Catalogue

About the exhibition

An audio described tour of the exhibition is available on our Soundcloud as a continuous album.

In culture, mirrors are used to symbolise truth. It is also said that art is a mirror turned on society, reflecting the issues and mood of the current moment. In this way, the artist interrogates and sheds light, revealing things that might otherwise be disguised or hidden. 

For disabled people, however, too often what they find in the cultural mirror is distorted, filled with representations that are not only untrue, but harmful, damaging to individuals and communities.

In earlier times this might have centred on the physical self, but increasingly we find it in depictions of the person inside. Art and culture have a long history of using disabled people as props for entertainment, or as educational and cautionary tales. 

This exhibition treats the subject of disability differently, using the lens of lived experience.  Taking place in an age when mirrors are everywhere, even in our phones, it challenges the processes and assumptions that forge our ideas of who we are, and how we are shown. 

Through film, photography, data readings, portraiture, and computer-generated design, these digitally-hosted artworks ask new questions:

What happens to our understanding of ourselves if someone or something else has control of our image – and of the other ways we are represented?

Who has this power and where did it come from? How do we decide what is true? And what is the actual truth about how we live our lives?

As these twenty-five artists turn the mirror on themselves and society, we invite you to explore what might be found.

The Shape Open is our annual exhibition of artwork by disabled and non-disabled artists created in response to a disability-centred theme. The Open provides a space where disabled and non-disabled artists can discuss and exchange views and ideas about issues and topics which are often sidelined within artistic debate.

The Shape Open creates an opportunity for emerging and mid-career artists to raise their profile while allowing established artists taking part to show their work alongside new and fresh perspectives that they may not ordinarily encounter.

About the exhibition BSL video

About the exhibition audio

The Artists

Alec Finlay

descriptions

Artist concept, Alec Finlay; read by Mark Bonnar; commissioned by Action for ME.

Created in collaboration with Mark Bonnar, descriptions is a found poem composed from the experiences of 300 people with ME (Myalgic encephalomyelitis), each of whom completed a questionnaire. The text challenges the unresolved contestation that exists around this disease, reclaiming symptoms from prejudice and decades of neglect. By attending to the reality of pain and fatigue as they are described by those experiencing them, the book and audiobook enact the potential of patient-led medicine and seek to parley with hostile authority.

Descriptions considers the reasons why a community has been so determinedly disbelieved. Finlay is currently working with the DeCode ME and Long Covid project to further develop this work, in association with Shape and Action for ME. In the pandemic era the project speaks up for the million and more people with Long Covid, a similar post-viral disease, also subject to misrepresentation, ill-informed treatment, and lack of medical research.

Alec Finlay BSL video

Alec Finlay audio

Alexandrina Hemsley

Collage detail from An Anatomy of a Phoenix

In 2021, Alexandrina devised collages as ways of documenting components of the imagery used in their film An Anatomy of a Phoenix. Using an intricately improvised musical and movement score, and the symbolism of the Phoenix, whose life spans over five hundred years, the film breaks down approaches to self understanding, challenging rigid ideas about timelines, and the construction of identity in the face of trauma. As an artefact of this investigation, her collage functions as a kaleidoscope, refracting and transforming disconnected fragments of self.

Supported by Northern School of Contemporary Dance

Alexandrina Hemsley audio

Allie Watson

The body, what lies beneath

This artwork challenges the significance placed on what is visible or ‘seen’ when it comes to identity, whether it is the identity others assume of us or the one we construct ourselves. Using herself as a template and coming specifically from personal experience with hidden disability and chronic illness, Watson’s work pulls back the skin to reveal reality, challenging the way disabled people are understood while also forcing us to examine what other assumptions we may be making based on superficial information.

Allie Watson BSL video

Allie Watson audio

Andrea Spisto

Isla/Island

Isla/Island began as a mockumentary in response to Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift’s biopics. Amused by the idea of documenting themself, a rising fringe-theatre-star, with the same commitment as these pop stars, Andrea began to question: who is allowed this kind of attention?

