Art Beyond Sight: Making the Invisible Visible, and Accessible; Enabling the Disabled and Disabling the Arts in 2018
Xtremecane Gallery Edition 2017 by Anthony Ptak digital photo composite.
I recently participated in the inaugural year of the Art and Disability Institute (ADI) in cooperation with Art Beyond Sight and with generous support from the Dedalus Foundation in NYC.
The full inaugural cohort, the artists of ADI left to right Julia Yepez, Gordon Sasaki, Gema Alava, Annie Leist, Emilie Gossiaux, and Anthony Ptak. Photographed by the official photographer, Iliana Ortega.
ADI participants met each week for roundtable discussions about art and accessibility issues. Our meetings were held at the Dedalus Foundation spaces at Industry City in Sunset Park Brooklyn. If you don’t know IC you should. It is a bustling cauldron of activity by creative start-ups, technologists, designers, architects, artisanal foods; all amidst the cobble-stoned streets, along with the backdrop of the lower Manhattan skyline. Many activities are regularly programmed at IC including the culmination of our work as ADI, in the form of an art exhibition titled Dis in the Industry City Gallery. We had the opportunity to facilitate accessible presentations, tours, a symposium, and performances. I presented an accessible theremin performance and workshop at the Industry City Gallery. The opening for Dis was very well attended and by all accounts a successful exhibition reaching many people from a wide array of backgrounds and abilities. Some of the artists address disability directly in their artworks, others facilitated access for both abled and disabled audiences using ideas prompted by universal design principals. Still, others painted as artists who just happen to have a disability.
The totality of my experiences with ADI lead me to this conclusion:
The future of art is disabled. -A.J. Ptak
How this seemingly disruptive statement is interpreted will inevitably depend on the perspectives of the artists and a receptive audience, that is eager to learn of an array of alternate ways in perceiving the world. I also think the works will be valued in the marketplace of ideas and will open many more opportunities for artists who are disabled in any way, whether acquired or genetically encoded. Fueled by recent publications by Disability Studies scholars in N.Y.C. like Rachel Adams, Keywords for Disability, and Sunaura Taylor’s well-received book Beasts of Burden, as well as art activist movements on the West Coast founded by Leroy Moore Krip-hop Nation is celebrating it’s 10 year anniversary, with Moore’s recent presentation at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2017. Curator and scholar Amanda Cachia Gambrell at SDAI Sweet Gongs Vibrating is also changing the way we read Disability and Art History on the West Coast.
We hosted public symposia in the Manhattan offices of the Dedalus Foundation and Art Beyond Sight with cultural representatives as guest speakers. These symposia featured lively discussions, sometimes contentious, but ultimately respectful, impactful, and representative of the diverse artists selected for ADI 2017.
Artist Anthony Ptak presenting at the podium, a slide of his painting Brain Cancer in Orange at the ADI Symposium, also pictured, left to right ADI’s cohort Annie Leist, sculptor Emilie Gossiaux with her dog London, and painter Julia Yepez at ADI Symposium. Anthony Ptak presenting. Brain Cancer in Orange painting seen on a slide.
“Don’t dis me, as you near miss me, certainly don’t dismiss me, or the people I carry forward with me…” — Anthony Ptak
Since the opening of our exhibition, Dis, I have given thought to my intentions as an artist. I recognize that I want to enable access to artworks of those artists who are disabled and for those who are able. I wish to, in effect, disable those who are capable by challenging their abled perspectives with disabled perspectives. Making art and art-making accessible to the disabled is important, but making disabled art accessible to those who are able is also important. In this way, we can meet each other halfway, and communicate our differences all while acknowledging our humanity and the fragility and the neurodiversity of the human condition.
I see the ADI mission as advocating for artists who happen to have a disability of any kind, and making their art work visible for the general public. Creating the opportunity for artists who happen to have a disability allowing them to create work and have a career and gallery representation. Sharing the perspectives of historically voiceless communities of disabled people around the world. ADI is also a forum for artists working within the area of Disability Studies. Introducing art collectors to the greatest works that have gone unseen due to social biases or merely lack of access to people with disabilities. Access goes both ways when it relates to communication across the divide. Now is the time to extend ourselves across the great divide and recognize what we may take for granted. My normal is not your normal. My disability is not your disability. My disability is an asset, not an impediment, to able-bodied ill-sentiment.
Exhibition catalog for Dis Exhibition.
“I’ll move mountains, part rivers, you’ll see. As I have a flock with me. Empowered by my ability to be a person with a disability. Because I’m proud to be the person that I still am, always could, always can. Mic drop, I’m not going to stop. Are you with me or are you not?” -Anthony Ptak
Perhaps one of the best things that has arisen thanks to Art Beyond Sight’s ADI is the conversation about art that it has provoked. I want to implore all of you to keep that dialogue open, and invest your time, energy, and money in the work by living artists. And to pay attention to Disabled art perspectives.
I’m an artist with an acquired disability. I’m also a father of a my son now age 10, born with a disability. I wrote a proposal called GRAD: General Regents of Arts Diploma, for reform of our New York City public schools in order to better serve the special needs of our students with intellectual and physical disabilities, prompted by a call by NYC Mayor Bill Delasio and The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), CreateNYC: “A cultural plan for all New Yorkers.”
