A few years ago I heard about an artist who put on a solo show while housebound by chronic illness. All her dealings with the gallery, including the installation and opening, were done through Skype. After hearing about her success at breaking the housebound artist to gallery barrier I began to entertain the notion that perhaps, with the right support, I could attempt the same myself.
I stepped back from the mainstream art world 10 years ago when my illness became chronic. Disability had come knocking at my door and commissions and galleries became a thing of the past. After a period in the wilderness, I took tentative steps back into making, albeit on a much-reduced scale, and began showing work again at occasional group exhibitions. It’s a very daunting leap to go from group to solo show but the seed of an idea was planted. I was looking for a gallery that was the right fit when a friend recommended The University of Atypical Gallery in Belfast, formally known as Arts and Disability Forum.
My main point of contact was with the gallery programmer Paula Larkin. We began an email conversation about my work which went on for many months before we even discussed exhibition dates. Paula made it clear from the start that the process would go at my pace which was very reassuring. As time went on we made arrangements for Skype chats, gallery visits and possible exhibition dates that had to be cancelled, rearranged and sometimes cancelled again. There were intermissions in proceedings when I had to withdraw into illness and Paula was ready to pick up our conversation where we left off when I resurfaced. During these times my husband Joe, who was assisting me as PA, kept in touch with the gallery about admin stuff that needed doing especially in the weeks leading up to the show.
When I was struggling with having to cancel yet another arrangement Paula introduced me to the concept of ‘Crip time’. Well, what a liberation this was. My unpredictable stop-start work process had a name. While the show was on, Paula arranged to have a discussion in the gallery about Ellen Samuels paper ‘Six Ways of Looking At Crip Time’. The quote ‘We who work in Crip Time live our lives with a flexible approach to normative time frames’ says all that needs to be known about my life and work practice as it is today.
Atypical’s flexible approach to their artists is refreshing and very different from my previous experiences with galleries. In the past, I normally installed my own work with the help of an assistant so when Paula suggested their technician would hang the show it didn’t sit easy with me. However, once I agreed, it took a great weight off my shoulders and I was very happy with the result. It also meant I was more likely to have the energy to attend the opening. With Atypical I took a leap of faith, embraced Crip time and it paid off.
I am still astounded that I manage to pull off this show and that despite the many health hiccups along the way I was able to attend both the opening and the Crip time discussion. It is amazing what can be done when a gallery’s remit is to do whatever it takes to make the process as easy as it can be, whatever your health circumstances. I felt every member of staff I came in contact with had my back and were there to make this happen…. and it did.
With thanks to Paula, Chris, Hugh, Caroline, Leo and all at The University of Atypical. And of course Joe Keenan, without whom nothing would happen, ever.
Jane McCormick’s exhibition Not Half Right was shown at The University of Atypical Belfast from November 10th to December 21st 2018.