Commencing filming at the time of lockdown unravelling, Andrea quickly realised that the most compelling footage was where they looked the most absurd or embarrassing, and therefore the most real. This formed the basis of the process: a documentary dance, between the artist and their partner, who dared to put the camera on and keep recording at the most vulnerable, as well as the most fun, moments. When edited together, it became a biopic of mostly outtakes.

The questions within: am I successful? Am I an artist? Do I deserve this kind of attention? cannot be definitively answered. Other than, perhaps, by Andrea’s mother, who co-stars with devastating beauty.

Andrea Spisto BSL video

Andrea Spisto audio

Anonymous

Humanoid looking robot in the mirror

How are we shaped by the world around us?

Using artificial intelligence (AI) text-to-image generative software, this image represents the AI’s interpretation of a ‘humanoid robot looking in the mirror.’ The datasets that ‘trained’ this AI system are comprised of billions of images from the internet, all produced by humans. As a result, the AI’s ‘self portrait’ is made out of fragments of a decidedly human culture. Can we still call it a ‘self’ portrait? Expanding this understanding, we might ask to what extent we as humans are also ‘trained’ by the world around us?

Is our own intelligence any less artificial than the AI’s or are we too a sometimes unwitting product of the culture and social debris that define our identities? Does contemporary culture represent our inherent humanity, or are we as a species being re-shaped by the forces moulding contemporary culture?

Anonymous BSL video

Anonymous audio

April Lin 林森

now i close my eyes the world i see is so beautiful

Borrowing dialogue from the Taiwanese New Wave film Yi Yi, Lin’s music video for OHYUNG’s now i close my eyes the world i see is so beautiful seeks to find and expose the paths forged between generations, ancestors and descendants, along which our identities develop. These pathways extend not just through time but across space for diasporic communities, and yet despite this feat of human connection, the bridges that are built appear invisible. The music video asks what it would look like to stroll across them, to jump off, even. Would a new bridge be created? Or a new dimension open up? 

Through scenes from Second Life, Lin and the many versions of their 爷爷 / yeye / grandfather go on previously impossible journeys, each time creating new realms, new mirrors through which belonging, memory, and togetherness are reflected, refracted, and ultimately generated.

April Lin 林森 BSL video

April Lin 林森 audio

Bianca Raffaella

Fading Portrait

This abstract representation of the artist observing herself in the mirror is assembled with frustrated brush marks and soft dusty tones, bringing the viewer to Raffaella’s vantage point with Nystagmus, the rapid, uncontrollable eye movements that prevent focus, reducing vibrancy to hushed impressions.

Using a unique artistic process she calls Intuitive Painting, Raffaella very subtly captures the emotions and sensitivity that the subject – herself – is experiencing when observing their own reflection. Her personal journey to acceptance of both this difference in perception and its broader impact on her identity is symbolised too in the vulnerability of the diffused light surrounding her figure and the feathery eyes, tightly shut.

Bianca Raffaella BSL video

Bianca Raffaella audio

c. mae bloom

things we lost will return to dust

Fragment of larger installation.

This work begins with the traces left behind. The literal, biological debris that remains in our wake: skin cells, shedded hairs, and oils from fingermarks. But there are psychic traces, too, like memories, that occur only in the mind but are nonetheless just as real. Over seven years, every cell in our bodies is replaced with a copy that may or may not be identical. We are constantly in flux, whether we are aware or not. The physical world and the failing meat-machines that carry us are no more static than memories.

In this work, c. mae bloom reflects upon a period of change and the ghosts of past selves, only surviving in biological rubble and psychic echoes. Understanding comes only retrospectively.

c. mae bloom BSL video

c. mae bloom audio

Cameron Morgan & Jonathan McKinstry

The Right to Party

Created collaboratively, The Right to Party is part of a larger body of work – Equality for Everyone – by Morgan and McKinstry that seeks to express the desires of disabled people. Through their choice of language in these paintings, the artists draw attention to the activist underpinnings of the fight for disability rights, reminding us of the necessity to enshrine these freedoms in law, while also illustrating all of the emotion, community, and joy at the heart of such demands. To this end, The Right to Party offers a paradoxical reflection, showing both what disabled people want to see while reminding us of the necessary changes yet to happen, beautifully balancing disabled joy and collective struggle.

