discussion of how he got into photography and the tools he uses:

Hi, I am legally blind from Retinitis Pigmentosa. I was always intimidated by a camera and computer until March, 2007,when I decided to give both of them a try. My photos are just snap shots of my everyday life. I use a digital camera and have Zoom Text on my computer, a magnification and reader program.

All of this looking at photographs to compile this post has me longing for that digital SLR I’ve been lusting after, although one of the interesting things about the Blind Photographers group is that many people are working with relatively inexpensive point and shoots like my trusty Powershot, and turning out really amazing work, illustrating that in the hands of a good photographer, a mediocre camera with a crappy lens can still turn out spectacular photos.

Creative Work: AXIS Dance Company

On Saturday, abby jean, Annaham, and I went to see AXIS Dance Company, an integrated dance company based in the Bay Area, perform at the Yerba Buena Arts Festival in San Francisco. After some misadventures (namely us climbing way too many stairs because we went to the wrong place first), we managed to find the performance and settle down to watch.

The regular company was supplemented by other dancers, for a group of what looked like around 35 people performing a piece specifically choreographed for the Yerba Buena Gardens space. It’s an interesting space because there are all sorts of ramps and levels and things, and these were all integrated into the piece. One of the dancers told me after the performance that one of the things that made the space challenging was the concrete, which was really uneven. Visually, though, the space was really stunning, with a pouring waterfall as a backdrop for the dancers and the ability to perform on different levels, having dancers both on the main stage area and on the balconies above.

Occasionally passersby would meander through the piece, some looking deeply confused. The whole dance had a very organic, flowing feel, and I loved watching all of these individuals and bodies moving in all kinds of interesting and different ways.

The dancers at Yerba Buena. They are caught in the act of waving their arms in various directions, some bending over and twisting their bodies.

I am not a modern dance critic, or particularly well versed in dance in general. Usually I look at things and go ‘oooh that’s nice’ or ‘hrm.’ I really loved the AXIS piece, though. I felt like it really played to the strengths of the dancers as individuals, highlighting them as human beings rather than presenting them as an amorphous mass of interchangeable people, which is sometimes how I feel with highly regimented choreography where everyone moves in precisely the same way. The piece had character and it sparked some thoughts in me about interconnectivity, interdependence, and community.

There was an element of play to the piece, with dancers and bystanders alike darting about in the space, and at the end of the piece, everyone locomoted to the far end of the performance area and flopped over, which I rather loved. Hey, dancing is hard work! Dancers were also waving and interacting with the audience, which was a bit of a departure from audience environments I am used to where you are expected to sit quietly and watch, not moving or expressing anything until the piece is over.

The dancers flopped over in a pile on the far left of the stage.

AXIS is about to go on tour, and if you happen to be in or around Bates, Maine; Seattle, Washington; or Lincoln, Nebraska, I would highly recommend seeing one of their performances. They return to the Bay Area in November and I suspect I’ll be going again. I think I may be on the verge of becoming an integrated dance groupie.

The dancers in a row at the curtain call.

It was also, if I may gush for a moment, supercool to get an opportunity to meet some of the dancers afterwards and talk with them about their work and their projects. I live in a pretty isolated area, and being able to bask in the Bay Area disability community for a day was really wonderful; the performance and the conversations I had afterwards sparked some reevaluations and thoughts about how I want to structure my own life and work.

The Inner Critic

[Warning for possibly triggering content regarding mental health, specifically depression.]

I’ve been reading a fair number of how-to creativity books (yeah, I know, creativity is not something you can “learn” from a book) recently in preparation for a long-term project, and one thing I have noticed about some of these books–and a lot of the “advice” floating around out there about creativity–is the notion of the “inner critic.” The inner critic, according to some Professional Creative Types, is the voice that tells you that you are not creative, that you can’t write, or draw, or paint, or accomplish whatever creative project you want to. The inner critic is supposed to stand in for everyone who’s told you that you are a crappy artist, that your creative pursuits aren’t good enough, and all of that fun stuff that apparently wasn’t there when you were a kid. And, in the course of becoming truly creative, you are supposed to silence your inner critic.

This got me thinking, however: What if that critic was there when you were a kid? What if the inner critic is, well, part of you, and you cannot “just silence” that part?

