Four “potent” and “extraordinary” works of art produced by disabled artists in response to the cost-of-living crisis are to be displayed on billboards across five British cities next week.
The Many Costs of Living exhibition offers a response to the disproportionate impact of the cost-of-living emergency on disabled people.
The exhibition, commissioned by the disabled-led organisation Shape Arts, will be shown online and on billboards in Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, and three locations in London, for two weeks from Monday (13 March)*.
One of the pieces, It Feels Like This (pictured above, right), by Bella Milroy, is a list of responses to correspondence to the artist from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), written on the back of a DWP envelope.
It addresses, says Shape, “the violation of the home, the absence of privacy, the pervasive hostility of the state, and the precariousness of depending upon it to live”.
Milroy told Disability News Service today (Thursday) that she had wanted to examine how DWP envelopes can be both “covert and overt” and “how it is obvious to those who understand its meaning and unnoticed by those who see it as just another bit of post”.
She said displaying her piece on a billboard could “better reflect the way it arrives and how much space it takes up mentally and emotionally”.
Milroy said: “I wanted to play with these notions, and how even in displaying them so big, there will still be those who miss it and don’t see it for where it originally came from; the insidious quality of it remains no matter what.
“I wanted the text I wrote to speak to the ways we are often left without words, how this moment feels drenched in grief and how we are not given the space to acknowledge that.
“I hope others connect with it in their own way, and perhaps consider what grief in this moment feels like for them.”
She said DWP envelopes were “endlessly inspiring” to her creatively because of the way they “arrive in the home, and are visible to some, but invisible to others”.
She said: “If you know, you know, and when it arrives through the letterbox I always feel the sense of dread it brings with it.
“They are both really ordinary and really powerful, and I like to creatively play with the space in between those two things.
“Recently the envelopes have changed from brown to white, making them even more covert, and I have made art responding to this change in stationery too.”
The other billboards will feature Justin Piccirilli’s Eton Mess, which addresses the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, while Hanecdote (Hannah Hill) illustrates her fears about the future of the NHS in Down The Drain, and the Kirkwood Brothers examine the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on their mental health in Pressure (pictured above, left).
The exhibition builds on conversations that came out of The Mine, by Jay Price, the winner of last year’s Adam Reynolds Award, which explored the historic and current marginalisation of disabled people.
Price said the new exhibition “takes a high impact, forceful approach”, with the four artists “creating innovative platforms to address a life-threatening subject”.
They said: “I feel inspired and empowered by their collaboration, and hopeful that their message will meet open eyes and empathetic ears – as they offer both insight and solidarity.”
Disabled artist Alison Lapper said The Many Costs of Living campaign was “an extraordinary example of the alchemy of art in action”.
She said: “Each artist has confronted the unavoidably dismal outlook we currently face with gentleness, humour, and craftsmanship typical of their work.
“As the public encounter the campaign in the wild, the potency of the works will surely have long-lasting and galvanising effects.”
Shape Arts said disabled people had been disproportionately affected by the rising costs of living, with their daily expenses “one of the most significant barriers they face”.
A Shape Arts spokesperson said: “In a time of spiralling inflation, the chaos of a crumbling welfare state and national infrastructure, and set against a backdrop of climate breakdown, this has turned into an ongoing crisis.
“The Many Costs of Living is a collective response to this emergency.”
*They will be shown outside Finsbury Park station, Clapham Junction station, and Peckham Rye station, in London; in Fitzwilliam Street, Sheffield; Candleriggs, Glasgow; Whitworth Street, Manchester; and Parr Street, Liverpool
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