Between 1996 and 2000 Alice Fox was a member of High Spin Dance Company for performers with and without learning disabilities. Since then Alice has focussed her activities on the use of visual arts and film for inclusive arts collaborations with excluded or marginalised groups. The Smudged performance was an opportunity to bring both these strands together in an inclusive visual art and movement performance at Tate Modern. It also provided an opportunity to exemplify good practice in inclusive arts whilst raising the debate concerning the presence of learning disabled artists and audiences in national galleries.
The Smudged performance was a 30 minute vibrant mix of movement, live projection, drawing, installation, words, sound and live music inspired by the Ideas and Objects collection at Tate Modern. The performance bought together the visual art practice of the learning disabled Rocket Artists and performance skills of the Corali Dance Company, University of Brighton painting students and Alice Fox. The piece was devised by the performers under the creative direction of Alice Fox, Ella Ritchie, Sarah Archdeacon and Donovan Flynn. It was funded by Arts Council South East and Henry Smith Charity and supported by Tate Modern through the donation of rehearsal space.
This work researched through practice: inclusive arts practices accessible and appropriate to performers with and without learning disabilities. When words are not enough how do we collaborate equally? Predominantly non-verbal methods for performers to respond to artworks and each other using visual art and movement were developed and utilized. This enabled all the performers to devise the creative content of the show. We carefully considered how to use the processes of collaboration to create a space for equality of expression and the development of creative ideas ensuring everyone’s ideas were ‘heard’. Workshop methods including supported skills and knowledge sharing sessions led by the learning disabled performers using visual instructions and creative practices were developed.
By bringing such a diverse group of people together through their common interests in art and performance we were also able to research how responses to gallery collections can be used to foster the collaborative artistic process with an inclusive group of people with a wide variety of communication needs. Whilst acknowledging and celebrating our differences we looked at how the group came together through commonalties of experiences during the development of the performance and how this informed the creative process.
The work was presented at Tate Modern to an invited audience of artists, performers, curators, educationalists, journalists, arts funders, carers and friends. The placement of the work in the Tate Modern enabled the audience to view the performance in a gallery setting next to the artworks that inspired the performance. The immediate proximity of these artworks to the performance development space provided an important accessible physical link for the performers making it possible for them to shape their initial responses into movement and drawings very quickly in context before they were forgotten.
The research findings and inclusive arts practice methods developed during this project will be fed back into the curriculum at both undergraduate and postgraduate level within the new MA Inclusive Arts Practices.
As a diverse group of performers we now have a common language and experience to draw upon for future collaborations.