Activist and artist Ju Gosling works Towards a Scientific Model of Disability at the Hunterian

By Ben Miller | 07 September 2011
A photo of a person in profile with a mask of a furry creature on his head
© Ju90
Exhibition Abnormal: Towards a Scientific Model of Disability, Hunterian Museum, London, from September 13 2011

Juliet Gosling trained as a dancer, managed bands, lived in a surfer’s community in Cornwall while completing a PhD on girl power and completed a degree in Communications and Image Studies.

Now, having seen her cyberspace perona Ju90  “over-enthusiastically welcomed in real life”, she has embraced the androgyny it has given her to explore issues of identity.

“When you become disabled, society changes your identity,” she says, describing her superhuman alter-ego.

“Ju90 recognises that fact. By being ju90, I am being out sexually, ethnically, physically and mentally, in a world where text and images dominate and potentially exclude.”

The self-proclaimed rock and electronica chick, activist, cartoon writer and photographer wasted no time in redecorating the brace she was given to counter chronic spinal pain in 1997.

She also became the first person to win a case against a union under the Disability Discrimination Act after falling ill at a National Union of Journalists conference in Ireland a decade ago.

So for this proudly singular artist, the challenges of being disabled are an everyday experience demanding a singular creative response.

She could pick few more invigorating displays than the Hunterian’s raft of anatomical specimens to play with.

“I am delighted to be showing my work within a museum which is so closely associated with the history of surgery and the study of anatomy,” she says. Having crafted an installation based around them, called Memory Jar Collection, the show which includes pre-recorded audio walk-throughs for blind and partially-sighted visitors.

There are neon prints, white coats and motorised end-of-the-pier amusements which pluck plastic micro tubes out of a see-through cabinet via joysticks, inspired by the Egyptian God of Destiny and the fate of life expectancy.

“The information contained in a micro tube is believed to be able to tell us our destiny,” she explains. “In contrast, scientists themselves know that life is never this simple.

“For example, hundreds of genes have already been identified that are linked to cancer; there is no one 'cancer gene'. And simply carrying a gene does not mean that it will be activated; cases where one of identical twins develops a genetic illness and the other does not teaches us that many other, uncontrollable factors come into play too.

“But even if we understood and could control all of these factors – which would be impossible – we could still be hit by a bus tomorrow. We can never really know our fate.”

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