Cameron Morgan & Jonathan McKinstry BSL video

Cameron Morgan & Jonathan McKinstry audio

Charlie Fitz

Advocacy Fatigue

The pieces exhibited by Charlie are ‘statements of self’ in digital collage and print. The artworks are part of Sick of Being Patient, which began as a multimedia project of cultural activism and has evolved into Charlie’s approach to art practice, aiming to resist and challenge stereotypes of  the ‘sick’ and/or ‘disabled’ experience from a personal perspective. 

Fable is a response to the frequent funnelling by others of Charlie’s experience into either a life to be inspired by or pitied. Advocacy Fatigue is a statement about burnout, as well as a reaction to continually being disbelieved as a young woman with a history of trauma in medical spaces. Disabled Joy marks a turn in Charlie’s work in which she is trying to embrace moments of joy whilst still validating the nuanced experiences of disability which is frequently represented in the media or pop culture as a reductive trope or plot device.

Charlie Fitz BSL video

Charlie Fitz audio

Fable

The pieces exhibited by Charlie are ‘statements of self’ in digital collage and print. The artworks are part of Sick of Being Patient, which began as a multimedia project of cultural activism and has evolved into Charlie’s approach to art practice, aiming to resist and challenge stereotypes of  the ‘sick’ and/or ‘disabled’ experience from a personal perspective.

Fable is a response to the frequent funnelling by others of Charlie’s experience into either a life to be inspired by or pitied. Advocacy Fatigue is a statement about burnout, as well as a reaction to continually being disbelieved as a young woman with a history of trauma in medical spaces. Disabled Joy marks a turn in Charlie’s work in which she is trying to embrace moments of joy whilst still validating the nuanced experiences of disability which is frequently represented in the media or pop culture as a reductive trope or plot device.

Charlie Fitz BSL video

Charlie Fitz audio

Disabled Joy

The pieces exhibited by Charlie are ‘statements of self’ in digital collage and print. The artworks are part of Sick of Being Patient, which began as a multimedia project of cultural activism and has evolved into Charlie’s approach to art practice, aiming to resist and challenge stereotypes of  the ‘sick’ and/or ‘disabled’ experience from a personal perspective.

Fable is a response to the frequent funnelling by others of Charlie’s experience into either a life to be inspired by or pitied. Advocacy Fatigue is a statement about burnout, as well as a reaction to continually being disbelieved as a young woman with a history of trauma in medical spaces. Disabled Joy marks a turn in Charlie’s work in which she is trying to embrace moments of joy whilst still validating the nuanced experiences of disability which is frequently represented in the media or pop culture as a reductive trope or plot device.

Charlie Fitz BSL video

Charlie Fitz audio

Damien Robinson

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch (TANSTAAFL) is a simple expression of the economic theory that goods and services must be paid for by someone; there is always a cost, no matter how indirect or hidden.  

The work uses a data visualisation process to create imagery based on the often hidden, unpaid work that many women undertake, making the invisible visible. Participants completed an anonymous survey quantifying hours and areas of unpaid work, including care, childcare, housework, unpaid overtime, and volunteering. The imagery – outputted using outdated open-source software – is displayed as pattern and colour rather than readable information.

Damien Robinson BSL video

Damien Robinson audio

Dexter McLean

Reflexion

This set of self portraits is designed to challenge society’s representation of disabled people as devoid of romance or sensuality, not by assimilating to these ableist expectations but by upending them, exposing them in turn to be founded on white supremacist, patriarchal structures as well. Intimately representing his own black, disabled body, McLean is offering the reflection of himself that he knows to be authentic, while wilfully uncovering society’s inaccurate assumption of his identity.

