M21: From the Medieval to the 21st Century is a programme of live art interventions which took place in the small medieval town of Much Wenlock in Shropshire, the birthplace of the modern Olympics. Organized by DASH in collaboration with the Live Art Development Agency, funded by the Arts Council England as part of the Cultural Olympiad, the programme sought to renegotiate public space and consider questions surrounding body politics, rural identity as well as authorship and historic practice. M21 brought together artists from a cross-section of disability live practice to challenge not only the formal and dramaturgical expectations of such work, but also create a dialogue with its immediate site, history and associations, asking challenging questions about social engagement, the iconography of sport and the potential of sites of engagement.
With the public space so dominated by the iconography of the healthy or able body – a social anaesthetic and a problematic aesthetic in terms of the politics of identity – M21 was a nuanced, daring and playful intervention that toyed with its inherent Olympic narratives and sought to question what we consider to be disability, engaging in discourses surrounding difference. From Disabled Avant-Garde’s wayward mascots Wendeville and Manlock causing havoc in the town’s main square, to Sean Burn’s reworking of Olympic Games in Psychosis Belly and Ann Whitehurst’s challenging critique of capitalism’s homogenization of difference, M21 became a subtle, collective intervention into the rhythms and history of this small rural town, using its public spaces to engage in potent dialogues on assumptions about the rigidity of such social and medical categories- and the extent to which they define public perception of difference.
Walking became the ritual over the two days: a nomadic, roaming promenade following the different interventions throughout the town, weaving through the quaint medieval streets in playful resistance, interrupting the quiet rhythms of the town while recalling its history; walking became a way of toying with the conditions that the town inherently set-up as the site of reception, be in the subtlety of an action recontextualised by the gaze of curious bystanders, or the presence of a silent, moving installation whose material traits became embedded in the site’s cultural history. With the town’s Priory Hall as the locus of activity, the interplay between social and community practices and the politics of live art became intertwined; it was a site that hosted a durational live performance by fine artist Tanya Raabe, in conversation with the town’s Mayor as she was painting her portrait, as well as the starting point for many of the works that headed out into the town and the immediate rural landscape.