Every month York creative agency The Beautiful Meme holds a performance art showcase at its offices in Barleycorn Yard, Walmgate.

These ArtWork events are attracting an increasing number of spectators, drawn to artists sourced by the According To McGee gallery in Tower Street.

This evening the flame is passed to Cumbrian-born Matt Harper, who has cerebral palsy. Between 5pm and 8pm, he explores the stigmas attached to the disabled body and the prejudices connected to its aesthetic viewing. Placing photos of himself alongside icons of beauty, such as Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album cover, he takes scissors and marker pens to the image of himself to disguise his disability.

“The concept behind his upcoming performance has enough mischief mileage to counterbalance the seriousness of his questions,” suggests curator Greg McGee.


What is your artistic mission, Matt?

“With my body as my primary tool, my solo practice works and plays around disability and perfection, autobiography and fiction.

“I try to blend my own awkwardness of cerebral palsy with the imagery, conventions and ideals of globally recognised performance.

“My quest is to explore where the aesthetics of the disabled body is positioned within mainstream culture, and so Incorrection is an amalgamation of icons and eye-cons, of put-ons and take-aways, the masked and the exposed.

“This is a physical and visible comparing and contrasting of beauty and acceptance contaminated by the documented lengths people will go to in order to achieve the latter, but what would we rather look at?”

Is performance art more accepted these days?

“The acceptance of performance art is running the same course as the acceptance of disability in the UK. Western civilisation is adorned with labels and pigeon-holed; there’s a safety that comes from knowing where everything fits into place.

“With political correctness and historical prejudice, disability (or at least that which I express) jolts with a traditional acceptance, as does performance art; it isn’t the understood classic watercolour landscaping, nor is it Shakespeare or musical theatre.

“Both play with boundaries and I feel that the more exposure and diverse visibility comes from them, then the greater their acceptance will grow too.”

How important is a sense of mischief in your performances? Have you deliberately wrong-footed the viewer?

“Being mischievous comes quite naturally to me, so it would be false practice for me not to incorporate this into my work. I do not see this as deliberately trying to manipulatively con or wrong-foot my audience, simply take their intrigue, preconceptions and indulgences and show them something new. For me it’s all about an open, honest and revealing dialogue that can occur between myself and my audience.

“I try and tackle the stigma attached to the viewing of the disabled body, but try and avoid aspects of pity or self sorrow – there’s a lot of humour that comes with disability that I revel in and wish to share.”

What does the future hold for your “trade”? Is life rich enough for the performer in the north?

“With both experimental format and the current climate, this ‘trade’ could go any way. In terms of financial riches, I’m not going to mislead myself. However, the viewing of and issues attached to disability have a long way to go towards acceptance, understanding and inclusion, and as I live with my disability 24/7 every day I find a new perspective or altered outlook which I wish to share.”

• Matt Harper presents Incorrection at The Beautiful Meme, Walmgate, York, from 5pm to 8pm this evening. All welcome.