Welcome to We Are Visible, We Are Invisible (#WAIWAV). We've put this chaotic, unusual and at times rambunctious publication together to celebrate what is a pivotal moment in the history of Disability Arts. Traditionally we – disabled artists – have most always been relegated to the community arts or education space, where we're allowed to parade under the label of 'community artist', exhibited with the implication that we do what we do for 'therapeutic' purposes, missing the point of the sharper edge of critique we offer to culture.
The more serious underlying motivations for what we create are generally ceremoniously ignored or misinterpreted. There have been moments when disabled artists have occasionally been given space in the main halls of our hallowed gallery institutions, but this is certainly the first time we've been given room to take up space in 30 galleries the length and breadth of the country – from Stromness to Belfast, from St. Ives to Eastbourne.
For me personally it feels like a major achievement in my 28 years of fighting for the recognition of Disability Arts as a powerful medium for art that challenges attitudes within our ableist culture. Disability Art proudly calls for a more humane world, with social justice and a breaking down of barriers at its core in ways playful, subtle, nuanced and at times brash. That the 31 artists taking part have been asked to respond to Dada – the movement that rallied against the conditions that brought World War I into being and raged against art, principally between the years 1916-1922 – is genius!
Back on 3 December 2007 at a conference produced by the London Disability Arts Forum at Tate Modern a comment from either Yinka Shonibare or Melvyn Bragg responding to The Disabled Avant Garde led to a much heralded line of thought that Disability Arts is the last remaining avant-garde movement. Like Dada we disrupt all that has gone before and embrace paradox as a part of our nature. Disability Arts has drawn a legacy from the Dada movement and its potential to play and rage in equal measure, with issues of social justice and representation.
The striking collage created by Sasha Saben-Callaghan for the front cover celebrates Hannah Höch, who was one of the originators of the photomontage technique. Photomontage came to prominence as a means of expressing political dissent. That spirit of protest is a key association that Dada holds in common with Disability (and Deaf) arts. DaDa as opposed to Dada. Repeat many times and you'll find the spirit which hides within.
There is a line that can be drawn from the photomontage, literature and performance of the Dada movement with its embodiment of the cut-up aesthetic, through to punk and in recent decades to Disability Arts. It is through the engagement with live art, performance or interventionist art in particular that similar ideals arise – of rule-breaking, anti-normality and the art of protest.Höch was a radical feminist of her time, challenging binary notions of gender. They embraced Dada as it made itself manifest in Berlin in 1918 – described as "a reckless onslaught" by Hans Richter in his book Dada: Art and Anti-art. In Berlin the mood of Dada was loud, brash and on edge.
Höch of all the artists summed up the spirit of cynicism that permeated Europe in the wake of the war with their viciously satirical photomontage 'Cut With the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany' – one of the artworks on exhibition in The First International Dada Art Fair held in Berlin in July 1920.
Many of the WAIWAV artists identify with Neurodivergence – a recognition that we don't all have one size fits all brains and that that is something to celebrate rather than deride or seek to 'cure'. We rally against the neurotypical by cutting, overlapping and juxtaposing fragments in disorienting but meaningful ways to reflect the confusion and chaos of the current era of pandemic and war.
The Dadaists rejected the modern moral order, the violence of war, and the political constructs that had brought about war. They recognised WW1 as the quarrel between the world’s ruling family that in effect, it was. Their goal was to subvert convention in every conceivable way they could imagine.
In the postscript to Richter's book, Art Historian Werner Haftmann proclaims that ‘Dada broke the umbilical chord that bound us to history.’ We have been pushing against a history of art that favours the exclusive, ableist attitudes of the gatekeepers, the curators and art directors, the art schools and the academia that persist in holding up an art that opposes creativity and upholds the values of the collectors and capitalists who seek to commodify and commercialise art as a form of investment. Like all political processes that dominate how we live our lives, those in control know the cost of everything and the value of absolutely nothing. In the light of climate change and the inevitable end we career towards, they seek to go to Mars without a conscience for leaving behind a planet unable to sustain mammalian life.
What Richter describes as an ‘artistic revolt against art’ was in many respects a movement invested in a polemic calling for freedom, which has parallels with Disability Arts – a movement, which has sought over the last 30 years to highlight the cages with which society continues to imprison disabled people.
We Are Visible, We Are Invisible is a direct contradiction in terms, a play on ideas of value, which within the context of the history of Disability Arts is layered with meaning. The 'we' – the collective pronoun at the heart of Disability Arts is important. Since the dawn of time our lived experience has been reduced to first person testimony and our lives represented over and again within a disableist narrative, as tragic but brave specimens. We are saddled with our lives continually being reduced to what can be seen under a microscope, medicalised and dismissed within a narrow frame of reference.
As disabled artists and as a movement our lives contain contradiction and paradox. In many ways it's our strength. We refuse to be defined from a single viewpoint. From a social model understanding, disability is the lived experience of barriers, and our art is a manifestation, an expression, a regurgitation of what those barriers mean to us on both a personal and a universal level. We are at least 1 in 4 of the population and we have been shat on, patronised, bullied by the state and told mercilessly over and again that our lives are pointless existences that shouldn't be allowed. We relentlessly see those messages masked by an apolitical do-goodery that underpins the state, society and the family’s attitudes and treatment of us.
