Posts Tagged ‘Disability’

Installation and Impact: The Disability History Timeline

Posted February 28th, 2019

In conjunction with our presentation of A Fierce Kind of Love (March 1—3), the Institute on Disabilities’ work that tells the untold story of Pennsylvania’s Intellectual Disability Rights Movement, FringeArts and the Institute have developed two public history timelines that follow the movement for disability rights and self-determination from the turn of the 19th century to today. The first timeline has been installed in the second floor gallery hallway at the Parkway Central Library, and the second one can be found in the East-West corridor of the City Hall courtyard. The project, focused on continuing engagement for the performances of A Fierce Kind of Love in partnership with Disability Equality in Education, displays the largely untold history of this particular civil rights movement to areas of Philadelphia with high foot traffic. The timeline is made up of 24 decals that each recall an imperative moment in the struggle for accessibility and dignity.

disability history timeline

In 2016, the Philadelphia Research Initiative reported that 16% of people living in Philadelphia had a cognitive, emotional, or physical disability. That equates to roughly 246,000 people and crowns Philadelphia as having the highest percentage of citizens with disabilities amongst the nation’s top 10 largest cities. For such a large percentage of people, it’s quite surprising that finding information around the city about accessibility, disability history, and disability activism is not exactly an easy feat. A Fierce Kind of Love was created from this disregard and its mission is to draw attention to the lost history of this movement and the overlooked reality of living with disabilities. The Disability History Timeline helps expand on the show’s mission and provides valuable information that draws connections between the movement’s past and its evolution to the present. It was also designed to bridge the gap between the intellectual disability rights movement and the physical disability rights movement which are consistently separated. This design is inclusive among those with any kind of disability and represents all of these folks on an equal spectrum.

On the morning of February 12th, members of FringeArts and the Institute met at the Parkway Central Library to install the timeline. After all of the materials were brought up to the second floor, the team organized all of the decals in chronological order on the floor against the wall. The installation process began by placing the middle decal in the center-point of the wall in order to create an anchor for the timeline out from the center. This first placement was crucial for the visual flow of the timeline, but deciding on the placement of this first decal also made us contemplate how to make the timeline visually accommodating for all. We even enlisted the help of a library security guard who had been watching us prepare for installation to determine at the timeline’s height in order to be seen by everyone, including folks in wheelchairs. With a solid prep-then-adhere system in place for each decal, the timeline was completely installed within the hour. The passersbys who had been curiously watching from afar slowly began to walk down the hallway to take a peek at the finished result. Some came with questions about what the project was for and others walked down the hallway reading through the timeline with a silent curiosity. It was incredible to see the anticipated effect of the timeline come to fruition right before our eyes. People began engaging with us about the project and that quickly developed into conversation about disability rights, accessibility, and more. Most of the inquiring minds expressed how shocked they were that they had no idea that this movement even occurred! It was clear that their interest was sparked by the informative and impactful nature of the project. Each person we spoke to during the installation process graciously thanked us for providing a resource that shines a light on the disability rights movement and promotes a dialogue about it within our community.

The installation in the City Hall courtyard on February 25th required the same precision as the first process, but involved environmental elements that amplified the experience. Although the large gusts of wind exaggerated the bite in the air, we were able to secure the giant sticker decals to the courtyard pavement quickly and efficiently with the help of the City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy team members and a variety of tools. We used a device made up of two wood boxes and a string to line up the decals with the compass that marks the center of the courtyard. One box was placed on the very edge of the compass and the other box was placed directly across from it a few feet away causing the string to become taut. The string became our guide for centering the decals and making sure that they were being placed in a straight line. Once the placement was correct, one person pulled off the back of the sticker while two others used their hands to smooth out the decal on the pavement. The last step was using a paint roller to apply pressure across the decal in order to ensure that it was fully adhered to the ground. We repeated this process twenty-three times until completed. This process drew a lot of attention since we were working around mid-day and the courtyard was constantly buzzing with people. Just like the installation process in the library, people began watching us work and asked us questions about the project. Once again, conversations about the disability rights movement flowed naturally. One woman we spoke to even told us about her experience with her son’s intellectual disability and how she hopes more accessible information about disabilities will be on display in the city in the future.

