What could an alternative approach to disability and artistic collaboration look like? What could an alternative approach to disability and artistic collaboration look like? Celebrate the Extraordinary outlines a model through a set of performances that took place in Singapore. See gallery and details here. Watch related films here.

CONTEXTS: Celebrate the Extraordinary (2015) was a practice-led investigation that outlines an inclusive approach to artistic collaboration. It centred on the production of a set of performances with the same title. Commissioned by the Singapore government, this was the £4 million opening and closing ceremonies of a regional sporting event, the 8th ASEAN Para Games in 2015. The Games, which are the Paralympics for countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations South East Asia (ASEAN), welcomed 3000 athletes and officials from 10 nations to Singapore.  The Creative Director was the acclaimed Philip Tan, of Philbeat.

CONTRIBUTIONS: Celebrate introduced a hybrid approach between the social and medical models of disability, by introducing the curatorial framework of ‘productive antagonisms’. It applied its principles of artful juxtaposition of divergent bodies and bodies of thinking and being, and created a new model of collaboration, and successfully blended function, form and message.

ROLES: As Communications Director and Visual Director, I led my own team of 45. I directed primary and secondary research. I also produced 10 large­-scale film installations and other short films, led external communications with ministers and the national and regional press, and led the editorial team for the official programme booklets.

APPROACH: Productive antagonisms as a framework led to the set up of an Advisory Board of experts in disability, sport, arts and SEN.

It also impacted the creative strategy, dramaturgy, aesthetics and workflow of the 75 creative members. We embedded disabled collaborators throughout, and paired them with non-disabled people.

OUTCOMES: In December 2015, the Singapore President opened CELEBRATE to 8000 Heads of States, athletes and associates at the Singapore Indoor Stadium and Marina Bay Sands, and 600 million in Southeast Asia via Youtube and live TV.  CELEBRATE’s outputs were accessible, celebratory and aesthetically-sophisticated. We incorporated live captioning and live interpretation a first for the Games (left, top). It received 100% positive feedback from participants, critics and audiences, and was applauded as ‘spectacular’ by Singapore Prime Minister (previous page), ‘game-changing’ by the Singapore Association of the Deaf, and praised in local and regional media.

CHANGING CULTURE: The arts industry and beyond are normalising conventions we pioneered, including incorporating sign language as performative components. See deaf interpreter Neoh Yew Kim, whom we discovered and led our shows, performing at the National Day Parade 2016). Singapore Airlines also employed Neoh for its sign-language interpreted safety videos for their flights.

CONCLUSION: Celebrate made disability more visible, and planted a seed to transform disability discourses in Singapore and Asia. Celebrate has widened the discourse on disability arts and collaboration in Singapore. It has also successfully shown a creative way beyond dichotomous models of disability elsewhere. 

Caption: Lit flame at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, 2015.