Motion Disabled - Exhibition Catalogue - Simon Mckeown

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‘I urge you to go to see the artist Simon McKeown’s state-of-the-art installation’ Ken Russell The Times

Simon Mckeown

MotionDisabled exhibiting difference

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Acknowledgements With thanks to contributing actors, colleagues, friends and family including Dr Paul Darke, Professor Robin Bunton, Craig McMullen, Mark Buschbacher, Nigel Crooks, John Tallon, Gary Quinn, Stuart Milne, Paul Rak, Andrew Vause, Mandie Hall, Jeff Watson, Kirsty Jarvis, Sue Sherry, Nick Mitchell, Tim Skipper, Gordon Smyrell, Simon Stobart, Derek Simpson, Drew Collins, Dan Ocean, Aaron Wardle, Andrew Walker, Iestyn Davies, Sandarah Langdale, Andrew Mckeown, Paddy Long, Jane Thompson, Sheryl Hudson, Councillor Claire Darke, Walker Darke, Spencer Hudson, Andy Salkeld, family, friends and Cynthia & Robert Mckeown. Design by: Trafford Shaw - id24 design Photography by: Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Judy Hume, Photofinale, Spencer Hudson, Andy Salkeld and others. Printed by: Fairprint, Dundee With thanks to Kate Pryor-Williams and the staff of Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Tom Ziessen and Amy Sanders Wellcome Trust, Margaret Montgomerie and Cultural Xchanges - De Montfort University, Shane Wreford - Arcadea, Tony Heaton - Chief Executive Shape Arts, Ben Fredericks - Shape Arts, Dindy Outen - Arts Officer Leicester City Council, Reuben Kench - Head of Arts and Culture Stockton Council, Theresa Veith - Director Holton Lee, Trish Wheatley, Judith Stephenson - Disability Rights Campaigner, Samantha Blackburn - Preston City Council, Lubaina Himid - Professor of Contemporary Art University of Central Lancashire, Jo Verrent - ADAInc, James Hill Director Light Night Leeds, Wesley Zepherin and Abid Hussain - Arts Council England, Kim Jong Hoon and the Organising Committee of DPICFE Korea, Jisoon Kim and Yoonae Park, Rick Stringfellow - Electronic Arts Canada, Matt Hawthorn - Interactive Arts Nottingham Trent University, Geoffrey Litherland - Nottingham Trent University, Dr Lucy Burke - Manchester Metropolitan University, Catherine Boyd - Emergency Exit Arts, Professor Lennard J. Davis - University of Illinois, Darren Mooney - University of Chester, Catrin Edwards - ITV Wales, George Giurickovic - Director, Katie Hawker - The Brewhouse Theatre & Arts Centre, Shaun Cassidy - C7 Marketing, Stewart Charles - Thin-King Media, Ben Pugh - Tribeca, Jonathon Shaw MP and Minister, Thomas Randall and Adam Barnes - Office for Disability Issues, Dan Bird, Rachel Murray and Judith Egerton - At-Bristol, Katherine Jewkes - Shift Happens: Alt Shift, Rick Randall - Arts Access Victoria Australia, Soula Antoniou, President, Stephanie Moore, Director of Visual Arts, Jennifer Wexler, Visual Arts Manager, Sonja Cendak, Festival Exhibitions Manager, Liza Key, Artist Services Coordinator - VSA Arts Washington D.C. USA, Leanne Mella - Consulting Curator, Laurel Reuter Director of the North Dakota Museum of Art, Brandon Brame Fortune - Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture - National Portrait Gallery (USA), Alejandro Mancilla - International Exhibitions Manager Expografic, Sam Wade - Project Manager DaDaFest International 10,Garry Robson - Artistic Director DaDaFest International 10.

World Disabled People’s Culture & Art Festival, Seoul - South Korea

Motion Disabled is the first in a series of on-going work exploring and representing disability, motion and Difference - an approach that questions perception of normality. Motion Disabled:Face is the second in the series. For more information please see

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MotionDisabled exhibiting difference

Essays and Exhibition

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Light Night Leeds, UK

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Simon Mckeown

MotionDisabled exhibiting difference With Motion Disabled I set out to create a body of work that was close to me and which reflected my life experience including the study of motion and form and a questioning of normality.

