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Material: Fibreglass, steel, automotive paint.
Dimensions: L. 9’9” W. 4’6”
This sculpture began, as many do, with a conversation.
This particular conversation was with the Curator of the ‘Art of the Lived Experiment’, Aaron Williamson, concerning alchemy, the idea of turning a base metal into gold, turning something of little value into a substance of value, a speculative philosophy. The objective of alchemy, the quest for transmutation, was often primarily aimed at effecting personal change in the Alchemist.
The changing of objects and meaning has been constant within my practice as an artist, and, for this current work and response to the idea of ‘the art of the lived experiment’ I have selected an iconic object, the Invacar, and the notion of transmutation, the effecting of personal change.
Its complicated, I transmuted from Biker to Invalid.
I was issued with an Invacar in 1971.
The Invacar was a societal response, initiated by government, to the lack of access to so-called public transport. The solution was to provide Invalids with a form of very cheap transport, though considered a prosthetic, a medical replacement for legs.
An unlined fiberglass shell, 9’.9” long and 4’.6” wide, a single seat, sat on a chassis of three wheels, space for a folding wheelchair, propelled by a small motorcycle engine with a cubic capacity of 197, three gears plus reverse and a maximum speed of around 45 mph. The single seat meant that you travelled alone, the assumption had to be that you had no friends, family, lovers, the solitary cripple, other.
They were all painted the same colour, to mark you out as other. A pale blue, NHS Blue, this became know as Spazz Blue.
It was banned from motorways. This was clearly stated on all motorway signage. No Invalid Carriages. It disappeared from the roads of Britain in 1983, and like all icons can now only be witnessed, restored pristine, in the museum.
But this one escaped, suspended, transformed from prosthetic to sculpture, transmuted from Spazz Blue to Gold, Lame to Lamé.
Read Disability Arts Online review HERE
This sculpture brings together a number of aspects that have become intrinsic to my work: principally the circle, square and triangle, simple archetype geometry that reoccurs.
The circle, symbol of perfection and eternity; Jung described it as the symbol of the self.
The square, associated with stability, the points of the compass, the four elements, seasons.
When juxtaposed the circle and square are considered to symbolise oneness, the elimination of imperfections and impairments.
The mathematical challenge attempted by Alchemists to try to square a circle was proved to be an impossibility.
The work consolidates these elements in an attempt to describe wholeness by bringing together the five separate and complete individual blocks and uniting them in the geometry.
The question is posed that the power at the centre, by the nature and juxtaposition of the work, is rendered inaccessible to many.
Joe Bidder profiles Tony Heaton, a leading artist and major figure within the Disability Arts movement.
The interview was commissioned by DAO
Maquette of Squarinthecircle?
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A £50,000 Arts Council commission to make a large scale sculpture sited at the University of Portsmouth is a significant new achievement for disabled artist, Tony Heaton. His five-piece 25 foot diameter sculpture constructed in Portland stone will be the permanent centre-piece of SquaringtheCircle?, a Dada-South collaborative arts project in partnership with Diablo Arts, the University of Portsmouth, St George's Beneficial School and the Portsea community.
The project, managed by Zoe Partington, includes other disabled artists Signdance Collective, Jon Adams, Joolz Cave-Berry, Mark Ware, architects, staff and students, school children, and monumental masons based at the world-famous Dorset quarry. Squaring the Circle is a complex partnership but one relished by Tony Heaton as he develops the design, carving, finishing, placement and dedication of this massive eleven ton installation. The artistic vision is rooted in disability arts: an irregular circle of five carved stone seats - its inner sanctum inaccessible to wheelchair users. The largest piece of disability art ever erected in the UK, it will stimulate discussion, learning and controversy.
Winning competitions is nothing new for Heaton who has public art work standing in Beswick, Manchester (GreyMares), Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and at other locations. Born in Preston in 1954 and taking inspiration from his father, a coppersmith who had designed and built a sailing boat from recycled timber including a teak bar-top from a demolished pub, Heaton, an admirer of the ambiguous poetry of Leonard Cohen, has described himself somewhat self-deprecatingly as a fiddler of bits.
