The Olimpias is an artists’ collective, founded in 1996 in Wales during work with mental health system survivors, with artistic director Petra Kuppers. Associates come from across the world, with a current US center. We create collaborative, research-focused environments open to people with physical, emotional, sensory and cognitive differences and their allies. In these environments, we can explore pride and pain, attention and the transformatory power of touch. The Olimpias is disability-led, and non-disabled allies are always welcome.
Our workshops and happenings have taken place in women’s centers, hospices, mental health self-help groups, with youth groups, traditional Weavers and Knitters Guilds, politicians, people labeled as ‘developmentally disabled’, cancer survivors, in National Parks, abandoned buildings, on the beach. In these art journeys, we use what becomes important to us: dance, theatre, poetry, video, mark-making, sculptural attention to material and space, sound art, installation and live presence. Together, we change the world, and create a more inclusive future.
Olimpias artists have deep insight and creative ability, but they might not be able to attend rehearsals regularly and extensively, and they cannot guarantee their presence at any one performance. We make this difference into a virtue, querying art and performance paradigms, and use new media and alternative performance structures to allow for an open work process. We film our process creatively and use multi-channel video installations or telematic approaches to have virtual if not always live presence.
We use presence, slowness, pedestrian movements, a poetics of words and bodies, and the deep affective register of touch to share our beauty and our critique. In most Olimpias sharings in recent years, we invited the audience members to sit in a circle with the performers, to physically engage. To give the gift of closeness, to be near someone whose embodiment and enmindment is wholly different from yours and to be so in a playful way: that’s what we offer our audiences.
There’s tensions in Olimpias projects such as Anarcha, an exploration of black culture/disability culture issues, medical ethics, J. Marion Sims, and the lasting effects of slavery medicine and racialisation; or Tiresias, a project based around issues of sensuality and sexuality, or The Asylum Project, around the different ways of valuing homes, borders, institutions, and mad methods. These tensions of identity and difference emerge in many minoritarian art projects. The Olimpias call for disability culture even while we are aware of the limits of this term, of the disconnect between individual experience, historical oppression and the cultural formations we speak into being.
Art work, pedagogical labor, activism and critical writing are all part of a continuum. We believe that writing about art extends the circle of art’s reach and political vibrancy, and so Olimpias labors are distributed in academic/artistic journals in addition to live and filmed practices.