I’ve been working on the next Opulent Mobility exhibit, writing gallery proposals, asking advice about promotional scheduling, looking up disability arts places and talking with photographers. Eventually, these people ask me why. What got me into this in the first place?
I know people with disabilities, and am fortunate enough to call some of them friends. A longtime partner had a serious stroke, so I dealt with mobility and disability aids in person. I had a nasty bout with tendinitis and had to consider carpal tunnel surgery- which I knew could screw up my hands forever. I wanted to redecorate a wheelchair using re-purposed materials, and a wheelchair using friend let me experiment with his discarded Nutron- even to the point of driving the new chair for an exhibit with dangerously unbalanced upholstery.
But the real kicker was looking up patents for cool wheelchair designs. I knew I couldn’t be the only one out there who’d come up with these ideas. And I’m not. There are tons of fabulous designs out there. And almost none of them are being made.
How is this possible? There’s only Nascar and grandma styles of wheelchairs? And even fewer for walkers? Maybe medical licensing and insurance liabilities are the problem. Or maybe folks are afraid of facing the possibility of disability, and can’t get beyond the fear. There’s a world of possible answers. But there is no reason on earth for so many of these designs to be hideous. How many styles of chairs are there out there? Of cars? Of eyeglasses? We personalize almost everything and have done so since time. Cultures that hunt and gather decorate their damn bowls.
And if we’re lucky enough to live long, chances are good we’ll need one of these devices ourselves. This is not about “other”. We are the potential users too.
So maybe art is the answer. Instead of trying to come up with yet another doomed and unmarketable design, I figured I’d start with the idea of “why not make them amazing?”. I was scared at first that wheelchair and walker users would see me as some kind of interloper, someone trying to pity them or tell them what they should want. I think the positive response I’ve received (and a million thanks to you all!) is simple. It’s pretty clear I’m just asking how to, well, pimp your ride.
I have plenty of ideas, but this theme needs way more than my ideas. So I want to hear about and share yours. How can we re-imagine our devices, our ways of dealing with mobility and disability?
Thank you. I’m so looking forward to what you can come up with!
A. Laura Brody
I re*make mobility devices and materials and give them new lives. Sometimes I staple drape.