Changing Cultural Perceptions of Disability and Difference
Submitting InstitutionTeesside University
Unit of AssessmentArt and Design: History, Practice and Theory
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Information and Computing Sciences: Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media
Summary of the impact
McKeown is a major exponent of Disability Arts. Through his creative work
in animation and performance he works to affect popular assumptions about
disability. He seeks to affirm disability as a social construct and his
work reflects, deconstructs and engages with the concepts of normalcy and
the abnormal. He has become an important proponent of disability issues
because of the international reach of his practice as an artist. His work
stresses the pride and self-confidence of the disabled and expresses their
wish to participate in, and be full members of, society. He has reached a
large public and affected the terms of debate of the issues he acts as an
McKeown is a Reader in Post-Production and Animation, and lectures in
special effects, animation and games design. The research interests
underpinning McKeown's work focus on an exploration of the cultural
assumptions and societal views of normality and difference. He has made
important contributions to the on-going societal and scientific debate on
genetic enhancement and the issues of identity, wellbeing and the cultural
representation of disability in contemporary society.
McKeown is a congenitally disabled artist. The term covers work made by
disabled artists that addresses the oppression and marginalisation of
`disability' in the same way as race, gender and sexuality have been
explored by artists. His work reframes historical narratives related to
impairment groups that may no longer exist in the near future, such as
those suffering from Spina Bifida. His work is a series of multiplatform,
interventionist, participatory events which would have us accept disabled
people's impairments, and their associated irregularity and asymmetry, as
other ways of being normal. His work crosses creative and technical
boundaries including film, animation, still image and sculpture. He draws
on his 20-year professional background in computer games and special
effects prior to 2004.
On joining Teesside University in 2004 he began to research into how
disability was, and had been, represented in the field of visual art. He
also had the opportunity to develop expertise in 3D motion capture by
developing the digital animation resources at the university. These two
enabled him to construct the theory and plan the practical implementation
of his first research outcome. Through his links with the disability arts
community he met Dr Paul Darke, Director of the disability arts
organisation Outside Centre based in Wolverhampton. Darke assisted in the
early development of this outcome, the animation Motion Disabled.
Motion Disabled received funding from the Wellcome Trust in 2008
and was completed in 2009/10. It explores physically disabled bodies
represented by anonymous 3D avatars and employs 3D motion-capture to
reveal their movements. Following in the footsteps of Muybridge and Marey,
McKeown focuses the viewer's attention on the avatars' motions as they
undertake what are, for them, `normal' actions. In realising the project
he used a trans-disciplinary approach, employing concepts such as Gait
Analysis and computer games' interactive technologies.
McKeown furthered his exposure of normative perceptions of ability and
disability by producing an animated short All For Claire (2010)
which uses animation as a vehicle specifically to create a discourse
around the issues of (dis-)ability in women.
In 2010 working with USA in Washington D.C. he produced a synchronised
worldwide adaption of Motion Disabled shown on 3 December, UN
International Day of Persons with Disabilities, in 20 countries and 25
locations, including at the UN in New York.
McKeown's advocacy for disability and difference led to his collaboration
on Prometheus Awakes in 2012. He was invited by Bradley Hemmings,
Director of the Paralympics opening ceremony and Greenwich and Docklands
International Festival to become involved in this international project.
McKeown was responsible for the large-scale animated environmental
projections central to the work. The performance integrated large-scale
projection, giant puppets and choreography involving a cast of over 60
disabled and non-disabled volunteers, with Graeae Theatre and La Fura dels
Baus, from Barcelona.
McKeown developed the installation Motion Disabled: Unlimited
(2012), a London 2012 Festival commission, from the legacy of Motion
Disabled. It features the body movements of some of the UK's most
famous Paralympians as a means to extend his message of the disabled as
full, active members of society.
References to the research
See REF2's and section 5.
Digital animations and Performances.
Motion Disabled. Animation. First shown 2009, with revisions and
additions in 2010.
All For Claire. Animation, November, 2010.
Prometheus Awakes. Outdoor theatre, performance and video
projection, Summer 2012.
Motion Disabled Unlimited. Performance, 2012-13.
