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Public Asylum Space: From ArtPrize to International Disability Culture Performance.

Public Asylum Space: From ArtPrize to International Disability Culture Performance

The UM Initiative on Disability Studies presents this arts-based research event:

Stephanie Heit, independent artist, and Petra Kuppers, Professor of English

Petra Kuppers and Stephanie Heit of the disability culture performance collective The Olimpias will lead a workshop sharing insights from two site-specific performance installations. 

One is the mad-studies-informed Asylum Project, which uses site-specific performance to explore multiple meanings of "asylum:" from asylum seekers, homonationalism, and the limits of Empire; to psychiatric asylums, crip time and queer sanctuary space; to temporary places of security and refuge.  Summer sites 2015 included The Maritime Museum/Prime Meridian in Greenwich, UK; Bethlem Royal Hospital, i.e. the original Bedlam mental asylum; the site of the Glass Bar, London’s lesbian club; and a Quaker’s Friend’s House. This experimental community arts project uses movement, writing, and play in public to investigate how bodyminds inhabit, touch and intersect asylum space. This work draws on personal histories: poet/dancer Stephanie Heit’s experience as a psychiatric system survivor, and Petra Kuppers’ experience with art practice as a mode of inquiry in disability culture.

The workshop will link brief insights from these performance with experiences at the 2015 ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Stephanie and Petra were invited to perform as some of the volunteers inside the $200.000 grand jury-winner: the installation Higher Ground, by Kate Gilmore. Higher Ground was an abandoned house and an old convent: a small home which once housed a number of Dutch Catholic nuns. Gilmore painted the house pink on the outside, red on the inside, and installed swings in the rooms. Volunteer women don white dresses and red shoes in a dressing room in the back of the house. Then they swing in the rooms, to the window ledge and beyond.

This October, Olimpias members swung, and all kinds of gothic ghostly connections began to form: mad women in attics, women’s space, segregation and immigration, religion and the public.  The presentation will highlight short moments of what emerged in all these small performances: a day out in the green fields of a mental asylum, in the rafters of an old convent, or looking for a vanished lesbian sanctuary in London.

Stephanie Heit is an artist living with bipolar disorder who engages with herself and the world through multiple creative practices: movement as a dancer and massage therapist and words as a poet and teacher. She received a MFA in Writing and Poetics from Naropa University. Her work most recently appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Nerve Lantern and is forthcoming in Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance and Queer Disability Anthology.

Petra Kuppers is a disability culture activist, a community performance artist, and a Professor at the University of Michigan, where she chairs the UM Initiative on Disability Studies. She leads The Olimpias performance research collective. Her Disability Culture and Community Performance: Find a Strange and Twisted Shape (Palgrave, 2011, paperback 2013) explores The Olimpias’ arts-based research methods, and her most recent book is Studying Disability Arts and Culture: An Introduction (Palgrave, 2014). Her new poetry collection, Pearl Stitch, is forthcoming with Spuyten Duyvil Press (Spring 2016). 

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