Installation artist and activist Liz Crow brings together art, life and rights in her latest piece and tells Ian Macrae that the three make comfortable bed-fellows.
Back in the 1960s, it was John and Yoko Lennon who took to their bed for peace and protest. In the 1990s, Tracey Emin made a bolder, angrier, more out-there statement using her own bed.
So as Liz Crow prepares to take to her bed in public for 48 hours at Salisbury Arts Centre, I wonder whether this means she is already able to strike a chord with people.
“A lot of people instantly mention them and I’m quite happy that it chimes in. But it also seems to strike a chord with people whether or not they’ve got those reference points.”
Like the best disability art, this installation, called Bedding Out, is born directly out of Liz Crow’s own lived experience.
“It’s come out of a personal dilemma that I’ve been facing. For a long time I’ve lived a life in two halves. So there’s the life that people see, that attempts to be animated and happening and to go out there and change the world. Then there’s my private life where I recover, where I spend most of my time at home, a lot of time lying down, a lot of time in bed. And that isn’t seen. I conceal it very carefully because I know it’s not a socially acceptable way to be.”
She adds: “But then the benefits changes come along and that doesn’t work any more. Because the problem is that if I show my public self, that’s taken as evidence that I don’t need any support. And what I’m required to do is parade this concealed and very hidden self which I don’t even know how to take out in public in order to convince people that I do need support.”
This is a dilemma, the horns of which have been sharpened by government rhetoric – particularly David Cameron and George Osborne’s use of the notion of strivers leaving home for work on cold dark mornings, thereby supporting skivers who stay snug in bed behind their curtained windows.
“It’s such nonsense as a comment in so many different ways. But if we go to the newspaper reporting, of course it trades on those kinds of stereotypes and those two-dimensional versions of what we are.”
At this time when disabled people are at the centre of the climate of economic and political change, the press can pick and choose the ways in which it represents us both as a group and as individuals. One day, in one paper, we might be shown up for the lazy dole-dwelling scum which it suits the government’s book to show us as. Another day and in another outlet, we’re poor helpless vulnerable soles being buffeted by storms which are way beyond our control. Whereas, as Liz Crow says, the picture is much more complex than that and operates in a wider social context.
“There’s another strand to that and that is the extent to which we are made vulnerable. If we don’t have the kinds of structure we need for support; if we’re in a world which isn’t built inclusively then we are made vulnerable by that. If my PA cover is removed, as it may be under PIP, then I will be made vulnerable. But I think to portray ourselves as vulnerable or as victims is a very dangerous game. And I think a lot of people have felt pushed into a corner over that. If you read some of the more vitriolic news coverage and then look at the below the line comments, a lot of it is a litany of how really really hard life is for people. I’m not going to deny that life is really really hard for people, but if we take on the role of victim and talk about our own bodies causing the problem and don’t put it in a social context, there is a very real risk that we help hold up those stereotypes.”
While lying in bed for 48 hours might look like a particularly passive form of protest, Liz Crow will in fact be involved in, and at the centre of a hub of activity. For one thing, visitors to the Salisbury Arts Centre will be able to book slots to have “Bedside conversations” with the artist. But the conversation will also go much wider.
“When I did a version of this installation last autumn, I was contacted by a lot of people, who were its obvious audience, and they said ‘This is great, I’m visible for the first time, I would love to be there, but I have my own bed life and I can’t be’. So I’m having a whole conversation on the social networks to bring those people in. The performance and the conversation can be observed at Salisbury Arts Centre but it can also be watched online and participated in via Twitter. So there’s lots of different ways to participate which brings in more people.”
Liz Crow’s Bedding Out is at Salisbury arts Centre for 48 hours from 10 April.
Bedside conversations will be streamed with audio, BSL and live captioning.
Follow @RGPLiz Crow and use the #beddingout hashtag to take part in the conversation on Twitter.