There are layers to the process by which we find ourselves transformed – by pain, by trauma, by illness, by age, by parenthood. We develop charged relationships to once unremarkable phenomena like walking, sleeping or physical privacy. We are necessarily distracted. There is no longer time enough for (even a fragment of) what we wish to do. We must learn to accept care – which is not easy, since we would prefer not to need it.
A few years ago, following the birth of her daughter, Bridget O’Gorman experienced the serious deterioration of a spinal condition that brought chronic pain and impeded her mobility. As an artist, her practice sat in the rich territory between craft-based process and theoretical research – video, and complex sculptural installations of ceramic, blown glass or precious metals – physically demanding work, and greedy for time. The “major shift” in O’Gorman’s life after becoming a parent prompted her to question both the expectations she placed on herself, and the broader structure of the hyper-accelerated artworld in which full health, social stability and freedom from caring responsibilities were assumed.
For years, O’Gorman had accepted the constant call to availability, productivity and barely paid labour (baited with the promise of building a career.) It had made her sick, yet it seemed irresistible. After she first suffered spinal injury in 2014, her instinct was to somehow fit back into that problematic working structure: her still “ableist headspace” instructing her to return to “life as normal.” Illness and the body flexed their way into her work as subject rather than context. In the Flesh (2016) explored deterioration – of archival objects related to conflict, and of the human body – and used materials such as putty and resistance bands associated with physical therapy.
Selected for the PIVOT development programme run by Bluecoat in Liverpool and Castlefield Gallery in Manchester, O’Gorman spent 18 months exploring how she might work differently. She adopted slowness as a form of resistance, rejecting the pressure to be constantly productive: this was a period of reflection, rather than physical making. Through writing and research, O’Gorman engaged with ideas that contextualised her new relationship with her body, such as Alison Kafer’s proposals around ‘crip time’. She has constructed a theoretical context in which she can make art with a support worker (this is facilitated further through a relationship with her producer Iarlaith Ni Fheorais.) There are plans for a collection of essays, and for a new body of sculptural work: in brief, future as an artist.
All this is important not just for O’Gorman, but for all invested in a vision of the artworld that holds space for the full diversity of human experience. In the three ‘instruction’ signs of Non Verbal – a project in progress displayed at Castlefield May-September this year – O’Gorman teases out parallels between the pain held in the body, and a child in utero. She explores acceptable and unacceptable modes of expression. The work is clear, vital and challenging. It is a gross irony that the ‘new’ sought so avidly by the artworld is so often found precisely in those bodies of practice that find themselves thoughtlessly excluded.
(Part of a series of texts on artists participating in PIVOT, the inaugural artist development programme in the North West of England. PIVOT is delivered in partnership with Bluecoat, Liverpool and Castlefield Gallery, Manchester.)