The first week of The Quips semi-virtual residency is coming to an end. That’s one quarter of the way through mine and Gemma’s dedicated intensive time working together, as we plan and prepare a radio broadcast later this year.
This week has been about connecting remotely with Gemma and The Art House team. Promoting the call-out. Reaching out to people for interviews and contributions. Planning the logistics of working together in Wakefield later in the month. Doing the reading and research that informs all of this work.
Between all of these tasks, different possibilities and outcomes for The Quips are starting to emerge. For instance, I imagine mine and Gemma’s voices floating above the sounds of a heaving ocean as we sail our fictional pirate radio boat and turn fantasy into reality, segueing through songs, poems, descriptions of visual art, things we’ve not yet imagined.
Have you ever heard of Agloe? It’s a hamlet in upstate New York invented by a cartographer as a way of trapping copycat map makers. Otto. G. Lindberg made the place up entirely and drew it on his map. But “today, Agloe is real. People live there. People have started businesses, fallen in love, and been born there. Maybe great works of art have been made there or will be made there soon” (Robert Barry, The Music of The Future)*.
As Gemma and I imagine and invent our own pirate radio station, and talk to queer disabled and clinically extremely vulnerable people, to those living with the long-term impacts of Covid-19 about what they demand of society now, I wonder which of these things will become real?
One of the inspirations for this project was La Tribune de l’Invalide. It was a disabled-led radio programme founded and run in post Second World War France by a forty-year-old classical singer, Maurice Didier. He drew on his personal experiences as a polio survivor and invited guests to highlight the social inequalities and cultural stigmas that disabled people faced at the time. The academic Rebecca Scales gives a fantastic account of the station in her article, RADIO BROADCASTING, DISABILITY ACTIVISM, AND THE REMAKING OF THE POSTWAR WELFARE STATE.
As well as reshaping cultural perceptions of disability, putting disability on the welfare state agenda, and occasionally fundraising to support his listeners, Didier’s programme made direct impacts in other grassroots ways, as this extract from Rebecca’s article shows.
“Didier quickly realized, however, that his audience’s needs were far greater than his fundraising capacities, and he turned his efforts to facilitating exchanges of goods and services between listeners. When Madame Launay wrote with a description of the decrepit state of her forty-three-year-old son’s wheelchair, which he had been using for twenty-four years, Didier introduced her to Madame Labourier, the recent widow of a disabled World War One veteran, who shipped her husband’s chair to Launay—just one of many similar exchanges Didier mediated.”
I’m reminded of the neighbourhood support networks that sprung up over WhatsApp during the pandemic – connecting people to the essentials they were cut-off from, whether that be food, toiletries, equipment or simply company. And then my mind jumps to Radio One DJ, John Peel describing The Fall:
“They are always different; they are always the same”.
Things are different but frustratingly the same. Problems that were experienced in 1947 rearing their head again in 2020. Yet the speed and distance our communications can cover today would have been incomprehensible back then (this week I was able to find, download and read Rebecca’s article, tag her into a tweet, and for her to reply across continents that she’s planning to let Didier’s granddaughter know about the project in less than half a day). I wonder how many of those neighbourhood groups are still going? Have they mostly dried up along with many of the digital arts offerings that sprung up when everyone had to isolate, not just disabled and clinically extremely vulnerable people?
This is the first time I’ve worked on art in a concentrated block of time since November 2020. Mixed in with the excitement of immersing myself in the project and making something new are some feelings that do and don’t surprise me.
There have been times when I’ve felt a bit overwhelmed as there’s lots to do and the days go by so quickly. We’re making decisions every hour on how best to spend the limited time we have. I get through this by reminding myself that I am my own worst critic, that the project will never be perfect, and that I should treat myself with the same compassion and understanding that I try to treat others with.
I’ve also switched gears abruptly from working within the structure and community of a midscale theatre (where I hold down a job in fundraising) to working as part of a duo on a self-directed project, collaborating virtually over email and ZOOM so there have been times when I’ve felt a bit lonely. Writing it down like this, I can understand where the feeling comes from. It makes me wonder how other artists and freelancers manage this feeling (or don’t)?
So I’m looking forward to socialising safely with Gemma and The Art House team in a few weeks. In the meantime, photo documentation of the residency will be limited to pictures of me smiling next to some beautiful portraiture of flowers by Gareth McConnell, because photos of me emailing people can’t really compete.
In the meantime, we’re still excited to feature the art of queer, disabled, clinically extremely vulnerable people and / or people living with Long Covid. And we want to talk to you about your experiences of the past two years. There’s support for access, interpretation and a contribution for your time. You can get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or complete this form.
- Actually this statement from Robert Barry appears to be a half-truth itself. There was a short-lived general store at Algoe but nothing to suggest anyone was born there.