Dexter McLean BSL video

Dexter McLean audio

Ellie Ora Page

Mirror Me

When she ended up on a mental health ward as a patient instead of an employee, Page was convinced she was turning invisible. Physically and metaphorically, the artist believed that their existence was slowly fading. Soon no one would know she was there. This sensation of disappearing reoccurs occasionally throughout Page’s life and in a bid to confront it, this painting emerged. Like a vampire looking in a mirror, Page depicts herself as only accessories; superficial and interchangeable props from which her identity can be surmised.

Ellie Ora Page BSL video

Ellie Ora Page audio

Esther Maltby

MRI / Professional Development / In the park

This series of drawings were created before, during, and after a psychiatric diagnosis, an experience superimposed with Maltby’s coming to terms with their queer identity. The process of creating the comics was an exercise in self-reflection, with Maltby assigning feelings to the characters on the page. This investment of personal meaning leaves the audience with implicit context only, emotions to infer from colour, shape, and form. What might a mirror show if it could reach beneath the surface, into our imaginations?

Esther Maltby BSL video

Esther Maltby audio

Frederick Ingoldby

Your head isn’t as big as it looks in the mirror

The more Ingoldby saw of himself in the mirror during lockdown, the less real those reflections began to feel. This artwork is a deeply symbolic representation of these encounters. From the separated canvases echoing sensations of detachment and depersonalisation, to the razor’s nod to pandemic-induced, radical haircuts, Ingoldby’s painting is layered with meaning. Straddling the familiar and the uncanny, this work sparks a universally complex question: how much of what we understand about ourselves is shaped by the very process of trying to do so?

Frederick Ingoldby BSL video

Frederick Ingoldby audio

Katie Luna Goldfinch

It's A Jungle Out There

Born from frustration and absurdist rebellion against the pitiful charity model of understanding disability, IT’S A JUNGLE OUT THERE is a deliberately surreal explosion of cheer, joy, anger, and community: all parts of disabled identity that this model fails to represent. A conversation between disabled mother and child, Goldfinch’s film centres personal experience in all its complex glory to examine how disabled people are externally represented and how disabled identity is thought of individually, as well as how these two things interact.

Katie Luna Goldfinch BSL video

Katie Luna Goldfinch audio

Lejin Fan

I love you instagram

Exploring the role of modern technologies and media into understandings of identity, Fan’s multimedia artwork subverts the common tropes of Instagram to demonstrate the paradox of our digital avatars. Using her own account for this experiment, Fan transferred her most recent images onto the surface of tofu, a foodstuff often considered at once perfectly smooth and fragile, but ultimately designed to be consumed, much like our online output. Left exposed to the elements for several days, the quick-to-rot quality of tofu leads to the transformation of these images and pristine artefacts into decaying, potentially toxic material, exposing the artist’s own relationship to their digital self-image.

Lejin Fan BSL video

Lejin Fan audio

Mark Tamer

Autonomy

Autonomy is a sequence of four self portraits shot and presented on film which has been left to soak for two months in a chemical bath of the artist’s prescribed medications. Digitally transposing the film, its repetition in the work parallels the inversion process of mirrors. The chemical breakdown of the film is similarly mirrored by the breakdown of Tamer’s own self image. Tamer exploits this moment of fragility and vulnerability, at which the medium is at its weakest after chemical erosion, to expose the very fabric it is made of. The work implies that this process of revelation is what we, too, experience in the process of trying to understand ourselves.

Mark Tamer BSL video

Mark Tamer audio

MH Sarkis

Liquid Planet

Ancient shorelines indicate that Mars once had a liquid water ocean, three billion years ago. It is unclear what other historical phenomena accounts for all of the geological features observable on the planet today.

