On ‘Going Out’ by Steve Cribb

The image is simple: the tracks of a wheelchair enclose the tracks of footprints, both moving in the same direction. But simplicity can be suggestive, and this artwork definitely raises questions around the subjective experience of disability. Are they the footprints of a wheelchair user, or has their journey been spent with someone else? Where will the journey end? To me, the image clearly expresses the universal joys of freedom of movement, discovery and immersion in the natural world. ‘Going Out’ is “disability art” that speaks to the widest possible audience, by referencing and interpreting common experiences.

It is also a good example of something I’ve learned working on NDACA: disabled artists were pioneers of what was then a new medium — the creation of artwork by digital means. Further examples of born digital works are also present in the NDACA collections of disabled artists Tanya Raabe and Nancy Willis. Steve Cribb produced another work, entitled ‘A man and his best friend’, that pictures him with his early model Apple computer. Digital technologies transform how art can be made and society can be accessed, and Steve was one of many disabled people who were discovering new ways to be creative.

From my perspective as NDACA’s archivist, the digital origins of these artworks make them fragile and robust. Digital deposits present both problems and opportunities to NDACA. They are fragile in that they are easily deleted or lost to format change — most of Steve’s work now exists only as paper printouts, and the floppy disks that originally stored them are now unreadable.

However, the artworks are robust because they can be easily duplicated and disseminated. Digital technologies have creatively empowered disabled artists, at the same time as encouraging new audiences to access to their work. Through the work of Steve Cribb, whose career portrays how digital technology can allow an artist to create evocative work around disability, I am confident that the UK’s first ever disability arts archive will make a lasting impact.