Impaired by a spinal injury at 16, he switched from a comprehensive school to a local arts college at Southport but made a decisive move in 1972 when he opted for self employment as artist, sign writer, disc jockey, record shop (punk and new wave) proprietor, progressive rock band member and painter of murals. Heaton gathered enormous expertise and self-reliance whilst appearing to drift aimlessly. In 1986 he changed direction once more when he enrolled on a visual arts degree at Lancaster University whilst earning a living as a sign-painter.
A contemporary of Andy Goldsworthy, Heaton experimented with environmental sculpture on the seemingly endless sands at Morecambe Bay where his work could be seen for 15 miles. Observing
his tracks in the sand, Lancaster's head of sculpture, Paul Hatton,
urged him to develop this sense of difference into a rich source of unique work. Heaton states, “A chance comment about how the marks left in the sand by my feet and crutches made my tracks immediately identifiable became the catalyst for a whole series of works relating to disability and my interaction with the environment.” Heaton exhibited a plaster cast of his feet and stick imprints, his first piece of disability art although at that time he had no knowledge of its existence nor of the emerging disability arts movement.
Significant sculptures followed - many with witty punning titles, such as Wheelchair Entrance, Spring Back and Great Britain from a Wheelchair. These caught the attention of LDAF who commissioned him for Euroday '91 to construct Shaken Not Stirred, a seven-foot high pyramid of 1,680 charity collection cans which Heaton demolished theatrically with a Doc Marten boot attached to an artificial leg. The performance was repeated to great effect at the Block Telethon event in London, filmed for BBC2 and reported in the national press. [See reviews of Heaton's work by distinguished disabled artists/critics Adam Reynolds, Allan Sutherland, Katherine Walsh and Deborah Williams published in DAIL and DAM magazines].
GREAT BRITAIN FROM A WHEELCHAIR
'Great Britain from a Wheelchair' is a map of Britain made from parts of two grey NHS wheelchairs. When Tony first told me about this work as he was making it, it seemed a rather foolish and unworkable idea. I was wrong: it's wonderful - I described it elsewhere as 'like a disability version of one of my very favourite art works, the bull's head which Pablo Picasso made from a bicycle saddle and handlebars.' First seeing it, in the 'Unleashed' exhibition earlier this year, I found that initially it just looked like a lot of bits of old wheelchairs. As with those 3D prints, it took a while to adjust perceptually. Then suddenly it sprang into place - a complete, startlingly real map of Great Britain.
A delightful game, it forms a wonderful repudiation of the value judgement ('This is for some tragic bastard', in Tony's words) implicit in the wheelchairs.
Allan Sutherland (edited from DAIL magazine)
A simple, visual pun, constructed from two ex-ministry Vessa Wheelchairs.The experience of Great Britain from a Wheelchair is somewhat different.
"This a bold representation of Channel 4’s commitment to changing attitudes to disability with our coverage of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.”
Channel 4’s Chief Executive David Abraham
MONUMENT TO THE UNINTENDED PERFORMER
Channel 4’s Chief Executive David Abraham today unveiled the latest installation on the ‘Big 4’ outside the corporation’s Horseferry Road headquarters – the design of which celebrates Channel 4’s involvement and commitment to the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
The installation, Monument to the Unintended Performer, is by disabled sculptor and artist Tony Heaton. The piece brings together three elements in addition to the Big 4: the first based on the classical Greek sculpture Discobulus, the discus thrower, evoking the spirit of the Olympics; the second element, a circle, representing the wheel of the international symbol of access; and lastly, the introduction of gold, silver and bronze considers hierarchy.
The latest installation on the Big 4 was unveiled as Channel 4 launched its coverage of the 2012 Paralympic Games at an event attended by Lord Sebastian Coe, Chairman of LOCOG.
Tony Heaton said: “I wanted to use the structure of the Big 4 as one of four elements that would fuse together to form a new cohesive piece – which would provoke thought and celebrate Channel 4’s involvement and commitment to the Paralympics. The subtext of the piece is the assertion that disabled people are almost always the object of scrutiny and curiosity.”
David Abraham said: This new installation by Tony Heaton is a striking addition to the iconic Big 4 and is a bold representation of Channel 4’s commitment to changing attitudes to disability with our coverage of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.”