Authored chapters in books
`Are They Laughing At Us Or With Us? Disability in Fox TV's Animated
Series Family Guy', Chapter in the book Different Bodies: Disability
in Film & Television edited by Marja Mogk, Publisher: McFarland
USA. Publication date: November 2013
People Award, Wellcome Trust. Simon McKeown and Dr. Paul Darke, Motion
Disabled. £29,870.00, award date October 2008. (Plus £6,000
extension grant in 2009). Arts Council England - Unlimited Award - Motion
Disabled: Unlimited. £50,000.00 in 2011.
Details of the impact
McKeown's creative work has contributed to the effort to transform global
perceptions and values surrounding normality, the abnormal and society's
genetically diverse future. It is estimated that 15- 20% of the world's
population has a disability and that over 45 million in the EU alone have
a long- standing health problem or disability. The need to discuss and
confront the issue of disability, and the attendant issues of cultural
capital, have never been more important, as was recognised in his
Revealing Culture exhibition at the Smithsonian in 2010. This juried
international exhibition was part of the 2010 International VSA Festival,
an unprecedented event featuring 600 artists, performers and educators
from all over the world, introduced by Jean Kennedy Smith.
McKeown has engendered change in societal perspectives on disability,
movement and alternative body forms and has made an important contribution
to the on-going debate on perceptions of ability and disability, through
his pioneering approaches to visual investigation in the domain of
Disability Arts and the arts in general. As a consequence of Motion
Disabled, McKeown was one of thirteen artists commissioned by the
British Council and Arts Council England to receive their own `Unlimited'
London 2012 Festival award, a series of events that celebrated arts and
culture by disabled and deaf artists on an unprecedented scale.
McKeown's work sets out to raise questions about the validity of the
human experience. It problematises the medical model of disability and
asks whether we should consider human form in a biodiverse manner - should
we appreciate disability and disabled as an intrinsic element to normal
life? Uniquely his artworks confront the viewer with new experiences of
the body and movement: for example, in Motion Disabled: Unlimited
(which is the 2012 edition of his internationally exhibited exhibition Motion
Disabled). The 2012 impression studies the body and movement of some
of the UK's most famous Paralympians and takes the work into new and
exciting directions including a large 10m tall inflatable sculpture and
smart phone applications. The UK's largest inflatable sculpture, entitled
The Last Thalidomide formed the centrepiece of a series of
multi-platform interventionist participatory works and was launched at
Oxford's Olympic Torch Relay celebration in front of an audience of 20,000
before touring nationally throughout the summer of 2012.
Through the various projects' lifetimes, and because of their continuing
legacy, it is evident that McKeown's work has beneficially impacted the
Fine Art: Motion Disabled and its 2012 Unlimited
edition have been exhibited globally, been a focus for many themed
exhibitions and been treated as a major work given large-scale
presentations. In the four years since its inception in 2009 it has
received major screenings in London, South Korea (2009), Washington D.C.
(2010), Glasgow (2010), Dublin, and Melbourne (2010) and was screened
globally in over 15 countries worldwide on 3rd December 2010 in
the event organised by VSA. McKeown was awarded DadaFest International
Artist of the Year as a result. McKeown's work was showcased all over the
UK in 2012 and was a major feature on the BBC arts website, The Space, and
was reviewed on the BBC arts website The Strand with 40 million listeners
Art and Cultural Development: Motion Disabled continues to
push boundaries by raising the profile of disability, disabled artists and
Disability Art. Disability Art finds itself in a situation analogous to
black artists in the 1970s whose work would not be exhibited due to the
underlying societal prejudice that existed at the time. McKeown has
benefitted disabled artists, Disability Arts and the arts in general. Motion
Disabled has been cited as an artwork that brings images of
disability to the arts and the creative cultural agenda with honesty and
integrity. His Motion Disabled: Unlimited work recently formed
part of the acclaimed `Disabled by Normality' exhibition, initiated by the
DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague, Czech Republic, May 2013.