Where Hans Arp ‘sought an art to cure the madness of the age’, we seek an art that performs and celebrates 'madness' as a mirror to the world, challenging the narrow notions of what it is to be human and the limiting impact of those chains leading us ever towards oblivion.
Dada revelled in paradox, asserting the uselessness of art and the impossibility of justifying its position in the world. But to quote Haftmann again: ‘this very paradox illustrates the importance Dada attached to ambivalence and unlimited artistic freedom.’ We emulate that bid for freedom. Our response is to offer playful conversations of the absurd, invoking the spirits of Dada, Tristan Tzara's bizarre cut-ups and Hugo Ball's eternal bliss. We offer a homage to the Ballets Russes Parade and the Cabaret Voltaire and to Barbette, a notorious non-binary performer immortalised in the portraits of Man Ray. Even as we raise the voice of Siri to that of art critic, so we question the constraints of the art establishments' narrow approach of how to behave, raising an ironic finger at the pointless rules that exclude and limit creativity.
We are basketcase, the flowers in the dustbin, and we will have our day in the sun.
The Art of Protest
There is a line that can be drawn between the initial Dada Movement (1916-1922) and the Punk and Disability Arts movements that emerged in the western world from the early half of the 1970s onwards. Characteristic of all these movements has been an expansion of ideas and forms as their influence has extended outwards into other parts of the globe. Subcultures of these movements have been interpreted through the lens of societies in different parts of the world, expressing concerns specific to lived experience. Within this wide brushstroke there have been many contradictions and anomalies but broadly speaking the art of protest – be that direct activism or nuanced statement – can be defined by the work of artists who have attempted to engage with social justice as a core rationale within their practice.
The work of the artists creating interventions as part of We Are Invisible, We Are Visible produced by DASH, are based on ideas that can be traced back to Dada in subtle and not so subtle ways. What we’ve done below is to create links to websites, podcasts, films, articles, books etc. that lay the groundwork for a bigger piece of research that discusses and expands these ideas with key resources that will help in any exploration of ways in which Dada is pertinent now in humanity’s struggle for survival.
This is a work in progress, which we will endeavour to develop over the coming months.
The International Dada Archive
Founded in 1979, the International Dada Archive is a scholarly resource for the study of the historic Dada movement. The Archive has compiled a comprehensive collection of documentation and scholarship relating to Dada.
The collection of the International Dada Archive is made up of works by and about the dadaists including books, articles, microfilmed manuscript collections, video recordings, sound recordings, and online resources. Primary access to the entire collection is through the International Online Bibliography of Dada, a catalogue containing approximately 60,000 titles. This collection is housed in various departments of the University of Iowa Libraries; most of its holdings are in either the Main Library or the Art Library.
The Digital Dada Library provides links to scanned images of original Dada-era publications in the International Dada Archive. These books, pamphlets, and periodicals are housed in the Special Collections Department of the University of Iowa Libraries and include many of the major periodicals of the Dada movement from Zurich, Berlin, Paris, and elsewhere, as well as books, exhibition catalogues, and broadsides by participants in the Dada movement.
The Archive has also microfilmed a number of public and private manuscript collections containing material on the Dada movement and on individual dadaists. Detailed finding aids exist for each of these microfilmed collections.
Dada books and journals
Dada/Surrealism (ISSN: 0084-9537 (Print) 2372-6725 (Online), ISSN-L 0084-9537) is an interdisciplinary journal publishing critical essays, bibliographies, book reviews, and primary documents on the Dada and Surrealist movements.
A Brief History of Dada
The irreverent, rowdy revolution set the trajectory of 20th-century art
Paul Trachtman writing for Smithsonian Magazine in May 2006, gives an overview of the artists and the trajectory taken by the Dada Movement
Hannah Höch: art's original punk
Brian Dillon review of Whitechapel Gallery retrospective (15 Jan 2014 – 23 March 2015) of the work of Hannah Hoch from The Guardian, (9 Jan 2014) revealing Hannah Höch as a pioneer of photomontage and a feminist icon who took a kitchen knife to the glass ceiling.
Hannah Höch's Collage Helped Me Cut Up My Own Relationship to Art and Life
Poet and writer Holly Pester offers a personal essay about a life-changing encounter with Hannah Höch’s art.
‘The Disabled Avant-Garde are the last avant-garde’ – Yinka Shonibare in conversation with Melvyn Bragg, South Bank Centre, London, 2007)
Disabled artists Katherine Araniello and Aaron Williamson were largely inspired by punk when they came to create the satirical organisation Disabled Avant-Garde. Their concern was to create contemporary art (video and performance) that might cause confusion and inspire debate through humorously distorting or subverting traditional stereotyping of disability. That is, the Disabled Avant-Garde’s work is an intervention into society’s perceptions and expectations of disabled people that often defines them by their impairments. The DAG follow the social model of disability then and their work fits the category of ‘crip humour’, being both pitch-black and self-knowing.