Motion Disabled sets out to showcase the everyday happenings and movements of difference, to capture unusual bodies so that we can in the first instance ask the obvious visual questions. Why are you different? Looking in on each other is human necessity; we compare and contrast ourselves to each other constantly as we evaluate all the physical shapes and sizes that move past us at various speeds. Motion Disabled developed from ideas of difference and movement. I wanted to show the everyday movement of people using clear and unambiguous imagery in a video installation revealed across a number of screens or projections. The work presents 3-D avatars - simple figures - carrying out everyday activities like eating walking, cycling, dancing, climbing stairs or washing. Dr Paul Darke of Outside Centre was invited to join Motion Disabled as producer and organiser. He was also my first test ‘subject’. With Dr Darke’s support I set about creating a project that was both technically difficult and conceptually exciting. The aim was to develop a subtle and engaging composition using state-ofthe-art digital tools.

The composition consists of virtual movements based on the pathological reality of actors involved in the creation of the project. All of the actors are disabled. This raises some specific questions: how do you shower with short arms? How do you answer the phone with your feet? How does someone with cerebral palsy ride a bike or make a cup of tea? It also asks: What is a normal body image? What is a valid representation of movement? Who decides what the virtual world looks like, and for whom? There were particular challenges and technological barriers to overcome in working with disabled actors using state-ofthe-art technology. For example industrystandard hardware and motion-capture equipment needed adaptation to record the specific shapes or movements of the actors. Animation software is to some extent preprogrammed to utilise ‘standard’ and ‘normal’ biped structures and it was challenging at times to work around these issues. We also had to be careful not to eradicate or ‘smooth’ the erratic movements of the actors, choosing instead to preserve the rough edges or chaotic reality of different lives. During the process of creating the work the actors were asked to portray, explore and share their own day-to-day movements, to

bring their exciting physical life into what can be a mono-cultural and mundane 3-D motion capture process. The resulting digital material enabled us to create 3-D animations that present a kinetic connection with the human form: beautiful, everyday, virtual, and moving, the process highlighting some of the intricacies and uniqueness of each person’s physicality: a physical signature captured in 3-D. Forever. My work also reflects on the passing of time, a time perhaps leading to a society without difference, a society in which our own human biodiversity may be reduced. I hope the work enables the viewer to engage with and explore ideas of normality and difference on pathological and metaphysical levels. I trust it is a challenging art-work that helps to reveal who we all are to ourselves and others. I believe that this process is particularly relevant at a time when bio-science is enabling individuals and society to make complex genetic choices. These are decisions we should be careful to make if armed only with vague or vacant notions of ability, normality and difference. Simon Mckeown

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What Constitutes Difference Kate Pryor-Williams, Curator, Wolverhampton Art Gallery What essentially constitutes our understanding of ‘difference’? It is all too easy for us to become blinkered by our own parameters of ‘normality’ and our own narrow immediate every-day experiences, so it is not often that we pause and take time to reflect upon the every-day reality for other people in society facing a different set of circumstances to our own, circumstances that for them constitute the ‘norm’. In our modern society it is all too easy to become insular in our reflections, being as we constantly are bombarded by media messages telling us we need to strive for an imposed vision of ‘perfection’ based upon capitalist and materialist ideals. As a consequence we can easily overlook some of the simple and basic privileges we have, such as ease of mobility. Simon Mckeown’s thought-provoking work Motion Disabled encourages us to open our eyes and reflect on the every-day experiences for fourteen different people living their lives with a range of physical disabilities including spina bifida, cerebal palsy and brittle bone disease. Simon has skilfully applied his extensive knowledge of digital technologies and specifically the

