Living Life to the Fullest - the Exhibition

In 2020 we commissioned artist Louise Atkinson to produce an installation based on the young people’s stories collected within the Living Life to the Fullest project. Below, Louise shares her experiences of creating her piece, Why Can’t We Dream.

Why Can’t We Dream

Why Can’t We Dream is a large-scale textile banner created by artist Louise Atkinson, and based on a quote by disability activist and blogger, Ruth Spurr. Ruth is a member of the Co-researcher Collective for the Economic and Social Research Council funded Living Life to the Fullest research project which consists of six disabled young women, aged 19-30 years, who identify as living with life limiting and/or life threatening impairments (LL/LTIs).

Rather than focusing on the difficulties experienced by disabled young people, the quote instead uses a rhetorical device to challenge accepted notions of disability and to invite the audience to imagine the hopes and aspirations of disabled people. At the same time it invokes the opposite sentiment, highlighting the barriers and exclusion created by societal norms.

The protest banner aesthetic symbolises aspects of visibility, change, activism and celebration and also features motifs from the research. These motifs include elements such as a large central eye, signifying the experience of being observed and pathologised by medical professionals as well as by the general public. In this way, the eye motif returns the gaze back to the viewer, subverting it in the process.

The use of the collective term ‘We’ in the title of the artwork suggests the networks of solidarity and camaraderie often adopted as ways to develop support strategies for people living with chronic illness. However, while the banner is developed from young people’s experiences of disability, it also challenges an ableist narrative of the self-sufficient, autonomous individual, inviting us all to imagine new future possibilities.

Louise Atkinson is a visual artist, researcher and educator. To produce her work, she utilises a range of media and techniques, including artist books, postcards, drawing, textiles, and sculpture. Through her practice-based research, she often collaborates with other artists, researchers and participants to create co-produced artworks. To learn more about Louise’s work, please see here.