IETM Brussels

In November, I was very fortunate to receive a bursary from the British Council and Unlimited to attend IETM Brussels as part of an initiative to get more artists from d/Deaf, disabled and BAME backgrounds into the room. Taking place just before a new collaboration with sound artist Gemma Nash was due to begin, the bursary felt like a timely opportunity to contextualise the work we want to make around sexuality and disability in an international sphere, and potentially make some contacts that could help us take our work to other countries in the future.

dav

From what the British Council and Unlimited teams had to say, it sounded like that there had been systematic problems with access and diversity at these meetings in the past. These bursaries were one relatively simple way of making it easier to attend. As any independent artist can tell you, money is a huge factor in accessing any opportunity that doesn’t guarantee some pay in return, and attendance at IETM requires a registration fee on top of any travel and accommodation to get you there.

But of course, for those who experience marginalisation on account of (dis)ability, there’s more to support than simply money. Being given cash support to travel to a meeting is all well and good but not if the meeting itself leaves you high and dry when it comes to access support (it’s not so uncommon for me to review UK festival programmes and venue brochures that have low / unclear access provision, which I experience as part of my work as an Arts Council Artistic Quality Assessor). Add to this the potential to feel intimidated and isolated as a solo traveller to an international meeting of this size and it’s no surprise attendance from marginalised communities is lower than average.

To address this, the bursaries had a lot of sensible pastoral support built in. Our British Council contacts planned get-togethers in advance, and gave tips and advice for relevant meetings to attend. We also had an independent contact for negotiating access and any concerns in the form of the very friendly Katie, who put together a WhatsApp Group for us to keep in touch with. We were encouraged to feel part of a group who could socialise, keep each other company and give each other mutual support.

2017-11-23 09.42.33.jpg

(I didn’t take too many photos while I was there – too busy networking – but I loved this wallpaper).

The framework for support put in place by the British Council and Unlimited was definitely a positive intervention to the IETM experience. The biggest challenge I had was my own health: I arrived in Brussels on a 7:35am Eurostar from St. Pancras International with my fellow artists and friends, Greg, & Anne, as well as a horrid cold / flu, my energy levels at their absolute nadir. I came very close to burnout at the end of last year, a state compounded by my own medication regimen; IETM was when I was at my lowest ebb. Thankfully, the effects of burnout on physical and mental health, and how to prevent them, have been getting greater attention recently with creative producers like Luke Emery dedicating parts of their site to advice on how NOT to run yourself into the ground. I could have done with this advice (and someone to coach me to follow it) about, oh…I don’t know, four years ago but, c’est la vie.

On the plus side, I’d managed to line up an excellent opportunity to speak about mine and Gemma’s collaboration at Newsround, a session of 30 artists giving 3 minute pitches on their work to an audience of international artists, producers and venues on the second day of the meeting. This opportunity was highlighted as a valuable chance to introduce yourself as a newcomer to the wider group in advance by Steven Brett, Programme Manager at British Council. I’d expected a room of maybe 60 or 70 people; what I got was probably 200+ people packed into a sizeable hall at the beautiful La Raffinerie/Charleroi dance building, making me feel very relieved to have taken some time out from the first day’s activities to prepare.

As far as I could tell, the presentation was well received, and I had some very supportive and productive chats afterwards with Christoph Jankowski from Creative Europe, and international artist, Shabnam Shabazi. However, I’ve very little knowledge to what extent work that addresses sexuality and disability is supported in Europe. I’d hoped, perhaps naively, that I might get even more people than that wanting to talk after the session… but then, a lot stigma and misinformation still persists around HIV, the topic I most want to address; on top of that, the UK is leaving the European Union: two pretty clear barriers to getting this kind of work on the road outside of the UK. Knowing exactly who to approach and follow up the presentation with would have been made much easier with some prior research. Tim Wheeler, co-founder of Mind The Gap suggested to the group that going through the delegate list would be a useful way of doing so, followed by working the room to see ‘who knows who’. If I were to go back for a second time, I’d definitely carve out more time for this approach; time that was in very short supply thanks to my scheduling in November.

