In a sensorial medley of sound, touch, and imagination, artist Carolyn Lazard invites viewers to consider accessibility as a creative tool. We visit Nottingham Contemporary to take a seat at their first UK solo exhibition and learn how collaboration can make art spaces more equitable...
Have you ever been to an exhibition in the dark? Carolyn Lazard’s Long Take asks viewers to become part of the work and spend time with an artwork that relies on senses beyond sight. Having trained as a filmmaker, Lazard’s Long Take draws inspiration from dance for the camera – an experimental choreography style for film and video originating in the 1960s. This medium strives to exceed the limits of live performance and Lazard offers a fresh twist on its legacy by presenting this collaborative piece through an accessibility lens.
So what does that look like in practice? Through a doorway, viewers enter a black box gallery with three dark-screened television sets in its centre. Your feet pad along the vinyl floor mats, Surround Sound (2022), which forms a typical dance studio floor. Already, you are joining the scuffs and arches left by former feet and wheels of prams and mobility aids. Sitting down in front of the screens, your eyes adjust to see the low-lit performance space beyond them, but the stage is empty.
There is no performer here, at least not in the typical sense. Rather, the three screens display captions that are part of a collective sound installation – a recorded reading of a dance score. Between the audio descriptions, captions, and sounds of dancer and choreographer Jerron Herman’s movement, the viewer is asked to imagine the performance happening before them without any visual cues.
Between the surrounding speakers and the scant visuals, Lazard throws off the typical art show experience
This sound installation that grounds the exhibition, Leans, Reverses (2022) emphasises the poetry in the audio and visual descriptions created with poet and artist Joselia Rebekah Hughes. Accompanying the vibrations and breaths we hear, the descriptions are read aloud. The left screen intones technical dance instructions, such as ‘build sequence’ or ‘arrive late’. The middle plays audio descriptions with a twist, ‘thump-swoosh-thump,’ ‘swish-step,’ and ‘floor creak’ that combine to build a kinetic sequence of their own. The final screen describes the fluidity and creativity of movement, as the dancer’s ‘arm extends as a mast, falls to the ground’ then ‘darts with suspicion’. And the collaboration comes to life.
Between the surrounding speakers and the scant visuals, Lazard throws off the typical art show experience. Instead, the viewer is put in a position usually reserved for blind or partially sighted audiences, asking us to reconsider what performance can be beyond an aesthetic experience.
Even the benches are part of the installation. Institutional Seating 5–8 transforms four of the galleries standard seating options to ones with height adjustments, supported backrests, and cushioning – they’re very comfortable. Exhibitions seldom include spaces to sit with an artwork, asking us to adopt that slow ‘I’m-really-considering-each-piece’ shuffle, always in motion. But Long Take centres the necessity of rest spaces, prioritising comfort for viewers with varying access needs. Through catering to different bodies, Lazard challenges the viewer while inviting us to get comfortable. Long Take is designed for lingering and allows the mind to wander through its vivid soundscape.
Using their experience of living with chronic illness, Lazard’s radical piece is a breath of fresh air in a capitalist climate that thrives on commodifying artmaking in a world that values efficiency and output over life itself. Their work is centred on ‘care as a collective concern rather than an individual one’ and bodies that are often excluded from public life.
Long Take is an example of accessibility in action. Each element of Lazard and their collaborators’ work, from the benches to the audio description, encourages us to think beyond the standard gallery experience, expanding out into collective care that makes creating, and living, possible.
These ‘often-unseen networks of care, labour, and friendship’ are part of Lazard’s wider artistic heritage. In a 2022 interview with Frieze, Lazard said: “It sometimes feels strange, as an artist, to be put forward and individuated [...] Although that individuation is the one way you can survive, make money and pay rent, it’s not the truth. The truth is that my work comes out of a long lineage of Black, disabled and queer people making art. Ideas and ways of working are constantly being tossed back and forth between me and my friends.”
Since becoming sick ten years ago, I have been hungry for creative work that showed the disabled and chronically ill experience. Beyond individual autobiographies, I wondered what it meant to collectively create through an accessibility lens. Through online research and reading the work of foundational disability justice practitioners and thinkers, I began conversations with other sick artists and writers. Together we formed resting up collective. Our online community is an interdisciplinary group of chronically ill and disabled friends practising slowness to create, think, and interrupt neoliberal pressures and expectations on the body.
Inspired by Lazard’s work and multiple others who create through a disability justice lens, we aim to create spaces of pause that value process over producing
As Lazard says, “practice doesn’t exist in a vacuum: it is made in relation to the work of other artists who have come before”. Inspired by Lazard’s work and multiple others who create through a disability justice lens, we aim to create spaces of pause that value process over producing. In a political climate where sick people are too often seen as ‘lazy’ and aren’t trying hard enough to get better, the workshops we do ask how we can live collectively and achieve equitable spaces through creative practice.
Those new to disability politics can browse the gallery’s gift shop to read seminal texts and contemporary magazines central to the crip community, including Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Disability Visibility edited by Alice Wong, and SICK Magazine. But no reading is necessary to enjoy this innovative work. Enter the darkness, take a seat on one of the four benches, and close your eyes to begin imagining one of the most unusual dance pieces you’ll ever experience.
Carolyn Lazard: Long Take is showing at Nottingham Contemporary from Sat 11 Feb – Sun 7 May.
resting up collective is an interdisciplinary group of chronically ill and disabled friends. Slow works in progress, open to all
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