Corina Duyn and members of the IWA Dungarvan Resource Centre
Funded by the Arts Council Artist in The Community Scheme
Corina Duyn is an artist, writer and puppet maker. Her work is informed by nature and life with chronic illness/disability (ME).
While making puppets with young people in a group home she became aware of the power of the creative process to express the emotions and challenges which can not be expressed through language alone. This knowledge sustained, guided and informed her own journey from being a self-employed artist to needing help with the most basic tasks when becoming ill with ME twenty years ago. These life-changing experiences are documented in her art, books, research papers, and documentaries.
Facilitating Life Outside the Box with her then fellow members of the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) Dungarvan Resource Centre was the start of her most recent work: telling stories through puppetry.
Nine puppets were created and later filmed while stepping out of Society’s Disability Box. A booklet which follows the project was published. This book includes a DVD of the short film.
The Monday group of the IWA-Dungarvan Resource Centre, of which Corina was a member at the time, consisted of about twelve members. Participants ranged in age from 27 till 73, male and female, living with either limited/partial mobility; congenital physical disabilities; long term illness, which also impacts on the finer motor skills; or acquired brain injuries.
Aims – What was the vision behind the project?
The IWA’s aim was to stimulate and/or rekindle involvement in the creative process, exploring new avenues for creative expression within the individual’s current ability; To empower the members by having input in this long-term group project, from start to finish.
The Artist’s vision was to make sure that all the members were part of the project. As Corina had been a member of this group for almost a year, she had a good understanding of her fellow member’s challenges and abilities. IWA staff was there to assist all members including the artist.
Starting with just a dowel and a strip of cotton, adding clay, one layer at the time, nine puppets were created. Each puppet depicted the essence of their makers. One member felt unable to work within the large group. Corina worked with him one-to-one to create the large paper-maché hand.
One of the women took pride in documenting snippets of the often hilarious conversations. This became the basis for the booklet produced. After initial hesitation she also wrote press releases, which sparked the interest of the Munster Express, who printed a two page spread about the project.
Instead of writing a script for a puppet show (as was the initial idea) we decided that our puppets would step out of ‘Society’s Disability Box’.
Everyone was involved with the editing of our book and with the organising of the launches.
“Apart from the fun we had, it was wonderful to see how the members became a group, and not just a meeting of individuals who keep to themselves. While hands were busy with clay, paint or fabric, the personal thoughts on what it means to have a disability where casually discussed. It was a very safe place. There was also a wonderful sharing of skills, and ingenuity to find ways to do the job on hand. All were amazed by their hidden abilities.”
– Corina Duyn
The group created nine puppets, a large ‘disability box’ and large hand; a booklet which documents to process, and a short film. Members were invited to create their individual pages in the book, with some input from a local graphic designer. Every draft of the book was shared, edited and approved by the members and staff. Local filmmaker Alan O’Callaghan filmed the puppets stepping out of the Box at our local shopping centre, chosen as a public place to interact with the public.
Initial launches were held at Dungarvan and Waterford libraries. One of the puppet makers Mark Foley gave a wonderful talk about the project and what it meant to the group as people living with disabilities. His talk was followed by a funny and thought provoking speech by Sean Murphy, who delved into the idea of being ‘boxed’ in, for example people telling ‘you don’t know anything about [this] so don’t even try’. He suggested to ‘do it anyway’.
The group curated the ‘Dis-ability … This Ability’ exhibition at the Tramore Coastguard Cultural Centre to highlight our puppets. For this they created a series of blank notebooks, with images of our puppets on the cover.
The sessions took place under the supervision of on site IWA supervisory staff and trained support staff. Throughout the project photographs were taken, and comments/ideas documented for inclusion in our publication. Individual feedback was conducted via discussions, and questionnaire. Group discussions were facilitated by IWA staff, and by the artist.
Apart from the empowering effect of the project for participants, the project received a lot of interest from the media and the public. The launches and exhibition were well documented in local newspapers, as well as being subject of interviews on WLR FM. Arts and Disability Ireland supported the launches/exhibition on their website.
The film was screened at the Picture This… Film Festival in Calgary, Canada (2017). To coincide with this, the film was shown for one week before every movie in the group’s local cinema. The film was also selected for the Together! 2017 Disability Film Festival, London.
A one-minute adapted version is screened every three months as part of the People’s Angelus on RTE1 television. This resulted in RTE’s Nationwide visiting Corina’s house and studio to interview Corina and Ann O’Grady, one of the IWA members to talk about the project.
Corina Duyn was invited to give talks about Puppetry and Disability at the Broken Puppet: Symposium on disability and health (Cork 2017); as keynote speaker at Broken Puppet 2 (Bath 2018); Nottingham Puppetry Festival (2018); Symposium on Puppetry and Disability in Brazil (via Skype); Cork Puppetry Festival (2018) and invited to be on the panel of teachers at the MA course on puppetry in Chile (via Skype), and to be on a UK based research panel.
The group’s bookmarks were inserted into 100 welcome packs at The Puppet and Human – Playing Across Borders International Symposium in Germany.
Project review by Andrea Lloyd – IWA Service Coordinator at the time of the project.
“This project always had the potential to be exciting from the very beginning. Even though we have ended up with a fantastic end product, for us it has always been about the process. The project has provided service users with focused activity for many months. As each week has gone by the anticipation of what might be possible has grown. Each service user has developed their puppet into real characters, with completely different personalities.
“Whilst the project became all about the puppets coming out of their box, in reality it was the service users that also ‘came out of their box’ to realise that they could do much more than they thought they were capable of. From creating the puppets, to writing press releases and presenting the project to the public at the launch, service users have been in control. They have taken complete ownership of the project at every stage. They have made the decisions and directed the launch and associated press and PR with minimal support from IWA staff.
“The project has raised the profile of both the IWA locally and provided the opportunity for people with physical disabilities to be seen in a positive light… An excellent project with positive benefits for all involved”.