Jason Wilsher-Mills once described himself as a ‘reluctant digital artist’ but now through engaging with different technologies, including iPad Art and Augmented Reality, he is breaking down barriers, building trust and telling the moving stories of the different communities he works with.
‘Disabled artists are in the trenches at the moment, we fight with the tools we have in order to find our own way.’
For the past year Artlink Community Arts Centre, have been running a programme called Square Peg to increase visibility and opportunities for art and artists, from diverse backgrounds and from within the disabled community. The yearlong series of events and exhibitions, supported by Hull 2017 UK City of Culture and Shape Arts, culminates with an exhibition by digital artist Jason Wilsher-Mills.
As Square Peg resident artist, Jason has been working with local community groups including Case Training, Lighthouse Project, Active Day Care Hull Ltd, Unity in the Community and 5 Senses, inviting them into his zany digital world, where you can be anyone or anything at the stroke of a digital pen.
Jason takes his digital art workshops, creates a warm and inclusive space for imaginations to run free. The results are colourful re-imagined and magically enhanced self portraits. Using humour, Hull language and iPad technology Jason, aided by personal assistant Laura, has broken down barriers, built relationships within hard to reach communities in Hull.
To Read All About The Workshop Experience Click Here
The exhibition that runs until April 6, can be largely divided into two parts, the digital prints, completely transforming the atmosphere inside the gallery space and the figurines, including the larger-than-life interactive ‘Bad Boy Billy’ riding on a space hopper. The reason for this mode of transport, is revealed by way of a specially created Augmented Reality app, loaded onto the iPads provided – also downloadable for free via your App provider – that reveal messages, life experiences, hopes and dreams of disabled people in Britain today.
One of the stories, found behind the chromosome symbol, concerns a young lady who, due to a genetic condition, finds navigating the outside world a difficult and challenging prospect. It is testament to Jason’s approach and ability to enable communities in this way to achieve things they didn’t think they could, that she was able to attend the exhibition launch.
‘Using technology and art you can give a voice to those people who don’t have a voice – sometimes literally don’t have a voice – and give them a voice, and a place at the table in the disability debate.’
The use of digital technology adds another layer and extra dimension to the work, providing the platform to get across the serious messages within the colourful, zany characters. Purposefully placed within the crazy patterns and cartoon imagery, lie words and phrases that respond and reflect the conditions that disabled communities face. Draconian measures and tests that have to be undertaken in order to receive benefits or qualify for transport: help from the state to make increasingly challenging lives, just that little bit easier. While the world prepares once more to raise the image of disability sport, those who are not the elite athletes, their everyday struggle to live, thrive or just survive in modern Britain continues.
The caption beneath the figure pictured below, reads tellingly, ‘I beat the 20 metre rule…. and kept my car.’
Visitors to the exhibition should also look out for ‘East Hull Elvis with the Dislocated Pelvis’ inspired by a chap who lives alone in a caravan, in East Hull with no benefits, no support system, who likes to impersonate Elvis. Jason channels the anger and dismay he feels about the man’s situation, by creating the digital character which then becomes the vehicle to share the story, of yet another one, who has fallen through the net.
One of the characters depicts a curious tale about the unlikely time Mario Lanza borrowed John Barry’s hedge trimmer, to engage in a little scrimshaw: all suitably represented in typical madcap fashion. These two creations and the P.I.P. (Personal Independence Payment) Princess mark a turning point in Jason’s work.
Whereas before his illustrations and characters were created from his own life experiences, his feelings, dreams, politics… the new work gathers the stories and ideas from all the different communities he has worked with in Hull and the surrounding area. This shift in practice has also inspired the title of the exhibition Unexpected Engagement.
Whilst working with women from the Lighthouse Project, Jason faced different challenges derived from the nature of the women’s past relationships with men. Once he had found ways to build trust the women said. ‘You’re a really nice man… We don’t meet many of those.’ Through the process the women were able to create artwork, that was both aspirational and therapeutic, picturing where they wanted to be in their lives.
Unexpected Engagement by Jason Wilsher-Mills continues at Artlink Prices Avenue until 6 April.
Jason will also be conducting a series of childrens’ workshops associated with the Square Peg residency and an Artist’s Talk 10 March. Details and Free Tickets can be found Here.
Artist site: Jason Wilsher-Mills
Read all TEN Square Peg Blogs Click Here
Visit Jerome Whittingham Square Peg Photographer @Photomoments