Jenette Coldrick

How long is a piece of string? | Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange

Wheelchair by Jenette Coldrick

This performance installation depends entirely on disability, the concept of Dada and the invisible/visible nature of being disabled. The machinery of disability is highly visible but with disability itself, this is not always so.

The string is a reference to Marcel Duchamp's ‘The First Papers of Surrealism’ - an exhibition that opened in 1942 at the Whitelaw Reid Mansion in Manhattan. Some viewers at the exhibition said the twine was like a guide, directing them toward paintings, others saw it as a metaphor for the complexities of contemporary art.  An equally mixed reaction is anticipated from the viewers in Penzance. This performance highlights the unseen and distinguishable nature of being disabled. There is neither a unified definition of disability nor a unique experience of disability across the world. Whilst impairment does not change for the better, the role of disabling barriers does change depending on the physical, social, and psychological nature of the respective environments and attitudes, cutting their links with the disabled.

“How long is a piece of string?” is also an affirmation that protest art is pointless, especially when it is embraced by the establishment it becomes the criterion. Dada not only has philosophical content, but also can be used constructively as both an observation on, and a positive, productive investigation of, the human condition.

A case in point is Banksy, who has been throwing his politically pointed and satirical pieces into the norm of everyday life. It has backfired if the original intention was to use his art as a deadly, political weapon. His work has become a collectible commodity, which he appears to embrace all the way to the bank. Within the framework of this performance, all artwork is free and therefore priceless. Yes, for the audience to receive genuine art for free!

Therefore, the exercise in itself is pointless, but the outcome hopefully is not. The string used in this intervention is endless like disability, however it is not necessarily string. String is cut and re-joined many times during the performance and itself becomes endless. If it is endless, is it still a piece of string? Cutting and re-joining yarn is like trying to live with a disability. Moving forward, stopping, restarting, coming to terms with impairment and finding ways to function. One's disability ends when one's life ends, and anyone can become disabled in a split second of existence.

This intervention is also a poke at Cornish Art bureaucracy, because I am a Cornish-born artist living in exile and yet excluded from being a Cornish Artist and producing Cornish Art. Yet I identify as being Cornish. I became aware of this issue when researching a piece on artist's identity in 2021.

2/10/2021 Question to Mark David Hatwood of Cornish Contemporary Art, Portscatho: Will the Art featured [on the new website], be Art painted in Cornwall, or Art created by Cornish Born Artists? What defines Art as being Cornish?

Answer from: Mark: Yes. All the artists featured are carefully chosen professionals based in Cornwall, Jenette.

Me: Thank you for your reply. So am I to assume, this excludes Cornish-born professionals, living and working in exile?

Answer from: Mark: It does I’m afraid, yes.

I was born in 1952, in a radio location hut, on the edge of RNAS St Merryn (HMS Vulture). My family handed down the oral histories of my ancestors, Able Woodcock 1685, Sampsome Bennett 1496, Edward Godolphin 1195. Farmers, landowners, fishermen dressmakers, gardeners, teachers, sailors, mothers, fathers, and smugglers.

I am a straight, white, heterosexual, humanist, Cornish woman that just happens to have a disability!


Twitter: @JenetteColdrick

FaceBook: jenettecoldrickart

Instagram @jenettecoldrick/


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