Using the string to line up the decals during the City Hall installation

Each timeline will occupy its temporary home for a period of several weeks in order to encourage people to interact with the information before or after going to see A Fierce Kind of Love. In concurrence with the physical presence of the timeline, intergenerational story-sharing events will be held at each timeline location in order to facilitate conversation between students and seasoned self-advocates who took part in the movement. These events will connect students to self-advocates’ stories about the events on the timeline from a first-person perspective and will show younger audience members how they can become their own activists.

The Disability History Timeline will be at the Parkway Central Library from Feb 12-Mar 15 and the East-West corridor of the City Hall Courtyard from Feb 25-end of March. You’ve got plenty of time to check it out either before or after seeing A Fierce Kind of Love!

Disabled like a titanium lollipop: Musician, Model, and Medical Experiment at the 2015 Fringe

Posted July 29th, 2015

1683-e37a8444bc2810407a1fd83fba3b1b8a“Anomie was born at age twenty on an operating table. Surgical experiments saved her life but left her disabled like a titanium lollipop.”

Anomie is a musician. Outside of creating music, she models for “Sick and Sexy,” her self-created group for alternative models with disabilities. Anomie has undergone several surgeries.  She is an artist who has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a genetic defect in connective tissue, which impacts joints, skin, and muscles. After a series of medical issues in 2008, she was forced to discard her life as a biochemistry college student in exchange for a new identity. The physical complications that occurred as a result of EDS have not only left her physically disabled, but have also stranded her on the outskirts of society. “My bones are titanium from the neck up, and I’ve been an electric wheelchair user for almost three years now.  I refer to it as ‘my mecha-body,’ although I would prefer a robotic exoskeleton because sitting still for long periods of time really sucks,” Anomie says.

Anomie is taking her music and story to the 2015 Fringe Festival in a show, called Musician, Model & Medical Experiement. During her performance, which takes place at Agno Grill on September 6, 10, and 16, Anomie shares her story and reclaims her identity through song and burlesque. “The songs are about all sorts of things, evil doctors, bad boyfriends, bad girlfriends, vampires, and living in public housing in the projects. I will be doing at least one burlesque act per show. Because of my restricted mobility I cannot dance for burlesque, so I sing and use props instead,” she says. Her songs consist of guitar and digital back tracks. Some of her pieces are collaborative works, while others are solo creations. While Anomie’s music captures her own story, she references the larger disabled community. “I’d like to tell a story more than just singing and performing. The story is my personal experience, but the show is as much about me as it is about all of those who go through these challenges.”

Greatnecklogo-257x300Anomie refers to her community as “the underworld.” She uses this term because disabled people are locked out of society, prevented from participating in mainstream culture, by those in power who fail to include people with chronic medical conditions. Her songs make visible a group of people society tends to ignore. “I refer to ‘crip’ society as ‘the underworld’ a lot because of the way we have to live with chronic medical conditions. I am unable to work a standard job, live an average full life, get married, have a family, and feel like a part of regular society. This is not because of I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome really. This is mostly because the system we live in does not allow disabled people to do that,” she says. Our city is inaccessible. The larger structure of our society allows disabled people to be disregarded. When the disabled community is not swept underneath the societal rug, they are noticed specifically for their difference through events that highlight their disability, like Special Olympics and non-profit fundraisers. Anomie is either erased from society or put underneath a microscope like a unrecognizable object. “I’ve had done experimental treatments for the neurological problems associated with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Arnold Chiari Malformation and Tethered Spinal Cord.  My cranio-cervical fusion surgery was recorded and used for teaching purposes at the Harvey Cushing Institute of Neuroscience.

