Friday, June 19, 2009

Elevator Music #1

“Elevator Music” (forthcoming at the Site Unseen show, Chicago Cultural Center, Nov. 9, 2009) can be said to have begun many years ago. Drew Browning, diagnosed in college with a neuro-muscular condition after many years of misinformation, began to develop a disability consciousness and to participate in actions to secure civil liberties for persons with disability. In the early 80’s, he was one of several members of Chicago ADAPT (which then stood for American Disabled for Accessible Public Transportation) to chain himself to fellow protesters in their wheelchairs, blocking traffic downtown on State St., in order to call attention to the shameful lack of access to public transportation and the inadequacy of the para-transit system. This eventually resulted in a class action suit against the CTA, which succeeded, providing lift equipped buses and some, still spotty, access to the El. He has continued working with ADAPT on other issues including home health care vs. nursing home confinement, computer literacy and access for persons with disability, and accessibility issues at the University of Illinois Chicago.

This lived experience is the basis for “Elevator Music,” which raises the issue of disability in the context of identity. In a setting that not coincidentally provides vertical access to the multi-story building, a mix of sound files determined by the elevator’s position (which floor it is on or headed for) is heard by the passenger. One side of the elevator plays sounds that center around disability consciousness – interviews with and excerpts from writings by persons with disability, sound from demonstrations – and on the other side, one hears writings by those looking at disability from the outside, from the medical model (centered around the notion of cure as the ultimate good) or the pity model (think Jerry Lewis and the MDA telethons).

These sounds fall into categories traditionally adopted by libraries and booksellers such as Fiction, History, Self-Help, Law & Order, etc., recalling the former function of the Cultural Center as Chicago’s main library.

Finally, although music in elevators is not so common anymore, it is nevertheless an interesting phenomenon in public places where it IS quite common such as shopping malls and grocery stores; or while on hold on the telephone. It is typically intended to soothe or entertain, but in either case to remain in the background of one’s conscious perception. Our elevator music cloaks sometimes aggressive and (for some) disturbing statements in a palatable, musical form.

Disclaimer: as almost everyone knows, sometimes what you have in your head is not what actually occurs. Changes in design, organization, expression, methodology, technology may take this piece in a different direction. The only way to know for sure what it will be like is to come see (hear) it!

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