Jason Wilsher-Mills’ exhibition Unexpected Engagement marks the end of his year-long Square Peg residency at ArtLink Community Arts Centre. Having met Jason at Hull’s Disability Arts Network (DAN) meetings last year, and hearing his passionate advocacy for the inclusion of people with disabilities at the Engage Conference 2017, I decided to challenge my avoidance of exhibition openings and find out what he had been up to over the course of the residency…
Originally trained as a painter, Jason moved to digital media using an ipad and drawing tablet to work around his disability. During the Square Peg residency he has taken his own working process into sessions with several community groups such as Active Day Care Hull and Case Training. Using ipads, humour and digital pens, people have been enabled to tell their stories and “contribute to the disability debate” (Jason Wilsher Mills, 2018).
On entering the Artlink gallery space, a large 3D print called Bad Boy Billy (2017) makes an immediate impact. Billy is a fun figure with a serious message – highlighting the number of people in the world without suitable wheelchairs. The character is depicted sat on a space hopper, which makes a vital point in an ironic way. Digital Paintings, 3D prints, light-boxes and two short film installations show characters Jason created in collaboration with workshop participants. Two sections of vibrant and visually engaging digitally painted wall paper are (like his other artworks) packed with pointed social/political details embedded amongst illustrative depictions of people with disability and individuality. Extended reality stickers are placed throughout the exhibits, which when scanned with the available iPads, give a comment or fragment of information connected with the people whom Jason worked with to create the characters.
The opening of Unexpected Engagement was one of those rare occasions where those of us with disabilities probably outnumbered those without – a testament to Jason’s ability and commitment to build collaborative art through empowerment and relationships.
Jason Wilsher-Mills Square Peg residency has enabled others to tell their stories and share their aspirations. However, he does not stop at giving a visual voice to personal stories – his artwork also engages directly (through metaphor, character and text) in the wider political debate around disability and social exclusion.
Unexpected Engagement will be at ArtLink until 6 April 2018
View more of Jason Wilsher-Mills’ work at his website
For information and directions to Artlink please visit: https://www.artlink.uk.net/contact_us2.php