IETM is a bit of beast. There are 100 different things to do over the course of 4 days, and this particular meeting had close to 800 delegates, nearly a third more than they usually expect. Choosing what to go to and who to speak to is a task in itself. I didn’t always make the right choice: at one point, I found myself at a one hour presentation about how to ‘survive’ your arts career, which was in effect a run-down of the contents page of a publication I could have downloaded in my own good time. In future, I’d probably skip the ‘practical sessions’ offered as part of the programme as most seemed aimed at much bigger scale projects and organisations than I’m working in. Instead, I’d spend more time at those with an artistic bent.

The ‘Talking To Everybody, Everybody’s Talking’ session is the one of these that sticks most in my mind, partly because of the total contrasts within it. Acknowledgement to Country with Amrita Hepi was a sensitive demonstration of Aboriginal traditions for acknowledging the traditional landowners of a meeting place. It was full of warmth, charm and generosity. Carefully facilitated by Amrita, I was guided to a reflective space where I could consider the rural and industrial landscapes of Shropshire I grew up in, the legacy of the Industrial Revolution that happened right on my doorstep, and what I might do about it in future.

By contrast, Seppe Baeyens’ INVITED described itself as creating ‘clear (democratic) forms’ for ‘community building and alternative forms of interaction’ but hadn’t considered what kind of agency the audience could have to participate or refuse for it to be truly democratic. Ostensibly, by playing with distance between audience and performer, the performance would break down barriers to inclusion by making the audience as much a part of the score of movements and gestures as the intergenerational cast. It’s the kind of work that could happen easily in a public square in the middle of a crowd of passers-by.

What this meant was the performers walking up to people on the front row and plucking them out of their seats with an urgency that left little time or room for people to say no easily without feeling disruptive, or at least communicating what kind of access needs they might have, guiding them through the movements and then depositing them somewhere else in the seating arrangement. It felt to me that there was an assumption that everyone would feel comfortable with communicating their desire to (not) participate, and what they would need to do so in a moment of fast-moving performance that appeared to depend on the co-operation of all involved. I was never pulled out of my seat but from what I observed, it felt less like an invitation and more like an imperative. It was all very well intentioned but sadly, overlooked some fairly fundamental considerations around access.

The session sort of encapsulates the messy mix of positives and negatives about the experience. There’s evidence that IETM is trying to be more reflective on how and why it runs, and how it can be more supportive of its delegates. One of the final programmed events was a Feedback Session that invited attendees to share their thoughts of their experience. Plenty of the British Council supported artists attended, and being able to feedback directly to the organisers on our experiences was welcome. But it was undermined somewhat by the segregation of IETM members from IETM guests, reinforcing a sense of being on the fringes. Partly I think this was because IETM wanted to gain some insight on whether we were likely to join as paid members for future sessions, and what would encourage us to do so. But that muddied the water of what the session was really for: for IETM to become a better, more inclusive experience for its delegates, or to become better at recruiting new membership?

2017-11-26 13.47.02.jpg

An unexpected side-effect of coming to IETM was the extent to which I reconnected with my fellow artists from the UK and abroad. I saw Leo, Ali, Jason, Alison and Luke. I reconnected with Lise and Sally, and Geoffrey from Euclid. Add to this the gang of delegates I attended with, there was a bigger gang of friendly faces than I’d expected. Despite the uncertainty of Brexit, there are still plenty of UK-based artists searching for European forums for their work, and I count myself as one of them.

Sunday 31st Dec 2017

Last year I had my runes read by Noa from Sheaf & Barley in the Barbican greenhouse. Seven creamy-white pebbles (?) inscribed with symbols were laid carefully between us on the low stone wall that served as both tabletop and seat. They were there as part of an event organised by Justin, Johanna and Season’s I’m With You, nestled in a kind of arbour. A crowd of artists, queers and unsuspecting general public mingled amongst the leaves and fronds around us.

Everything felt grey. I had descended from a grey morass of cloud and taxied along a grey tarmac runway at [insert airport name here] a few hours earlier, getting a train that arrived at London Bridge which had its own shinier, sleeker, more modern kind of grey, one that followed me into the earth via the Underground station. Topside once again in the City of London, the Barbican’s towered like a drab Tetris block. Inside, the sky spied through the greenhouse ceiling was mute.

Oss: the voice – was the rune that bound the others together. I felt a lump in my throat – and swallowed it back again.

iu

I’ve had this reading, this rune, in my mind for most of this year. A year in which I’ve said more than I probably ever have before. But this risks getting mawkish and I’d rather cut this off here, so the year ends as it should: headless and writhing in the dust.