I utilize art to adapt and augment communication with my son. When I see Aedan’s drawings I see a semantic map, a virtual wireframe based on his experiences in the world, temporal and spatial, an index of memory, organization, and learning.We collaborate on art projects as a way of speaking to one another since my son has excellent receptive language, though limited expressive language, having been born with a genetic disability called Trisomy 21 or Down Syndrome.
In the above photo Anthony Ptak and son Aedan outside the MoMA.
It is important for all of us to be supportive of IDEA Individuals with Disabilities Education Act because it’s Federal law 25 plus years in the making, and it’s the right of each individual to a public education in the least restrictive environment. The alternative is unfathomable in a civil society. My son’s future and all our future ultimately depends on it. Neo-Universal Design works to make things accessible, and there’s still important work to be done. I’ve always said that my son is his own best advocate, and like many self-advocates I’ve listened to at the United Nations, if you play to a person’s strengths, everything else will ultimately take care. My young son communicates through his expressive line drawings in stark contrast to his father’s art that is described as austere, constrained, emotionless graphics.
In some way, this mirrors the world we co-exist in, one which delineates, limits, and discriminates. Through our art, we examine the edges of things, in a proprioceptive dance that teaches us about human value, neurodiversity, and potential. Thank you to Elizabeth Salzhauer Axel, founder of Art Beyond Sight. Thank you to Stephen Yaffe, chairperson, Arts for All Abilities Consortium. Thank you Elizabeth Jackson, founder of the Inclusive Fashion & Design Collective- “an ecosystem of products, ideas and people who prioritize the exception rather than the rule.”
Thank you to Robin Glazer, founder, and director of the Creative Center at University Settlement and to resident artist and curator Marna Chester, violinist Serge Zenisek. Thank you to art historian Jordana Mendelson Associate Professor at NYU. Thank you to the supportive knowledgeable staff at LaGuardia Studio at NYU.
What is Next for ADI?
It is hard to say. I believe the work we’ve done collectively with Art Beyond Sight has been an important first step, and I am grateful to the Dedalus Foundation and especially CEO Jack Flam for the generous support in making ADI in its inaugural year possible, a success, and an outstanding moment in the history of art, one worthy of the legacy, philanthropy, and vision of modern artist Robert Motherwell.
Robert Motherwell was deeply committed to the principles of modernism, which he once described as the creation of “shaped meaning, without which no life is worth living.” One of the tasks of modern art, he said, “was to find a language that would be closer to the structure of the human mind . . . could more adequately reflect the nature of our understanding of how things really are.”
Photographed by the official photographer, Iliana Ortega, ADI artists are triumphant celebrating the inaugural year at the opening reception of Dis Gallery at Industry City in Brooklyn, NY. Thanks also to Dedalus Foundation Registrar & Exhibitions Manager, Claire Altizer, Art Installer, Russell Steinert, Facilities Manager, George Ericson, and Christine Donnellan, COO for Art Beyond Sight. Our meetings facilitator was ADI Project Lead and founding ADI faculty, artist Annie Leist, and of course Creative Director Elizabeth Salzhauer Axel, the Founder of Art Beyond Sight.
Wide angle installation view Dis Exhibition at the Gallery at Industry City. Photo credit: Iliana Oeretga .
June 22 — July 22, 2017 The Gallery at Industry City in Brooklyn, NY.
A Statement from the Inaugural ADI 2017 Cohort
dis: three letters that can reverse, revoke, rebuke, rebuff, or perhaps, release social stereotypes. This exhibition of work by the inaugural cohort of Art Beyond Sight’s Art and Disability Institute reflects the diversity of the art that is created under the banner of dis . These artists redefine disability as both a subjective and objective experience. Their personal relationship to disability falls along a broad continuum, as does the relationship of disability to their work. Collectively, they form a cross section of the many ways artists working with and around disability contribute towards broadening conversations on the potential of art.
Anthony Ptak is an Artist cohort and program development consultant and strategist for Art Beyond Sight at Art Beyond Sight.
ADI continues to break ground with a new 2018 artist cohort exhibition at the 8th Floor Gallery!
A new cohort of artists created an exhibition Locus: Art as Disabled Space, under the auspices of Art Beyond Sight in 2018. A panel was moderated by Jerron Herman. Curated by Ezra Benus. Featuring a new cohort of disabled artists Ezra Benus, Jordana Bernstein, Kevin Quiles Bonilla, Shannon Finnegan, Jeff Kasper, and Madison Zalopany. Wednesday, May 23, 2018. I gave introductory remarks at this auspicious, well-attended opening event in the presence of disabledlist.org founder and luminary activist Liz Jackson, I proclaimed,
Remember dear artists, nothing about us without us, the curators need us, more than we need them! Having the audacity to exist in an ableist world is a political statement in itself. Be proud that you’re here, that you showed up to represent. The future of Art is Disabled!
Disability Pride Parade in NYC 2018 Official Creative Expression Theme.