technique of ‘motion-capture’ to create a series of films that simply and powerfully tell the story of each individual carrying out every-day tasks in their daily lives. The artist describes the work as ‘animated digital sculptures’, 3-D representations of ‘real life’. Because Simon has chosen to use a muted palette of shades of grey and create relatively abstracted, basic outlined physical representations of each subject, the viewer is not distracted by fussy or irrelevant detail; the final result is of beautiful fluid forms that encourage the viewer purely to focus on the movement and how each character physically manipulates their body to carry out these various tasks. Observing the installation at Wolverhampton Art Gallery it is fascinating to see audiences standing absorbed in front of each film, carefully

following the various movements, reflecting then gaining understanding. Motion Disabled directly engages with the issues of ‘difference’ and encourages the debate about disability in our society to come to the forefront. This is one of the extremely positive outcomes of this work and why it has been important to show it to a wide range of visitors. Debate has been generated, both formally and informally, among young and old. There is tremendous scope to continue these discussions into the future with presentations at a range of diverse events and locations. As we think about the future of digital technologies Motion Disabled directly places itself in the centre of the digital debate.

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As society moves closer to a virtual world, will there be a place for representations of disability or difference? Or has our desire to strive for these imposed idealised visions of perfection cause us to edit out parts of society with which we do not feel comfortable? Simon Mckeown brings his extensive knowledge and experience to engage critically with the digital debate. Having worked in TV and computer games production for over 20 years, he has seen first hand the continued creating of an idealised homogenised society in the digital

Wolverhampton Art Gallery, UK

world. The boundaries between ‘real life’ and ‘virtual life’ become blurred through advances in avatar technology and online fantasy communities such as Second Life, as even in the real-world as advances in modern science and genetics seek to create a more ‘perfected view’ of society. While such changes are also in motion, this exciting innovative artist is making a stand for difference, asking how society reacts to it currently and asking where it will feature in our vision of the future.

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Simon Mckeown and the actor Mat Fraser

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Deformed bodies depress me Vincent Price in Dragonwyck (1946) Motion Disabled starts from the premise that motion, in its raw form, is and can be exciting and unusual to view: animators know this instinctively.

The motion of a unique individual - a small person, or someone with Thalidomide or Spina Bifida or Cerebral Palsy - can be even more stimulating and refreshing to view. Motion Disabled seeks to capture these differences in three dimensions and retrieve motions from specially selected actors.

Often in discussions of bio-diversity the basics of human diversity are overlooked and as a result a homogeneous landscape of ideal bodies is all that will be left. Motion capture, as used in Motion Disabled, is the perfect genealogical fulfilment of the ideas behind Muybridge and Marey’s original work. This work, as Marey and Muybridge did, is transcending time and space to create an immortality of movement beyond the visual both as art and heritage, in both digital and sculptural form.

It is difficult for any art that explores difference to transcend the banalities of the Freakish or the Tragedy/Heroic models of representation more usually applied by artists past and present. There is a fear about validating difference that transcends and challenges prevailing ideas of human value and normality. This piece achieves such transcendence. A key inspiration and genealogical point of reference for Motion Disabled is the work of Eadweard Muybridge and Étienne Jules Marey: creators of the first ‘motion captures’ of insects, birds and people. Motion Disabled makes a case for the continued influence of Muybridge (18301904) and Marey (1830-1904) on Contemporary Art in the new digital forms. Motion Disabled shows what might be capturing their attention if they were alive today. Marey developed the art of capturing movement through time in a single frame: his images and explorations varied from the

Étienne-Jules Marey

straightforward - a man jumping - to the thoughtfully experimental - runners clothed in black with white ping pong balls attached to their joints, exposing sine waves of limb motion through space. Today, physical difference - the shape of human diversity - is for the first time in history being removed from our daily vision. Different bodies and faces are being lost to our visual landscape. Technological advances are changing our experience of human diversity: human bio-diversity is being eroded? Is this genetically responsible?

