Acts of Observation is the latest group show at the Collective from four artists and writers: Ana García Jácome, Jeda Pearl, Abi Palmer and Simon Yuill.
Using the various sites and spaces at Collective, this is a series of solo presentations. They can also be considered ‘acts of observation’, challenging how disability is represented and discussed and opening up further discussion for a positive future.
Taking over The Dome gallery space with an engaging installation is London-based artist and writer Abi Palmer. Her work typically explores the relationship between linguistic and physical communication. Crip Casino (2018 – ongoing) features an interactive penny arcade emporium of altered slot machines. This has previously been exhibited at Tate Modern and is specifically adapted for the Collective space and the COVID pandemic.
Look closer and the fruit machines by the tinsel curtain have been rigged and altered to invite you to play a satirical game of life. Get a free spin to find out what your diagnosis is and get some medical advice through the clever use of randomising words into phrases. This is wickedly satirical poetry brought to you in a contextual box of Vegas-style entertainment. Try all options as you may, keep pressing those buttons but you are never in charge of the outcome.
We are also invited to enjoy the National Health Shrine, a parlour game parody with tin foil display shelving of crackerjack prizes. Assessment Booth #3 is the accompanying film, documenting an example of a parody health assessment using the familiar paper fortune-telling children’s game and incorporating the National Health Shrine – its rewards always have a catch or tricky consequences. This highlights the bureaucracy of institutional health assessments. Experience how it feels to be interrogated with absurd and esoteric questions about your health or disability.
Scottish-Jamaican writer and poet Jeda Pearl is based in Edinburgh. Her new series of poems Acts of Observation (2021) was specially commissioned by Collective and inspired the title of this group exhibition. Stand at the Viewing Terrace above the Hillside gallery space whilst looking out over the Firth of Forth and listen to a recording of Pearl performing her poems on the terrace. If it’s a bit too windy/noisy to hear, it’s worth viewing them online. Alternatively, you can access and download the poems using the QR code on-site or pick up a printed edition at The Dome.
This collection of poems tackles race, the disabled body, medical empathy, science and folklore. Last year her poem, Beloved Black, was displayed at the Museum of Edinburgh as part of the Black Lives Matter Mural Trail. She is also Programme Manager for the Scottish BAME Writers Network.
Nestled in the City Observatory library space, Histories of disability: archive and absence (2018 -2020) is an installation work in three parts. Mexican artist Ana García Jácome uses various media here to address the social construction of disability. She also prompts us to question the conditions that construct the hierarchies of knowledge around disability.
It’s Like She Had Never Existed is a 22-minute film about the artist’s aunt, who died the year she was born. Making use of archival imagery, animation, drawing and voiceover, the artist challenges accepted ideas and conventions around sickness and disability. The film asks questions about why conversations around disability get swept under the carpet to convey a sense that the person doesn’t exist.
The [ ] History of Disability in Mexico is a 15-minute film. Here Jácome has collected historical representations of disability in Mexico, from the 1940s to the present day. We discover that there is no documented history of disability in Mexico affecting how it is conceptualised in everyday life. The two alternating films are accompanied by three diagrammatic drawings, which highlight the marginalisation and depersonalisation of disabled people. Altogether, these works thoughtfully examine, and ask us to question, the language and conventions around disability.
Glasgow-based artist, researcher and writer Simon Yuill has created an architectural intervention in Recovery Time is Labour Time (2021). He has painted the central pillar of the City Observatory with the phrase ‘Recovery Time is Labour Time’ looped infinitely around the pillar. This is the title of a text originally produced for the artist manifesto Not Going Back to Normal. The black letters on yellow background echo hazard signs in the workplace as well as the warning colours of nature.
Also available is a new edition accompanying A2 poster to take away. On one side is a manifesto explaining the context of this phrase. On the other side is an essay, Stimwork. This explores the politics and culture of autism and neurodiversity through research on the nature and reason for stimming (behaviours attributed to autism). He includes details of personal and family history, as well as different research into how stimming is perceived and examined by academics and in medical research.
Acts of Observation champions the collective voice of disability whilst acknowledging diversity. It opens up the discussion for a positive future. It also works as an informative and approachable exhibition for those privileged enough to live without chronic illness or being judged for their disabilities.
With thanks to Julie Boyne for this review.