It’s felt like old times. Today I journeyed back to Barcelona in a Bag. I spent a day in my studio sorting my space out, a project I began several months ago but had been unable to follow through. My huge Arts Council England project Neither Use Nor Ornament has been taking all of my time.
Today was different. Today I sought sanctuary from #puppetgate – the on-line controversy surrounding a play called All in a Row, which will open tomorrow night at the Southwark Playhouse. Thankfully I found the peace I needed as I communed with some of the most precious objects in my collection.
All in a Row features a grey skinned puppet as an autistic child called Lawrence, who is the only non-human part in a cast of neurotypical actors playing neurotypical characters.
Yes, I know.
A furore has rightly ensued, and autistics across the globe have been Tweeting outrage and anguish at this frankly ableist trope. Almost two weeks on I’m at breaking point. Those behind the Lawrence debacle appear inured to the emotional toil dehumanising representations take on us, though we’ve tried to tell them. Despite the autistic community’s global furore, or the National Autistic Society declaring that they couldn’t support the use of a puppet to portray an autistic person, or even an article in the mainstream press calling the puppet grotesque, All in a Row author, production company and Southwark Theatre have all stuck to their guns. They know best.
As I pottered in my studio #puppetgate receded. Abuela (my grandmother) came to me as she always does when I need her. As I handled the suitcase from her last journey (to come and live with us in 1975) I connected to the reason I began my creative project in the first place. I’d lost sight of it in the struggle to manage my project. I just haven’t been able to keep up my studio practice, and in the current battle with the All in a Row teams’ mind-bending and unthinking ableism I have been thrown off balance.
I’ve just realised of course that All in a Row also reads as all being in an argument. You can’t make this up.
But what I wanted to write about really is the redeeming nature of a studio practice.
My Tweet (pic) is more eloquent than I can be right now. Exhaustion is setting in. As I worked at tidying my studio, abuela turned her back on the internet and suggested I do the same. I don’t think we should give those people anymore of our attention, she explained quite forthrightly.
I moved the suitcase gently, avoiding lifting it by the handle which is broken. Yes abuela I said. She smiled and patted my head. Make sure you come back tomorrow.