In the same way, we as individuals all have our own historical phenomena, shaping our observable features. The notion of disability, like Mars’ ocean, may be fluid. Things that were once true about how we functioned may no longer be, but their mark is left regardless and in ways others may not understand. The mirror Sarkis offers in Liquid Planet is therefore muddied and distorted, complex in ways beyond comprehension, but decidedly beautiful nonetheless.

MH Sarkis BSL video

MH Sarkis audio

Monique Jackson

Reflections

Monique wanted to create a GIF that could depict the emotional support she experiences through online safe spaces and patient advocacy groups. These networks provide opportunity and space to recognise the phenomena these transnational internet communities can offer, especially to those who live in isolation, particularly during the pandemic.

Monique Jackson BSL video

Monique Jackson audio

Nicola Gregory & Jack Haslam

Somebody to blame needed

Mother and son duo Gregory & Haslam created this domestic scene to turn a mirror inwards. Somebody to blame needed puts their relationship on display, reflecting not just exterior judgements but also their own interpretation of one another. The drama captures their desperation, dependence, love, hate, and strife; all the complexities of the intimate daily life they share.

Nicola Gregory & Jack Haslam BSL video

Nicola Gregory & Jack Haslam audio

Sally Brighten

Silence

Playing with the concept of mirrors and reflections, ‘Silence’ exposes not what is offered back to the witness but instead that which is beyond the mirror’s ability to represent. Attending to these hidden inner conflicts, feelings, or traumas – that manifest inside us but cannot be seen or heard – the film works to demonstrate how images in the mirror may not be all that they appear. 

Both the format of film and the deliberate lack of audio in Brighten’s work are exploited to extend this critical playfulness, presenting a self portrait made possible by disrupting the process of ‘seeing oneself,’ a silent exposition that is loud in its honesty.

Sally Brighten BSL video

Sally Brighten audio

Mask and Mirror

These four screen prints were created from digital photographs. The performative self portraits make use of a mask and mirrors as props, complicating the usual direction of reflection expected of a portrait. This subversion allows Brighten to explore concepts of identity, masquerade, and the mirror as both heterotopia (world within a world that reflects and disrupts) and utopian space.

For the artist, however, the use of a mask and a performative energy also prompts personal questions around ambiguity, neurodivergent ‘masking,’ the self, and the ‘other.’

Sally Brighten BSL video

Sally Brighten audio

Sop

Pneuma (revisited)

A work spanning over 20 years, Pneuma (revisited) uses a film made in 2000, originally shown silently on a loop, with the addition of excerpts from an essay written in 2021, a year when we became more than usually concerned with the idea of ‘the breath’. Sop became chronically ill around halfway between these two works, and this new film is now seen in a different context, beyond the playful, whimsical gesture for which it was originally made.

This new version comments on invisible illness, grief, disappearing in plain sight, isolation and dissociation, common daily states for someone living with chronic illness. Any public image, in real life or social media is nebulous, but here Sop joins the internal and the external, considering how the use of the breath can unite a private, expansive ‘internal’ to an ‘external’, whilst trying to remain somewhat in control of how one is witnessed.

Sop BSL video

Sop audio

Wendy Belcher

Things that annoy me

Things That Annoy Me is a personal reflection by the artist, exploring their working and domestic life. Portraying an honest and hilarious depiction of Belcher’s experience of autism, the film turns a mirror not just on the artist herself but on the assumptions the audience arrives with about how autistic people live.

Wendy Belcher BSL video

Wendy Belcher audio

Yasmeen Fathima Thantrey

Jiski biwi moti

Exploring both body and the self, this work unpicks the artist’s identity and position in the world. The marginalised parts of Thantrey – whether it’s being fat, having brown skin, or being queer or disabled – often feel an inconvenience to society. Through an intimate and interactive exposition of what she has been taught are problems, barriers to overcome, Thantrey invites the audience not just to become familiar with the truth, that these barriers are external, and not innate, but also to examine their personal relationship with the enforcement of these marginalising structures.

Yasmeen Fathima Thantrey BSL video

Yasmeen Fathima Thantrey audio