Motion Disabled has created a catalogue of perfectly animated motions - a record of different body movements - which will become a valuable historical reference point in years to come. How does someone with short arms shower? How does someone with no arms eat? Within these movements we hope you can see difference and beauty intertwined, representing the echoes of ‘unusual’ peoples lives. Our fear is that in the future Motion Disabled will merely show future generations what it was like to be disabled: in a future where unusual and different bodies will no longer exist. Disability is about to become virtual. Simon Mckeown and Paul Darke

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Motion Disabled and Disability Art Dr Paul Darke, Chief Executive, Outside Centre Disability Art is art produced by disabled people about their own experiences. It exists in the ambiguous space between the normal and the abnormal: the area between those of little social capital and those who presume greater intrinsic value. As such, it reveals the illusory realities by which ‘normal’ people construct themselves as social beings in opposition to those seen and constructed by society as ‘Other’ or ‘abnormal’.

Artists undertaking work of this kind understand the oppression, discrimination, and social and cultural negation with which the disabled live. To be disabled is to know how society constructs the processes of identity; the disabled realise that identity has little to do with their bodies (or impairments) and the collective identity of ‘the disabled’ is their shared experiences of ‘Otherness’. Disability Art refuses to indulge in the social illusion of the ‘normal’. Instead, it challenges the notion that any one form of physicality, or mental capacity and ability, is of greater value or significance than any other. It seeks to reveal the notion of ‘the normal’ as a destructive force not only in the lives and realities of the impaired but also in the consciousness of those who consider themselves to be ‘normal’. The most effective Disability Art reveals the changing face of what is meant by the naming conventions associated with normal and the abnormal; it reveals how the social particularities of the ‘normal’ change from age to age and generation to generation within contemporary social trends. We define ourselves socially - in relation to one another; we do not construct ourselves in isolation. It is within the gaps between definitions of what we are that this art form survives and thrives. Motion Disabled is a supreme example of Disability Art at its greatest and most insightful.

The piece follows not only in the tradition of motion capture, as in the work of Eadweard Muybridge and Étienne-Jules Marey, but also a tradition of Disability Art that explores the intrinsic beauty of difference: the walk of a so-called ‘disabled’ individual is much more ‘exciting’ to watch than the ordinariness of normality. The composition forces us to consider and explore all, even the blandest, of the motions of the disabled in order to see their beauty as transcending even the most exciting motions of the normal body. Motion Disabled takes Disability Art beyond new boundaries: it works on many levels in its exploration of the ordinariness created through the intentional absence of the ‘normal’. Simon Mckeown’s Motion Disabled puts him amongst the greatest Disability Artists such as Ann Whitehurst, Aaron Williamson, Tony Heaton, and the Disabled Avant-Garde. Disability Art has been engaging in issues of movement for many years, most notably in Dance, yet little of that has had the power to be ‘hard’ for the audience. In depersonalising ‘character’ and ‘personality’ Motion Disabled erodes the signifiers of cultural capital that so easily allow the negation of disabled people. By ‘dehumanising’ the disabled – which carries its own problems – Motion Disabled refuses to allow audiences to layer on human stories of the ‘brave’, the ‘tragic’ or the ‘extraordinary’.

It rejects human cliché. It confronts such processes and makes the spectators engage in what they are seeing by taking away the personality and replacing it with the humanity of the subject. Such a decision is a challenge, and a considerable risk, yet it is one carried off by Simon McKeown with great style and panache. Motion Disabled: its genius lies in the fact that it gently coerces us to see ‘Others’ differently, to see the normal as somewhat bland in comparison to the beauty of the ordinariness of Others. is a creative masterpiece and I can only say that I have been privileged to be a part of it, not only as a producer but also as one of the contributing actors / subjects.