One thing that I really don’t talk about publicly (on the internet or off) is my history of major depression. There are many reasons as to why, and I think that those might best be saved for another post. However, there is something that really bugs me about the “inner critic” model of creativity: it does not take depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions into account. What if that voice in your head has been there for a while, and is an active part of your mental health issue? It’s not so easy to turn off that voice that tells you that you suck, or that your art or writing is a bunch of crap, or that you will never amount to anything when that voice is there because of a mental health condition.

There’s another assumption in writings about the importance of “turning off” the inner critic, which is that all children have a magical reserve of resilience and that is why they are so creative. These children simply don’t care what anyone else thinks, and the Creative Adult must recapture that sense of adventure by silencing the inner critic! It sounds so easy! But what of the depressed child, or the child with mental health issues? As someone who had depression issues as a kid — and still does — I question the supposedly “universal” applicability of this whole inner critic business, the assumption that it can be turned off like a damn light switch, after which we will all Recover Our Childlike Capacity For Creativity, or something.

I remember having my own Inner Critic as a kid, and it was not fun. Certainly, I did have years where I had that sense of Childlike Creativity and Wonder, but those were also interlaced by a voice in the back of my mind that would tell me awful things. And it never left, after a while. It would hiss: You do not belong. You are weak. Your bum leg is punishment for something, and you sure as hell aren’t going to “make up for it” with your stupid cartoons, give me a break! You think you’re going to be popular because of your cartoons? Because of your writing? Please. You are worthless, and also none of the other kids like you. Your art is just a hobby, nothing more.

Then, once the depression came on the scene, those little hissings became, well, much bigger. They’d been there when I was a kid, no doubt, but with major depression, they stuck in my brain like a particularly awful tape loop that just couldn’t be turned off. Things with my depression are much better now — as they have been for a few years — but I am always, always on the alert in case it comes back full-force. My depression not totally gone (nor do I expect it to be), but I manage it with care. And the “inner critic” that artsy self-help types slam? She’s still there, and I think she will be there permanently. The trick, for me, is learning to live with her instead of assuming that silencing her is an easy step.

Crowdsourcing: Graphic novels! edition

Here’s the scoop: Despite the fact that I am sort of a cartoonist and “into” graphic art, I am, sadly, not totally on the up-and-up when it comes to comics and graphic novels! So, I need recommendations from you fine FWD commenters for a project that I will be starting on rather soon. I am mostly looking for autobiographical comic/graphic novels, comics/graphic novels having to do with illness or disability, race, and/or gender and sexuality (I prefer non-fiction for these categories),  and comics/graphic novels that cover awkward situations in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood (fictional or not).  Also, how-to books (such as Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art, which I already own and have dog-earred to infinity) are also welcome as suggestions, as I will definitely need inspiration.

Here’s a list of stuff I already have that is in one or more of the above categories: One! Hundred! Demons! (Barry, 2002); Fun Home (Bechdel, 2006); Funny Misshapen Body (Brown, 2002); The Spiral Cage (Davison, 1992); Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person (Engelberg, 2008); Jokes and the Unconscious (Gottleib and DiMassa, 2006) Stitches (Small, 2009), American Born Chinese (Yang, 2006) [thank you to my fellow blogger Anna for reminding me of this one].


[Cross-posted to ham blog in a slightly different form]

Damn Y’all White Wolf

My [biggest] fandom is White Wolf’s Exalted. I’ve complained about it before and I’ll complain about it again.

I build characters because it’s fun and I often spend a lot of time working at it trying to make a person rather than a collection of attributes. Right now I’m working on a character who I actually have an expectation of playing and as ever I’m borrowing much from my life and some from various other places. This person is a rabbit (specifically this rabbit) shapeshifter with a very big hammer. Ou has told me ou doesn’t speak and I try to listen to my characters when they tell me things.

Also disabled folk can damn well be heroes. They don’t have to ‘overcome’ their conditions neither. I will try to not fuck this up too badly. Transient dysphasia and aphasia are conditions I have personal experience with but not full-time.

Thing is: Because I’m making a new character I’m taking an enormous hit on experience and power — the character I’ve been playing has more than twice as many experience points as the GM is giving me for my rabbit person. Ouch. (But I’m getting to tell a new story.) So I may do something I’m not entirely comfortable with: Use the Flaw system built into the game.