 

Sunday 24th Dec 2017

It’s that time of year.

Sunday 17 Dec 2017

Earlier this year, a mouse crawled into the space within my bedroom wall – the one directly beneath the headboard of my bed – and died.

What started as a vague presentiment of something amiss on the Sunday evening had, by the following morning, bloomed into a richly pungent stink. I lived with that smell for  about 10 days. I would tell my workmates, “I think a mouse has died in my wall,” secretly seething with rage, wishing I could prise the plaster apart in huge clumps, Incredible Hulk style, grab the corpse and fling it as far as possible into a neighbour’s garden (of course, I’ve just realised, the Hulk could probably throw it into the stratosphere, but I like the image of it being lobbed gingerly instead).

IMG_20171216_232655.jpg

I tried to stay out of my bedroom as much as possible. I kept the windows open, turned up the heating to try and dry the carcass out, and bought some room odourisers (not poppers) to mask the smell – but none of it really made much of a difference; it came in aggressive waves, peaking on the Friday when I told a date demurely that, sorry, there was a dead mouse in the wall and it wouldn’t be much fun to go home right now. And then it trailed off. No onslaught of bluebottles afterwards; one or two, but nothing too bad.

Those 10 days felt interminable. The thought crossed my mind that maybe this was some kind of prank by the Universe, well-overdue karma or simple poetic justice: enduring the fumes of a curdling rodent while I programmed and promoted a club night about sex, death, the afterlife and – fountain of morbid fragrances – the butt. As if to say, if you love these topics so much, why don’t we get a bit immersive?

There is a story in David Eagleman’s SUM that says when you die, you live your whole life again but with every individual activity grouped together i.e. seven months standing under a shower. I do not look forward to revisiting that smell for any period of time, or the mountains of stress and anxiety returning to programming caused me (not that I didn’t enjoy the end result, or consider it successful, because I did).

mde

There is a room in my house which is almost completely given over to my landlady storing old mattresses, bed frames, broken shelving units, bags of cement, boxes of family trinkets, and so on. I prefer this to having another tenant. I keep my bike there, out of the hallway. I was putting it away last night when I noticed a nice bookshelf half-buried behind the mountain of discarded bric-a-brac, the sea of stuff in limbo.

The bookshelf now sits in my room. I’ve finally hung the beautiful Julia Bardsley print my ex gave to me nearly a year and a half a go. There are roses in a vase on the kitchen table, a lampshade over the light. Soon there will be painted orchids in the bathroom and bedroom.

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to begin turning this home into a place I love, not simply bear. I’ve had the good fortune and comparative luxury to receive some funding for a project, which has given me some breathing space to consider how it is I live, where I live, and how much I do. 

Watching Louisa Robbin’s slow and considered performance at Future Ritual on Friday evening, I listened to all the things she would do when she recovered. “I wouldn’t even do half of that much” I thought to myself. I’m probably still fresh from a near-burnout over November: illness, tiredness, and too much travelling.

Rather than making art, I’ve been buying and – better yet – finding little things that will make my home an enjoyable place to be. ‘Home-maker’: denigrated and oft-dismissed epithet for the one who stays in the house, cooks, cleans, raises the kids if there are kids to be raised. Take a hammer to this attitude.

 

 

Monday 20th Nov 2017

I’m drinking a coffee I ordered by mistake in Prague airport. I thought I asked for an espresso but instead I have a really tall coffee with a bouffant of whipped cream. The coffee tastes like it’s exhausted / two men sat at a nearby table.

I sit and watch planes taxi on the wet, autumn morning tarmac. The big sign that I saw from the bus; the one that said “SkyPort”. Is that what they call it here / sat very close together.

Because the sky is the destination and our jets never come down / their legs are almost touching.

Reverie interrupted by the waiter. He has one of those barbell facial piercings that go through the upper-bridge of the nose. Brings me a ham and Emmental cheese panini on counterfeit bread. Places it on the table before me. Avoids making eye contact. And walks back towards the bar / one leans over to the other.

The scene is soundtracked by characterless dance music made by an Italian robot w/ dick-head haircut + rebellious leather biker jacket / they go for this kiss.