Tony Heaton has worked as a sculptor since the inception of what became known as disability arts, a movement inextricably linked to the politics of disability. His performance piece ‘Shaken not Stirred’ – created from the stacking into a pyramid of 1,760 red charity collecting tins and then destroyed by the hurling into it of a prosthetic leg with a steel toe capped boot for the ‘Block Telethon’ campaign – was part of a seminal moment where disabled activists protested against the televising of Telethon and demanded rights not charity. Similarly, the assemblage, ‘Great Britain from a Wheelchair’ – a map of Britain constructed solely from the deconstructed parts of two condemned ex-ministry wheelchairs - has become an enduring image of that time.
The 50 foot high Big 4 was built in 2007 to celebrate Channel 4’s 25th anniversary and has previously been customised by acclaimed photographer Nick Knight, Turner Prize Titchner, renowned Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui, art graduate and competition winner Stephanie Imbeau, and fashion design graduate and competition winner, Hannah Gourlay.
The installation was created on the Big 4, on behalf of Tony Heaton, by FreeState Ltd – working alongside sub-contractors Millimetre Ltd, Atelier One Ltd, Enliten Architectural Lighting Ltd, and Syrett Neon International.
Tony Heaton presented two ideas to Channel 4, Tragic/Brave (shown here as a CAD render) and Monument to the Unintended Performer which became the final selection
Channel 4 unveils new ‘Big 4’ installation to celebrate broadcasting London 2012 Paralympic Games
See more on Channel 4's website HERE
See 'The Economist' article HERE
See 'The Independent' article by Mary Dejevsky HERE Monday 27 Aug 2012
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GREAT BRITAIN FROM A WHEELCHAIR (RE-VISITED)
Sculptured plinths for Lord Coe and Sir Phillip Craven, commissioned by LOCOG for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Greymares was the result of winning a public art competition run by Community Arts North West and Manchester City Council, collaborating with a local school who wanted horses reflected in the work. The work is sited at Greymares Lane in Beswick, Greater Manchester. Research showed that the area was once a common and popular resting point for gypsies. I developed the sculpture to reflect horses and fairgrounds by depicting Gallopers, one of the traditional fairground rides. These gallopers were cut from stainless steel plate by laser water jet technology at Barrow in Furness shipyard. The two metre long horses were prefabricated at Kendal with a central ball bearing race seated in a rubberised housing which allows the sculpture to rotate like a weather vane. The sculpture sits on top of a 25 foot brick column. A blue glazed brick spirals around the column, suggesting movement. A seat running around the base of the column invites people to use the sculpture as a meeting place.
The sculpture is constructed from individual vertebrae made from porcelain, fired and then connected by pouring paper clay and re-firing.
Did you sleep with the fates?
Did they ride pillion with you that night?
Did those three goddesses
Possess you and do they now control your destiny?
Perhaps so, for it seems to me that it is more than
Irony that presides here.
There seems a predestined inevitability,
Predetermined power principles
That have dictated your consequence
Of being born to be wild.
The price you now pay back
By instalments. Piece by piece.
The latest gift you brought as promised
Carries with it a certain realisation
In its creation, that time like the tables
Continue to turn and ultimately the numbers
Do come around again.
A reminder that life is equally extraordinary,
Beautiful and brutal. Life is the real deal,
And needs to be gambled.
It sits in the alcove in the space
In which you envisaged it
A niche of measured proportions
That would frame your rachis.
Cock sure that this construction
Certain that you could manipulate
Its primary and secondary intent.
But then it happened. As before.
Shattered in transit - the penalty
For being experimental
For daring to move your form at speed
Without due care; without sufficient
And so the table turned
And so the bet was laid
Thus, you both came
Together. Individually unified
As I had expected,
And perversely hoped;
Deranged. In pieces.
Fractured. Rebuilt. Redesigned and
Stronger in repair.
More interesting and challenging.
Throwing up questions and enquiry.
Ejaculating a brief pious utterance of prayer.
“It is finished”.
As always my friend you’ve delivered
A wonderful dichotomous.
Produced by timely fate rather than accident
Two erections for the price of one.
Raymond C Bramford
from 'Virginal Blues' poems and prose, 2007
A series of land -based ephemeral works made with sculptor Peter Graham on Morecambe Bay in Silverdale, Lancashire.