Friday Ephemera
First Contact

Another Arts Council Triumph

Speaking of the Arts Council and its casual arrogance, Karen steers our attention to this little nugget:

A dance artist with epilepsy is to try to induce a seizure on stage. Rita Marcalo has stopped taking her medication ahead of the event at The Bradford Playhouse. Arts Council England, which is funding the performance, said it aimed to raise awareness about the condition. Ms Marcalo, the artistic director of Leeds-based dance company, Instant Dissidence, plans to induce a seizure as part of the 24-hour Involuntary Dances event on 11 December, which will also include dance and poetry readings.

Ah, dance, poetry and epileptic fitting. A fine night out by anyone’s standards. But how will this gesture – sorry, seizure - be achieved? Isn’t it all rather messy and difficult to predict

During the 24 hours Marcalo will be engaging in a series of epilepsy inducing acts: from ingesting legal brain stimulants (alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, dark chocolate), to stimulating the brain through strobe lights and specially designed computer programmes, to raising her bodily temperature, to fasting, to trying out methods utilised to induce seizures in animal testing, to sleep deprivation.

Chocolate, booze and fasting?

If she has a seizure, an alarm will sound and the audience will be invited to film on their mobile phones.

And it’s interactive too. How terribly modern.  

Diane Horton of Arts Council England said: “This project raises awareness of a disability through the artist’s personal experience of epilepsy and we support this... Rita is an important artist whose work deserves to be seen and the Arts Council both respects the creative decisions she makes in her work and supports her right as a disabled person to be heard.”

Note the presumption packed in those two sentences.

The Arts Council supports her right as a disabled person to be heard.

On what basis does Ms Marcalo have a right to be heard beyond the rights available to any other member of the public? Is it because she’s an important artist? And who exactly is stopping her from being heard? Perhaps it’s a matter of cash. Maybe self-inflicted public fitting is an expensive endeavour and the only possible avenue for an artist wishing to be heard. But why is that being made my business or yours? Why should others be expected to foot the bill - to the tune of £14,000 – irrespective of their lack of interest or outright disapproval? What if I don’t wish to have my awareness raised in such pretentious and lurid terms? Can I claim a refund? Surely what the Arts Council means is, “You the taxpayer are supporting this spectacle – this artistic vision - whether you like it or not, because we have your money and We Know Best.”

Now I’ve no particular feelings regarding the morality, let alone aesthetics, of public self-harm. But if this woman wishes to gratuitously endanger her health onstage and create enormous inconvenience for those around her, then shouldn’t she at least have the decency to do it on her own dime? Why the presumptuous panhandling - and why make others complicit? Isn’t that just... arrogant?

Bradford Playhouse director Eleanor Bradford said: “Rita has made a decision that she wants to explore her own relationship with epilepsy.”

I hadn’t realised “exploring one’s relationship with epilepsy” via theatrical convulsion is now in effect a function of the welfare state. Readers who itch to see Ms Marcalo twitch should book their tickets now. As Involuntary Dances is a “one-off 24-hour event” – and as the headline act is by its nature unpredictable – the venue will offer patrons hot chocolate and biscuits.

Update, via Carbon in the comments:

The Guardian’s Allan Sutherland is of course impressed...  

I think what she’s doing is terrific – well-conceived, witty and thought-provoking. I love, for example, the idea that if she has a fit during the night the audience will be woken by a siren, so that they can film it on their mobile phones... Rita Marcalo is an artist doing what artists are supposed to do: creating work that is surprising, challenging, transgressive and exciting.

Do these people not hear themselves? Do they never pause and think, “Oh dear, I said transgressive. I sound a bit of a prick”? And note how the idea that artists might be interested in, say, making beautiful objects of one kind or another simply doesn’t feature. It’s all about being “thought-provoking,” “exciting” and very, very edgy. But hanging around for up to 24 hours on the off chance that a pretentious woman will start to fit isn’t my idea of gripping. Or witty, or thought-provoking. I mean, if you need a siren to wake up the audience, the word “exciting” doesn’t seem quite right somehow.

Note too how Mr Sutherland is very keen to tell us - at some length - what it is Marcalo intends and how lofty and challenging her ambitions are, even though he doesn’t actually quote her anywhere in the piece. Is he guessing on her behalf? Does he feel obliged to fill in the blanks? He also, rather predictably, implies that any objections to the “performance” must be based on stuffiness and prudery.

This has epilepsy charities harrumphing into their collecting cans.

It’s just a fit. Get over it.

Apparently, the only objection Mr Sutherland can imagine entails being shocked and aghast - and by implication unhip. How cool he must be. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to him that what may irritate is the presumed entitlement to public subsidy. In fact, most of the commentary I’ve seen so far focuses on the alleged “controversy” of the seizure itself, as if that were the only possible grounds for disapproval. But I don’t see that as the issue. I’ve seen people vomit and call it art and I’ve had to read press releases by people who were so goddamn edgy they wanted to give birth in a gallery. I’ve seen shit machines and x-rayed blowjobsenormous turds and alleged self-induced abortions, all presented as art and incredibly challenging.

But is anyone here actually shocked by this kind of needy, rather comical self-absorption? I find it very hard to care whether Ms Marcalo fits or doesn’t, publicly or otherwise. Try as I might, I just don’t feel transgressed. I do, however, wish I wasn’t obliged to bankroll this kind of bollocks. And it’s interesting that an article titled Epilepsy as Live Art isn’t Controversial should in fact be arguing that, actually, it is.

Update 2:

Dr Rita Marcalo is a lecturer in dance at York St John University. Her research interests include, “The application of post-classical theoretical physics to the articulation of artistic practice.”

Oh my.

Update 3:

It’s a ‘good-news-bad-news’ thing