I was honored to serve as a judge alongside, Meir Zimmerman from Ruderman Foundation, Blair Axel, Isaac Zablocki, Kleo King, Jonathan Novick, and Alyssa A. Andolino, for creative expression at the Disability Pride Parade in NYC this summer 2018.Disability is about more than loss or deficit, it is an opportunity for creativity, and innovation, and strength in necessary perspectives informed by Disabled experience, and Disabled artists. #saytheword (identity-first language.)
Disabled: We’re here. Accept. Accommodate, or get out of the way!
In these politically charged times, once again the ADA and IDEA legislation designed to protect the interests of disabled people in this country are under attack. The pendulum swings and evokes the memory of artists being consciously political at a an intersection of identity, remember Actup! in the 1980's? There are signs of a similar groundswell in a new generation of activists responding with empathy and strategically positioning themselves to take control of the means of production and representation. That is to say,
Nothing About Us Without us!
We have allies. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has stated strongly her commitment to the rights of her disabled constituents, during a recent conference at NYU called Fearless Cities. There are controversies, and big mistakes by cultural institutions claiming to be the saviors of the Disabled communities. Look into the recent Access+Ability exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, centered on assistive technology, and ignoring the participation of disabled artists and designers. The exhibition was not in an ADA accessible building. Leading many disabled activists to ask, Who’s it for? Disabled people are not broken, infrastructure is. Ask Liz Jackson about this. Listen to Alice Wong of Disability Visability Project, Lawrence Carter Long from The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (a leading national civil rights law and policy center directed by individuals with disabilities,) Designer and Social Media mastermind @EbThen, grassroots advocate Leroy Moore, founder of KripHop Nation, Sarah Weir of the National Down Syndrome Society @NNSS. There are strong voices for disability advocacy out there, and the strongest of these voices are the disabled voices, the self-advocates, the creatives, the artists who understand the language, the nuances, the vast diversity, the urgency to be present, to be heard, to be visible, to participate fully as we are, without reciprocity. Without apology, with respect, and dignity. We vote.
If you don’t pay attention, a tension will collect its debt. -A.J. Ptak
The Whitney Museum has taken the lead with recent programming including a remarkable dance performance by Alice Sheppard and Laurel Lawson both in their wheelchairs, Kinetic Light: Under Momentum on Jul 27, 2018. Preceded a year prior by Leroy Moore’s presentation at the Whitney Museum about his book, Black Disabled Art History 101.
At a celebration of the Create Ability, a program for individuals with learning and developmental disabilities and their families at MoMA, I called upon the MoMA to put disabled artists in their permanent collection. Here is the video as I delivered my petition.
The New Museum missed an opportunity to take the lead in embracing Disabled Artists, passing on the dis Exhibition in 2017. It is unfortunate, considering the leadership role this museum took in the 1980’s during the AIDS crisis, engaging artists from ActUp! to provide a forum of politically charged artworks by artists whose lives hung in the balance. Why curators are not seeing the political activities by ADAPT with the same urgency #ADA28 raises some questions about the ableism present in our allistic society.
From the Whitney Museum ACCESS program,
On the occasion of the 28th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Whitney celebrates access and inclusion for all with a performance of Under Momentum by Kinetic Light.
Kinetic Light creates, performs, and teaches at the intersections of disability, dance, and race. The collective’s rigorous investment in the histories, cultures, and artistic work of disabled people and people of color transforms our understandings of the moving world.
Disabled people have a story to tell. One of community, of struggle, love, and overcoming obstacles with ingenuity, and creativity. Curators, I ask you, what are you waiting for? Disabled artists have work that speak volumes about our society, our present politics, our culture, educational system, and the profound lack of equanimity and access. Access is more than ramps.
Forget bitcoin cryptocurrency, “Crip” Art is investment currency. You can take it to the bank. Who will save the New York art world? Wake the fuck up! Now is not the time for politeness. There is a large resource of brilliant works. Do I have to spell it out for you? Yes. Two words. Disability Aesthetics.
Talk with disabled artists, designers, curators, disabled journalists, I’ve given you fair warning, and a path to follow, because if history tells us anything…
Nothing about us without us. National ADAPT is in full effect here and now.
ADAPT is a national grassroots disability rights organization fighting to end the institutional bias. #CripTheVote
“My goals as an artist are to promote acceptance of difference and to design a society which allows for empathy and degrees of freedom despite the constraints we may find ourselves challenged by — whether genetically encoded, or otherwise acquired, in the complexities of our society.” — Anthony Ptak
Gossiaux worked predominantly in sculpture following the loss of her sight, experimenting with a wide range of media and scale, as well as performance. In her diverse, ever-evolving body of work, she demonstrates a rare fearlessness in both technical and conceptual choices. -False Flag is proud to present Emilie Gossiaux’s first solo gallery exhibition — After Image. (press release June 2018.)
I’ve written a review of After Image which I promise to publish soon.
A new Disability art exhibition RE/Configurations: art, disability, identity, will open in late 2018 at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, Snug Harbor Cultural Center, stay tuned…