Lou Coleman: LADA Study Room Gathering Response

Visit Lou's blog to see documentation from her three day Research and Development Lab on I'll Get a Chair (2017).


As an Unlimited artist I created Unstrapped (2014). My new piece, I’ll Get a Chair (2016), draws on reactions from people who ‘discover’ my diagnoses of left side hemiplegia cerebral palsy.

Two years on from Unlimited and now a alumni, my practice is beginning to consider more deeply how we speak about, and understand, disability, and the ways in which performance can explore perceptions of the body and of the self.

My Unlimited commission developed my artistic practice to create autobiographical work – to use my experiences of ‘having a disability’ to push the boundaries of what it means and looks like to ‘have a disability’. Having left side hemiplegia cerebral palsy my curiosity was sparked by the idea of a body in two halves. One side of me offers stability whilst the other goes away and parties! Drawing on my experiences where I shift through disability worlds, Unstrapped, was about illuminating the expected and unexpected uses of my medical equipment through dance and film. I had a residency on a working farm, and throughout the making of the commission I worked with finding natural moments of humour and playful juxtapositions, between the rigid medical equipment and the light-heartedness of being amid a herd of cows and wondering sheep!

My Study Room Gathering came after receiving Arts Council funding for I’ll Get a Chair. I had many questions about my artistic practice, how I create work, who with and how important it is to see myself as disabled, especially as my cp is invisible and visible, at times shifting between the disabled and non-disabled worlds. The gathering was organised after the Unlimited Festival at the South Bank Centre in London and took place during the Paralympic Games in Rio. The timing was crucial. Wider political and social conversations were being had on a more general public level. Some conversations were around disability and ‘just’ ability, others around sports and being super human, or ‘just’ human. Many conversations are still being had about financial benefits and entitlements, disability living allowances and Personal Independence Payment. 

The Study Room Gathering sparked discussions about being an artist. To listen to other opinions and practices, and to clarify what my work is and isn't, as someone who can articulate between disabled and non-disabled conversations. Finding more opportunities to question some of the elusive boundaries surrounding ‘being disabled’ and ‘being a artist’. We spoke about the importance of artistic principles of creating performance, which has rigour and embeds access requirements into my whole artistic practice.

The provocations from the gathering finds me pushing boundaries of what is it to be 'disabled' in the sense of how being 'disabled' or 'non-disabled' is sometimes spoken about within the arts. It feels like platforms are created for either/or these groups, which can mean there is a pull towards being, either/or too. When my label of hemiplegia cp sits between disabled and non-disabled, as clear cut as straight down my midline, I find myself in conversations about where I create work and which platforms to consider. Leaving aside disability for a moment, what I can do, as a point to start from, is talk and create work from my experiences of having cp, but then move on because cp is part of a much wider conversation for me artistically and a topic which I can create work from to find connections with audiences.

With Help From Dorcas was a piece I made in 2007. The strap line was, “a light-hearted performance in a disused hospital in Coventry, late at night. With Help from Dorcas gives a glimpse into Lou’s experiences with the NHS”. The piece invited the audience to witness some of the physio routines I’ve had to do to correct the way I walk at the age of 21, the NHS tasks I’ve had to complete and what I used to do the night before a hospital appointment. From choosing the most appropriate underwear to which perfume to wear! Creating work from what I know, based on experiences seems more authentic to me. Audiences were invited to sit on tennis balls to un-knot their glute muscles and learn how to chop a cauliflower for an assessment.

As I carry on with developments for I’ll Get a Chair, I feel an unfamiliarity with discussing disability on a wider scale. My identity is not one of 'disabled' or 'non-disabled', it’s more fluid, more invisible and visible, more two halves that begin to make a whole. For now my artistic practice will continue to push boundaries of the moments when my cp is ‘discovered’ by others – the unpacking of the seen and unseen at the same time.

Banner image credit:

Lou Coleman, Legs and the apple tree. Image Credit Ruby Freeman

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