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Reviews/Dance/Music/Visual Art

Portraits of colour, confidence and comfort

17 June 2022

Bright, multidisciplinary reflections on identity celebrate the neurodivergent gaze in art, writes Patrick Gunasekera.

“Quiddity”, various artists, presented by DADAA and On Track with The Definitives ·
Midland Junction Arts Centre, 15 June 2022 ·

Referring to something’s true nature or essence, DADAA’s new group exhibition “Quiddity” is a dynamic curation of portraits by 25 visual artists with disability.

Presented at Midland Junction Arts Centre’s gallery, the multidisciplinary exhibition presents pleasure, power, quietness and community through the ever sensitive and unabridged neurodivergent gaze.

Aiden Leahy’s upbeat music video Donuts and Cookies has a stirring new wave synth-pop sound, and layers comments about his favourite foods and family life with kaleidoscopic footage of the artist dancing and playing guitar. His chosen themes are explored with self-assured buoyancy, expressing the sheer depth and commitment of his relationship with eating.

Some softer works explore sanctuary, showing how freedom from inaccessibility and danger brings peace and inner confidence. Greg Harler’s video Self Portrait expresses the value of relaxing and dreaming in soothing environments, whilst Marie Tierney’s photographic Self Portrait features the artist standing in a forest, luminous and protected in a brightly painted hooded cloak.

Together, the artists illustrate that the true essence of a person actually has many sides. This underlying sentiment is superbly demonstrated in Mandy White’s densely textured paintings Michelle My Sister, Self Portrait, and David My Dad (pictured top). White’s subjects are painted with few physical markers of identity. Instead, who they are is seen in the many wide-eyed figures – with neon bob haircuts, animal ears, and bird beaks – who cheerfully surround them.

A series of black and white depictions of faces, in Indian ink on paper. The faces are abstract and the features are distorted, almost Picasso-style.
Simon Marchment’s introspective portraits also convey the complexity of identity. Pictured: Simon Marchment, Artist work in succession’, 2021, Indian ink on paper.

Simon Marchment’s introspective portraits also convey the complexity of identity. With black and diluted grey ink on white paper, his many faces at the exhibition’s entry depict one dark and one light side. Contrasting strokes and shapes build each face’s asymmetrical expression with poignant ambiguity.

In Midland Junction Arts Centre’s auditorium on Wednesday, a performance from experimental sound band The Definitives and resident dance company On Track was presented to complement “Quiddity”. Expressive elements of improvised music, ensemble dance and visual projections came together with warmly shared ambition, and the synthesis of a carefully-realised and finished work despite a short development period.

The Definitives produced a reverberant, layered texture of bass (Kaith Hayton), guitar (Shaun Swift), harmonica (Eduardo Cossio), vocals and synths (both Rodney Stone). Urgent, contrasting rhythms were ridden beautifully with the band’s perceptive teamwork, as loose poetry and brooding chord progressions stretched over their warbling unison.

A painted portrait of a person. Their face has multicoloured patches of colour and their skin is depicted in a pale lime green with accents of turquoise
‘Quiddity’ pleasure, power, quietness and community through the ever sensitive and unabridged neurodivergent gaze. Pictured: Simon Marchment, ‘Untitled, Soapbox1’, 2022, acrylic, 24 x 24cm. Photograph courtesy of DADAA.

Amid simple group choreography exploring connection and play, On Track’s “portraits” were conveyed brilliantly in subtle and self-driven ways. Some dancers freely stood and discussed the dance together, in quiet patches of the stage warmed by their shared friendship and trust. Other dancers improvised thrilling choices to throw or stand on balloons — deviant experiments that flickered with joy and agency in rebellion of pre-planned choreography.

Experimental dance with improvised sound has long been a practice open to all tempos, moods and offers. But I feel this work’s facilitating dancers could have embraced this openness more, as they didn’t always let neurodivergent dancers fully explore their own offers in the moment. The power dynamics of non-disabled leadership in the performance was limiting, as the privilege of creative autonomy wasn’t equally shared with neurodivergent dancers.

In an undirected re-run of the music performance, a few dancers explored their own dance languages: hula hooping, twisting, bopping and talking in a tender tapestry of neurodivergent self-expression. Overtaken by the adrenaline-pumping soundtrack, some dancers hung back and enjoyed the sunlight streaming in from the auditorium’s high-placed windows.

With less uniformity of voice and energy across the second performance, the audience was also freer to choose which elements to focus on. Through my own neurodivergent viewing experience, I found myself fully immersed in the potent and pleasure-filled world of the performance, and rocking to the vibrancy that lingered (internally) after it ended.

Though our own frames of reference are often feared or silenced, a neurodivergent’s way of seeing is whole and powerful. In a world that denies us such narratives, the artists of “Quiddity”, The Definitives, and On Track daringly present a group portrait of love, aspiration and independence that is both comforting and cathartic.

“Quiddity” continues at Midland Junction Arts Centre until 16 July 2022.

Pictured top: Visitors viewing Mandy White, ‘Michelle My Sister’, ‘Self Portrait’ and ‘David My Dad’, 2022, acrylic and glitter on canvas, 76 x 56cm. Photograph courtesy of Midland Junction Arts Centre. 

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Zal Kanga-Parabia

Author —
Patrick Gunasekera

Patrick Gunasekera is a queercrip Sinhala artist working across performance, visual media, and writing. After reading a poorly written review on a show about disability, he got into arts writing to critically engage with touchy topics that affect him personally. He loved the monkey-bars as a kid because he wanted strong arms. Photo by Zal Kanga-Parabia.

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