Policy and Civilisation: In 2010 Motion Disabled was
invited to take a major part in the `40 years of Disability Legislation'
exhibition held in the UK Parliament from 1st March - 5th
March 2010. The exhibition was organised by The Office for Disability
Issues which highlights issues of ability and disability in British
society. The work has been widely utilised as a vehicle to highlight
issues of (dis)ability. It was given a simultaneous global screening on
the 3 December 2010 in celebration of International Day of Persons with
Disabilities. This demonstrates its capacity as an artwork to give social
and cultural form to the disability awareness agendas of International
Organization on Arts and Disability, such as VSA, governments and
Science, Dance and Sport: In 2010 Motion Disabled was
exhibited on Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd of October in Central Manchester,
as part of Manchester Science Festival, presented by Manchester
Metropolitan University's Institute for Biomedical Research into Human
Movement and Health. Motion Disabled as a work in itself continues
to be shown globally within the contexts of science, art and dance as in
its 10 year feature at @Bristol, the Bristol Science Museum as part of the
major multi million pound Wellcome Trust sponsored exhibition `All About
Sources to corroborate the impact
Global screening captures people with disabilities in motion
"The Wellcome Trust is screening British artist Simon McKeown's video
installation `Motion Disabled' outside its headquarters on Euston Road in
London today, in celebration of International Day of Persons with
2nd United Nations Enable Film Festival (UNEFF) 2010
DESA Disability Film Festival (2010)
Department of VSA and Accessibility, Washington. `Revealing Culture',
Smithsonian, June 8th to August 29th. Visitor numbers 578,114
"Revealing Culture," an exhibition highlighting the works of contemporary
artists with disabilities, opens at the Smithsonian's S. Dillon Ripley
Center on June 8, and runs through Aug. 29. The multisensory exhibition
features more than 130 works of art in a broad range of media"
installations, video, performance, painting, sculpture and
printmaking"from emerging and eminent artists with disabilities in the
United States and abroad."
Access Diversity and inclusion. Projecting into the Future, Oct 09
"The afternoon will use the artwork Motion Disabled as a case
study to provoke discussion and debate and include perspectives from other
artists working in the field. It will also provide an opportunity to get
up to date information on Unlimited - the UK's largest ever celebration of
arts and disability culture which will use the power of the Olympic and
Paralympic Games to profile the creative talents and ambitions of disabled
people and to challenge traditional perceptions of disability."
Motion Disabled Unlimited
"Motion Disabled: Unlimited is the 2012 edition of Simon McKeown's
internationally exhibited exhibition Motion
"The London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, the UK Arts Councils and the British
Council have today awarded £820,000 funding to a new round of major
commissions for Unlimited, the ground- breaking programme for the Cultural
Olympiad. Images for media use of the 13 commissioned artists can be
Over £820,000 awarded to artists for Cultural Olympiad programme
Unlimited - Arts Council
"Simon McKeown - Motion Disabled. This Unlimited commission will
be a large-scale development of Simon McKeown's previous work, Motion
Disabled, and will use a complex mix of technologies and software
usually associated with the film and computer gaming industries. Using
motion capture, Simon will record the signature movements of disabled
athletes' motion, which will be combined with 3D software to create large
inflatable sculptures using rapid prototyping techniques. Paralympic body
shapes and actions will be presented as large models, and will be played
out on both large screens and smart phones, challenging perceptions and
invigorating our view of human motion and body shape."
The Times Newspaper - Culture Section. Review by film director Ken
Russell, January 27th 2009: http://www.wellcomecollection.org/whats-on/the-identity-project/events-nationwide/motion-disabled.aspx
Disability Now, interview entitled `The McKeown Effect', October
Prometheus Awakes - Reviews
Avatar or Motion Disabled by Alison Wilde
"In a year that Simon McKeown used motion capture technology to represent
real disabled people to creative and captivating effect, it seems wrong
that Cameron should use the same technology and his obscenely massive
budget to represent disability in such a poor and pointless manner..."
Disability News Service - Influence Index
"The aim of The List is to highlight some of the many disabled people who
make a difference in modern Britain. As with other such indexes - the
Power List of Britain's most influential black people, the Independent On
Sunday's Pink List, and Radio 4's Women's Hour Power List - the idea is to
rank people from a certain group in terms of their current influence
within society." http://disabilitynewsservice.com/2013/04/influence-index-test-post/