When asked if she had a fetish, Anomie responded “No, but there are fetishes for people like me.”  She explained one called ‘devotee’ in which a person sexualizes care-taking of a disabled person. The other she explained was called ‘Agalmatophilia’ which is the fetishization of a statue, or in her case a person who is fixed solid with fusion implants.

1683-ab13436c70b238738d5e76d763fbad1c“Disability is the ultimate counterculture.” After struggling to participate in society, Anomie realized that she would always be excluded. Instead of trying to return to college for the third time, she is developing an identity that works for her. As she sings, she claims agency and strength, despite living in a world that denies her power. “I picked the name Anomie for myself, because that’s exactly what the word means: disconnected, rebel. But I’m not disconnected really, there’s a whole community of people living in this ‘underworld’ finding ways to make what we’re given with work.”

Musician, Model & Medical Experiment
Agno Grill
2104 Chestnut Street
Sept 6 at 3pm
Sept 10 at 9pm
Sept 16 at 9pm
Click for tickets

–Courtney Lau

Newly-Abled Bodies: Interview with Neighborhood Fringe artist Laurencio Ruiz

Posted July 29th, 2014

“Puppetry allows me to socialize people—it seems to me that we are no longer able to touch, to talk, and to listen to each other.”

Laurencio Ruiz in 2011. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Laurencio Ruiz in 2011. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Why do so many of us avert our eyes from people physically different from ourselves? Why are so many of us uncomfortable with differences in ability? In his 2014 Fringe Festival puppet show, Incongruous, Laurencio Ruiz raises these questions and challenges us to reevaluate our definitions of ability and disability. Laurencio refers to the puppets in his show not as disabled, but as newly-abled. As the lines between puppet and human and between abled and disabled blur, Laurencio reminds the audience of its shared humanity and connection. Incongruous runs Sept 5­–21 at Studio X (1340 S 13th St.). We talked to Laurencio to find out more about his production and his experience with puppetry.

FringeArts: What drew you to puppetry?

Laurencio Ruiz: Since my childhood, I have been fascinated by puppetry, thanks to the wisdom of Sesame Street, which became the landmark and universal point of reference. I learned about what puppets can do for us. At the age of ten, using two Sesame Street hand puppets borrowed from my best friend, I performed several small shows in my front yard charging 25 cents.

Back in Mexico, my home country, during college, I got involved in designing and building puppets seriously for theater productions, a national television show, and commercials. I collaborated with a couple of talented visual artists in their studios. This collaborative and challenging period was very rewarding personally and professionally. During that time, I was also involved in performance art—designing and performing objects as “puppets” for several performance art events and venues, as well as creating art installations for diverse art galleries, museums, and trade shows.

The beginning of my development as a puppeteer began during my last year of graduate school here in the U.S. After the events of September 11, 2001, as an artist I was in need of creating a piece of performance art to exteriorize my rage, compassion, love, understanding, courage, and forgiveness in my own terms and language. I came to the realization that puppetry would be able to help me heal and share my experiences; it was the right artistic medium.

But most importantly, puppetry allows me to socialize people—it seems to me that we are no longer able to touch, to talk, and to listen to each other. Sometimes we are afraid of the “different” (based on gender, ethnicity, race, cultural background, appearance, body image, accent, manner of dress, sexual orientation).  Puppetry allows us to do that again—to socialize and interact with each other without guilt, fear, or embarrassment, because puppetry involves cooperation and trust. It makes us conscious of our own bodies and the bodies of others, as well as allowing us to appreciate our capacities. Things that we take for granted, our daily routine, are acts that puppetry reminds us to appreciate, because puppetry transcends cultures and language, because at its core is our humanity. Just as puppets are used as a part of medical healing, they can bridge seemingly insurmountable gaps between people.

Laurencio Ruiz in performance. Photo by Michele Corbman.

Laurencio Ruiz in performance. Photo by Michele Corbman.

FringeArts: What inspired you to create Incongruous?

