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Art and activism:
A conversation with Liz Crow

Liz Crow interviewed by Raphael Raphael
In Journal of Visual Art Practice, 16 Apr 2014

Extract from an interview with performance artist-activist Liz Crow discussing her work on the Bedding Out project, the film and installation Resistance, and her public performance piece in Trafalgar Square.

 

I was going to ask you to muse on what you see as the effects of your work on impacting public dialogue. It sounds like you see the social media aspects of your work in particular as the most powerful? Or am I putting words in your mouth?

No, you’re not. I’m just thinking yes and no because I’m a very reluctant convert. That’s my hesitation. I still think the most powerful thing in Bedding Out is the point at which people gather round the bed and we have those conversations. And having them in that context where they know I have been performing for many hours, lying in that bed for that length of time, takes the conversations to a much more profound level than if you were just sitting having a cup of tea with somebody or in a training session or whatever. I’m in awe actually with the depth that some of those conversations have gone, the willingness to talk very openly by people who may have been on the very sharp end of benefits assessment or might be completely new to what’s going on but have been prepared to be very open to what they don’t know. And I think it’s that setup that has gone very, very deep.

But of course it doesn’t reach large numbers, so the social media is the way you can reach huge numbers. And those bedside conversations have also gone on the Twitter feed, and to much greater depth than I had ever imagined. Certainly among disabled people, in building connections and sort of resilience or resolve, it’s been really strong, and it has huge capacity [to] include and involve people who are living their own bed lives or cannot otherwise travel to the performance space. And I think we also reached people who are new to what is happening. But I still think that kind of face-to-face meeting has the potential to go deepest. But [concerning] social media, I say I’m a reluctant convert because I’d just rather be with people. But I’ve seen now how effective it can be so I keep using it.

I understand. But from your perspective as an artist, kind of experientially and empirically, these face-to-face performances and happenings are key, and this is where you see the greatest potential for change, regardless of these massive numbers of dialogue that we see in the digital sphere?

Yes, it’s really hard to answer because if somebody could do an equation that weighted, you know, do you want a few very deep responses or do you want lots and lots of more superficial responses, and they do different things. And actually the superficial stuff is fine if it’s just enough to turn the tide. But we need both. The power in that performance, though, is that even if people just come to the conversation and they don’t see me in the bed beforehand or after, the fact that they know I’m doing it brings a kind of integrity; people keep using the word vulnerability actually, that I’m making myself vulnerable, which maybe I am, but I actually think it brings a kind of integrity to the work that then people come to the conversations and bring kind of equivalent integrity actually.

Now you’ve called upon for these conversations some people who are not performers at all, but disability advocates, and you’ve talked about some discomfort in general that activists have about the potential of art as means for change.

Yes, I’m an activist and perhaps I’m an activist first. I don’t know, I’m always arguing with myself between devoting my time to the activism versus the art, so I combine them, but I think activists have always turned to the arts and artists have always been activists, so it‘s nothing new to be trying to do this. I do think amongst great swathes of activists, however, there’s this suspicion of art as an optional extra, a kind of luxury item for once we‘ve sorted out the core issues, or that it’s an indulgence, that it doesn’t get to the core of the issue. But for me the reason it’s so powerful is that ultimately, as activists, we’re trying to connect with people and that’s what art does. It communicates and it connects.

And it’s not that I think suddenly all activism should be arts-based, but if we are trying to reach the widest possible range of people, then we need to pull in every single tool that we have available. Whether it’s petitions, letter-writing, handcuffs, politician lobbying, creative stuff, and actually when you look at the work of lots of activists, whether it’s ADAPT in the States or Direct Action Network and Disabled People Against the Cuts in the UK, the work is theatrical. When they (we) go out on the streets, whether they think of themselves as performers or not, the people who are most effective are absolutely performing, it’s theatre. And the more you think yourself into activism as performance, then often the more powerful it is.

Yes, the more you do away with these kind of boundaries that we normally put between what is serious and what is theatre.

Yes, and I think that some of the most effective activists are the people who are very conscious of themselves within that space, so they’re not just sitting in front of a double decker bus blocking it. They’re aware of where they are in relation to it, the image they create to people passing by, the methods they can use to communicate, and I don’t then see much separation between that and being an artist.

 

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Crow, Liz (2014) Art and activism: A conversation with Liz Crow, Roaring Girl Productions [online] [Available at: http://www.roaring-girl.com/work/art-activism-conversation-liz-crow/] [Accessed 21/10/2017]