See, you can get points to buy Cool Shit by taking Flaws. Some of them are okay, like being wanted by authorities or being widely known as a demon or whatever. Some of them are more problematic, like missing body parts, mental illnesses, communication and sensory impairments.

Here’s the one for not speaking:

Cost: 1 pt. or 4 pts.
Your character is unable to speak normally. For one bonus point, the character is simply unable to speak above a whisper, while complete dumbness1 grants four bonus points. A character with the one-point version automatically fails all Performance or Presence checks that require public speaking but faces no penalty on social attacks as long as his target can hear him, which requires the target’s player to succeed on a (Perception + Awareness) roll at difficulty 2.

A character with the four-point version of the Flaw automatically fails all Performance or Presence checks based on verbal communication and suffers a -5 penalty on all social attack rolls made for her unless the attack expressly has no verbal component. While there is no universal sign language in the Age of Sorrows, the character and her allies can communicate through an informal sign language if each of them commits one Linguistics slot to it.

Just kind of as an aside they tell us there are no widely-known gestural or tactile languages. None. There aren’t regional languages even. Anyone wanting to use one has to make up their own and teach it to whomever they want to communicate with. Deaf people wanting to build a community are going to have a tricky time of it in canon Exalted.

Sometimes I hate my game. I could use those four bonus points but that’s some horrible shit. But not using this mechanic isn’t going to make it disappear from the game either (there’s another player whose character made use of it — as a hot blind assassin chick). The casual disablism is not exactly unusual for gaming (and this isn’t even the worst example of disablism ((or casual bigotry)) I could pull from Exalted) where currently non-disabled developers assume a currently non-disabled audience and write accordingly. Because heroes are CND or super-crip amirite?

So yeah. I’ll probably do it. I’ll just feel icky about it. :(

Cross-posted: Aperiodically Legible.

  1. Hi there, dumb means does not speak! I have not missed you.

Videos: Creative Work

I’m back on a video kick this week.

Up first, a modern dance composition by Laura Jones. ‘Re:Bound’ is a very dynamic piece. Jones moves sinuously, using her whole body very expressively, and the music is rather moody. You can read an interview with Laura Jones published at Ballet-Dance Magazine if you’re interested in learning more about her. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

At the age of 16, a week into starting my course, I suffered from a spinal bleed which left me paralysed from the chest down. So, just when I had decided what I really wanted to do, I felt it was taken away from me.  But my tutors at college were just fantastic. They said: “Come back and finish, at least some parts of the course… you’ll still be able to do the theory… so, come back!”  As the course progressed, they kept saying: “Well, I don’t see why you shouldn’t do this part of the course as well … and you can do your solo choreography … and you can do the set study, surely… and why don’t you try to do the notation as well?” So with their support and encouragement, I ended up completing the whole of the course and became the first student to complete 100% of the Dance A-Level in a wheelchair! And that’s something that no one can take away from me!

And the dance piece itself:

I’m a huge fan of this American Sign Language (ASL) music video; it’s an interpretation of ‘Single Ladies’ by Beyonce. It’s a very catchy pop tune; you can find the lyrics here. Jubil Khan, the performer, is deliciously talented and expressive. The choreography is fairly simple. She’s mostly standing in front of a wall, facing the camera and Signing while dancing. For an ASL version of ‘Single Ladies’ with choreography, you can check out another version here.

Here’s an interesting time-lapse video of Mariam, a member of the US Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, creating a piece called ‘Larval Eye Hive.’ I admit to having an irresistible adoration for time-lapse videos of works of art and architecture being created; I love watching things sprout on the page or the landscape. Your mileage may vary, but I hope it’s at least a bit interesting for you!

The video shows her from start to finish, using her mouth to manipulate pastels and other drawing tools. There is a sound track, but it’s just music (which I didn’t find particularly scintillating). The finished piece is a humanoid figure wearing a striped shirt. The figure’s face has a very long nose and four sets of eyes in different colours, and the background has text in block letters: ‘Interworldness beyond the ever flowing never known in the larval eyes hive of this life that like the simile that smiles come back to cla-[I didn’t catch the rest because the camera kept shying away]’