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Motion capture with Frank Letch

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Simon Mckeown

MotionDisabled exhibiting difference

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Motion capture derived maquette of Mat Fraser

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LCB Depot, 2009 Special Olympics, Leicester, UK

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The Human Body is Never Silent Robin Bunton, Professor of Sociology, Teesside University The human body is never silent. It forever tells someone something about its owner in the countless readings of its audience. Its shape, its size and – more importantly – its movement give away a great deal without speaking one word. The communication power of the body is hard to underestimate, as are the ways in which bodies are classified, judged, valued and even excluded and stigmatised. Bodies invoke that most modern invention, normalisation judgment, which so often acts to limit our expectations of one another by categorising them as either this or that. As the sociologist Ervin Goffman observes in his now classic study Stigma, we categorise not simply bodies but the people in them, and build stigma theories of their capabilities. Thus, we limit our expectations of one another, which in turn limit the expectations and experiences of society as a whole, so often without consciousness. Bodily recognition processes are largely sub- or even pre-conscious. Although we respond to differences, more often we do not ‘see’ this difference in its detail. We rarely examine the unique features of bodies that differ or look at how they work, or their alternate aesthetics. Motion Disabled allows this opportunity, assisted by a technology that makes visible what is usually invisible. There is an opportunity to analyse and appreciate human movement that is recognised yet not reflected upon, and to appreciate the variety of human embodiment as it is accomplished by a range of people. Although the variety of human movement is tacitly acknowledged, both culturally and

physically, we have within the human sciences few tools that allow us to highlight this variety so vividly and accurately. In Motion Disabled the technology allows us to appreciate aspects of human diversity, a tendency rarely even sought by technologies. As life in an advanced industrial society becomes more closely entwined with technological development – particularly information and bio-technology – society is apparently being presented with new possibilities for limiting human variety, giving humans the choices to ‘design nature’ that had not previously been possible. New genetic techniques are offering new opportunities to predict and control the variety of the human form, for current and future generations. Human control over what was previously seen to be in the hands of nature or of the gods presents some potentially disturbing visions.

genetic heritage, our potential frailty. It reveals to us that we are all born with at least 100 genetic mutations that could cause disease, and a number of recessive conditions that could cause potentially lifethreatening illness for ourselves or our offspring. If, then, these newer technologies present new ethical dilemmas and choices, they also present new insights that may help us meet these challenges. In previous decades Disability movements have challenged the limiting prejudices and body judgments linked to, if not stemming from, earlier medical scientific regimes. Motion Disabled presents new techniques and new ways to challenge and think through the implications of the current era of bio-medical science and the competing visions for the place of differently abled people.

There are well-founded fears about placing biological wealth and resources in the hands of the few, on the one hand, and reducing bio-diversity, on the other, by ‘purifying’ the human form, in ways reminiscent of the eugenic experiments of a previous century. There is, however, more than one vision present in the current genomics. The same genetic sciences also make us aware of the great variety within the human form and our

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Light Night Leeds, UK

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Production Team


Motion Disabled would not have been produced without the dedicated assistance of a professional production team. My thanks to these people, who were a pleasure to work with.

Many thanks to all the contributors concerned (including Dr Paul Darke and the artist Simon Mckeown), some professional actors, others acting for the first time, all of whom excelled in the motion capture studio and contributed immensely to the project as a whole by sharing their physical day to day experience.

Craig Mcmullen, Animation Manager

Mark Buschbacher, Video Production

John Tallon, Lighting

Mat Fraser

Richard Hardesty

Luke Hardwick

Gary Quinn, Motion Capture Studio Manager

Nigel Crooks, Audio Production and Post Production

Dr Paul Darke, Advisor, Producer, Organiser and Promoter

Steve Graham

Pauline Heath

Frank Letch

Tanya Raabe

Craig Salisbury

Paul Darke

Richard Brook

Paul Miller

Rachel Liggitt

Technical Specifications Motion Disabled can be exhibited in three main ways: Shown on between one and five flat screen monitors or projected internally using one or more projectors, including cube projection. Outdoor projection is also an option, using one or more outdoor projection systems. The work is available on DVD or BlueRay, and can be accompanied by a short documentary as well as A5 gallery fliers and brochures. Additionally, the work is supported by with its substantial press section. For more information on exhibiting Motion Disabled please email

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Motion capture derived virtual 3D model of Mat Fraser

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Simon Mckeown

MotionDisabled exhibiting difference

For more information on Motion Disabled and Simon Mckeown please see:

Simon Mckeown Š 2010

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