Opulent Mobility: Interview with A. Laura Brody
A. Laura Brody sculpts for the human body and its vehicles. Her sculptures are conceived with a commitment to social justice and are inspired by art history and the spirit of scientific discovery. Her belief that disability should not mean a loss of beauty has lead to “Opulent Mobility”, group exhibits comprised of art, designs, and creations dealing with and reflecting on disability and mobility. The 2015 and 2017 exhibits were co-curated by the disability activist and historian, Anthony Tusler. Brody gave a talk on the exhibits and their creation for the DisArts Symposium last spring, and took part in a panel discussion on the Spectacle of Accessibility at UCLA’s Disability as Spectacle conference.
A. Laura Brody has 30 years of professional costume making, designing, and teaching experience. She’s taught at FIDM and in independent classes. Brody’s re-imagined wheelchairs and walkers were shared by Frances Anderton on NPR and on The Improvised Life. Her professional career and her passion for reuse and sustainability gave her the skills she needed to create these artworks.
Interview by Sarah Mills
Where did the inspiration for The Opulent Mobility project come from?
My interest in wheelchairs, walkers, and other mobility devices started after a former partner had a stroke. I was fascinated by adaptive technology but hated its cold and clinical design. The devices were almost insultingly ugly. There had to be a better option. Without medical device experience, I wasn’t sure how to proceed, so I set the idea aside and didn’t work on it for many years.
Flash forward to 2009, when my good friend Peter Soby offered me an old electric wheelchair of his to refurbish as an art piece. I came up with an Edwardian style throne that looked amazing but nearly dumped Peter on the floor because I didn’t understand that padding the back like a standard upholstered chair would throw off his balance. The idea still intrigued me, but I realized how much I had to learn.
While investigating, I discovered that few interesting designs for adaptive technology ever make it to market. I also found hidden taboos and a surprising resistance to the idea of making these devices beautiful. My research made me more curious, and I looked around to see who else I could work with. Surely I couldn’t be the only one thinking along these lines! That led me to develop Opulent Mobility as a group exhibit, calling out for other artists to re-imagine disability of all kinds.
What has been the most challenging part of this project? What has been the most rewarding?
My background is in theater costuming and craft, with many years spent working in film, television, opera, theater, and dance. Although those experiences gave me the skills I need to make my own pieces, the visual arts world is very different from the performance world and it is sometimes tough for me to navigate. Disability arts can be tricky for an outsider, and I do my best to operate thoughtfully in that arena. The biggest challenge, though, has been finding accessible and affordable gallery spaces in Los Angeles.
On the positive side, this project has given me so many opportunities to learn and grow. I love collaborating and working with others, and the people I meet through the exhibits and my research are overwhelmingly welcoming, bright, and fascinating humans to work with. Each step of this process challenges me in the best of possible ways, and I’m looking forward to the next steps.
What do you hope people take away after viewing one of your pieces?
My pieces are inspired by my love for art and social history and the desire to repurpose and re-imagine old materials into new forms. These base materials are often overlooked or discarded, in the same way, that our society treats disability, and I want people to see new possibilities. My art is primarily about starting a conversation. Disability doesn’t need to be treated as a tragedy, a taboo, or an “inspirational” lesson. It is part of life, and has both benefits and drawbacks, like anything else. I want my pieces to celebrate all of our states of being.
Where do you hope your work will go moving forward?
The goal for Opulent Mobility is to expand the conversation, bringing the exhibits to new audiences and developing collaborations with like-minded artists and disability arts organizations nationally and globally. I’d love to work with disability arts festivals and events in Ireland, England, and Australia!
Some collaboration efforts are already in process. Ellice Patterson of Abilities Dance in Boston and I are working on a Black Panther-inspired walker for her performance at Hub Week 2018. I created decorative wagon covers and wheelchair wheel covers for the pediatrics ward at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena. The next step is developing interactive workshops for people to personalize their adaptive devices.
What is your favorite part about creating three-dimensional works?
I think with my hands, and I think in terms of sculpture instead of two-dimensionally. Reused materials speak to me: it’s like they are buried treasure, waiting to be discovered. Truly, though, my works don’t feel complete without interaction with others. Maybe it’s my years of theater and performance-based art training- my works need to be touched in order to come alive.
What is the best piece of advice you have received that you would like to share with our readers?
This is the advice of all the great artists and writers that I admire: there is always a way in. Find it or make it, and pursue it for as long as it works for you. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy or that the path will be clear, but you’re guaranteed to find something valuable if you keep searching.
What is next for you? What should we be on the lookout for?
There is a lot on the horizon! Opulent Mobility 2018 will be at Thymele Arts in Hollywood December 2-8th. I have two solo exhibits coming up: Kali/Medusa runs November 10- December 16 at Highways Performance Space and Gallery in Santa Monica and Goddess/Monster, a show with Project La Femme, is scheduled for the beginning of February at the Magowski Arts Complex in Fullerton.
The next Opulent Mobility is planned for 2019, and I welcome your suggestions for great accessible venues.