Laurencio Ruiz: The first idea was inspired by a very good friend of mine, Ana Vaquera. She was the greatest single mother I know, and had a single leg. One day I saw her standing with her crutch when her baby crawled over to her. She put the crutch to the side and, in an amazing balancing act, she lifted her baby son from the floor. This was such a beautiful moment of love without limits; I was so moved that eventually I asked her if she would allow me to make a puppet based on her.

From there I didn’t know how to make concrete, to materialize, my idea of working with physical disabilities, until a couple weeks later I found an interview in Esquire Magazine in 2007.  I was again so moved by the story of an Iraq veteran, Brian Anderson, that I couldn’t stop thinking about experiences and challenges each of them faced every day. This moment was my epiphany, and the starting point for my project.

FringeArts: Can you describe the process of creating a puppet show?

Laurencio Ruiz: In my case, the creative process for a puppet show comes in a variety of ways. Sometimes it starts with an image, something from an article in the newspaper, or from people I meet. The script is the last part of the process. I start with the structure or the main idea of the show, then develop the characters (gender, physical appearance, personality, size) and decide how many puppets I will need. During this time I start planning the plot and possible story lines.

FringeArts: Do you create new puppets for every piece that you write?

Laurencio Ruiz: Yes, I do, because every project is very different. Many times, in each project I make a new generation of puppets, improved and with new tricks, with different mechanisms and effects.

FringeArts: What makes a successful puppet?

Laurencio Ruiz: When the puppet is able to reach audiences and stimulate their curiosity. When I hear the audience being mesmerized and see them captivated by the puppets, I know I have been successful. When they come up after the performance and show that their interest goes beyond just superficial entertainment.

Often, I work to create artistic visual narratives that, at some point during the show, invite the audience members to be part of the performance as puppeteers. I invite them to literally “give me a hand.” That is, I ask an audience member to be the puppet’s right hand. We complete actions together, so the audience has the opportunity to see and practice both sides of puppetry.

Photo by Michele Corbman.

Photo by Michele Corbman.

FringeArts: What were the challenges in making Incongruous?

Laurencio Ruiz: The challenge was how to present these stories as one, because this show is not a play with a logical plot development.

From my point of view as puppeteer, since the puppet has fewer body parts for me to move, I am challenged on how to allow him or her to express him or herself. So the challenge is to build or create capacity while breaking the normalizing gaze of the audience members.

FringeArts: Has creating this production affected your understanding of physical disability and ability?

Laurencio Ruiz: Creating this production confirmed for me that we—not the puppets—are the disabled, because we are the ones who no longer talk or touch or see or listen to each other. This incapacity/disability results from our lack of physical contact and communication with each other, and is not based on the missing limb. Even though we can, we don’t.

This “newly-abled” puppet show bares all to generate a safe playground for the audience to become less prejudiced and more friendly to the “different,” to explore new realms of the eerie, the weird, and the odd. The more we are exposed to people with physical disabilities, the more we normalize our perception of what they really are—people, like you and me.

When we look at nude Greek sculptures, even when they are mutilated or missing limbs, we don’t get scared or avoid looking at them or see them as odd. Instead, we still encounter their presence and appreciate their bodies’ beauty. So why are we not doing the same with the physically disabled?

That’s why this “newly-abled” puppet show invites you to look at their bodies without fear and without seeing them as odd. They don’t want to be objectified; instead, they want to inspire reflection about our own bodies.

Thank you, Laurencio. We can’t wait!

All Fringe Festival tickets are on sale online. Tickets to Incongruous are available here.

$10 / 45 minutes
Studio X
1340 South 13th Street
Wheelchair accessible

Sept 5­–7 at 6pm + 7pm
Sept 12 at 4pm + 11:30pm
Sept 13 at 2:30pm + 9:30pm
Sept 19 at 4pm + 11:30pm
Sept 20 at 2:30pm + 9:30pm
Sept 21 at 5:30pm + 6:30pm

—Miriam Hwang-Carlos