Bad coffee. Worse food. But not bad myself / hands clutched chastely beneath the table where I can see it.

dav

Sunday 12th Nov 2017

dav

17 year old secluded + closeted teen in suburban Telford. The Smell Of Our Own by The Hidden Cameras: frank, homoerotic lyrics paired with ornate choral arrangements (meandering viola, vaporous organ). It smelt (still smells) musty to me: like dried bodily fluids in a Thoreau wood cabin, nesting under a clear blue sky. Tied to a burgeoning and unrealised desire, the songs have stuck to my psyche like crumpled-up tissues trampled underfoot ever since.

Returning to these songs on the 09:38 Virgin Pendelino from Liverpool Lime Street to London Euston, seat A02 in the QUIET COACH, experiencing full acceptance of the body and a sensuality that extends beyond the urban self, which moved (still moves) via Oyster Card from A+B in search of instant, Pret-A-Manger style gratification. Off-the-shelf. I have taken myself off the shelf. Or become ‘sadly circumscribed’ as one supposedly liberated man put it this week.

Anyway, sense of release and renewal despite / or because it is nearly the welcome death of another year. Slightly fewer, less-immediate and dispersed work commitments plus quite a bit more funding so less ARSEtistically constipated. And with it, space to consider how things could be done better. Namely: the muscles moving, epidermis gilded w/ sweat, saliva + fresh non-capital air, someone’s teeth clamped round scruff o’ the neck.

I read this really lovely and fascinating interview with AA Bronson, formerly of General Idea, on butt massages. The more I read and research this topic, and a lot of it seems to be falling in my lap, the less…uhh, outside of everything I feel. The ass: site of squirreled-away-shame and untapped power. The gluten, strongest muscles of the body, foundation of civilisation. Stand up bent.

dav

Also, was nice chat last night with a producer on the rooster-tail butt plug: male flamboyance and display. Keep with it. Should really have a chat with Wellcome at some point.

Liverpool because I was up for work. Saw we hold where study by Wu Tsang, a hypnotically circular and evasive video choreographic work where the drone becomes an active participant (observer, surveillance, predator), and two different projection frames overlap so the work shifts through synchronicity and dissonance. Something inherently sad and anxious in the work, these two couples unable to rest or escape, to travel and commune between worlds, their race and gender expressions foregrounded. Wish I had a copy to keep.

Saturday 4th Nov 2017

Year of the Butt. Men From Behind. Naked Boys Reading: B*ttmunch. Haunted Butts. Butts, butts, butts. Why butts? Salacious homo-smut or earnest body-positive crusade? Might have manifested in either / multiple way(s). Simply quite fascinated in this ‘blind’ spot of the body and its associations. Also, I like them. Get a fair amount of pleasure from them.

imgbtch-hauntedbutt-web-img_3517

Discovered: gastromancy, the Victorian-belief that spirits entered the body via rectum and spoke from the stomach (see also: ventriloquism) . Daisy Campbell speaks eloquently and enthusiastically on subject. Also, the crystal ball as surrogate belly. Listen: it growls. Historic precedent for ghosts and butts made me feel marginally less insane when creating Haunted Butts, queer performance party which was a lot of fun and work.

Mouth voice, intangible emanations from the self, polar opposites of the anus and ordure. Words escape us. Relevant to Lacan’s quilting point: language pins down a meaning like a stud in sofa upholstery; remove it and meaning unravels through a butthole aperture. See Jonathan Kemp’s ‘The Penetrated Male‘. The generative possibilities of both openings. More control over one than the other.

On digestion and eating: “all spiritual pleasure can be expressed through eating”, because “the physical assimilation is mysterious enough to be a beautiful image of the spiritual meaning” (Novalis). Also, “to love without wanting to devour must surely be anorexic” (Derrida).

[Well aware I might sound like a nob quoting philosophers whose books I’ve not read, thanks for pointing that out, let’s proceed.]

imgbtch-hauntedbutt-web-img_4814

Tooth-torn and ground-down on Grindr: chomp! chomp! chomp! Oh insatiable urge. Locusts turn cannibal. Stop here for agricultural apocalypse as depicted in John Maus’s The Combine (“I hear the combine coming / It’s going to dust us all to nothing.”)

Fundamental experience and divisive subject eliciting embarrassed laughter or wide-eyed agreement. Carries sense of dirty joke around with it. Which is fine. I’m happy to laugh along.

Laptop interjects: NO BACKUPS FOR 67 DAYS | CLOSE