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Learning disabilities no barrier as Midlothian artist collective gets creative

For a few final days, visitors to the Dalkeith Corn Exchange Museum can witness weird and wonderful costumes and humorous, made-up slogans created by artists in response to the building’s collections and heritage.

One of the many elements making this exhibition unique is that the group responsible - KMAdotcom - is made up of artists, some who have learning disabilities and some who have not.

We spoke to the group to find out how they've found the ideal conditions for creativity.

KMAdotcom group posing

For the past few years, the members of KMAdotcom have been devising a way of working together that challenges them to reconsider their roles in making art.

The 13 members meet twice a week in a studio in Midlothian. The workshops strive to find ways to include all members, whether they are feeling quiet, industrious or playful. The group’s working practice is based on finding different ways of making artworks together, without over-thinking or taking themselves too seriously - finding a common language, based on actions and not words.

KMAdotcom creative workshop

As artist James McLardy explains: “Finding mechanisms of communication is at the heart of what we do. The rituals which make our everyday life routines have become the catalyst for our making work together. Spontaneous acts have become our weekly rehearsal.

“Whether it’s sculpture, performance, painting or installation is less important than the act of re-enacting or the practicing of things, and has helped us to pursue a collective working practice where no one person is more important than another."

And as another of the artists puts it, “No matter how we communicate, at the centre of our group is the freedom to have fun and how we use that to make art together. We know this is not a typical practice but we understand that this approach is important, not only to other artists but to everyone."

KMAdotcom artists

How did the Dalkeith Museum exhibition come about?

Kara Christine, Artlink Co-ordinator at Artlink Edinburgh (which supports the group) explains: “KMAdotcom were approached by Fiona Maher, Heritage Development Officer at the Corn Exchange (a cultural post within Melville Housing) to make work in response to the artefacts on show in the museum.

“The group visited the museum many times, stood in the empty shell of the Corn Exchange before they started renovations; held bricks made in local brickworks; and looked at costumes from years gone by.

“Back in the studio, they threw funny looking cushion-like bricks up into the rafters hoping that they would get stuck, cheering as they did so. They made strange-looking costumes and balanced soft objects on the other person’s head. They shouted out humorous made-up slogans that whilst funny were important to them and the way they develop their ideas.”

KMAdotcom cushions

The work on show now is the group’s response to the building and the museum collection, and it’s clear to see the creative process on display in the resulting work. Graeme Muir’s ‘workwear’ aprons for the museum volunteers started out as drawings, which he and Francesca Nobilucci turned into funny hand-prints as if wiped onto the aprons. One of the volunteers thought this was a brilliant link to the mining industry of Midlothian’s history, like black coal hand prints.

KMAdotcom aprons

What did it mean to everyone involved?

Francesca Nobilucci said ‘KMAdotcom has developed over time a unique setting where everyone feels free to subvert any rule and any preconception about art making. I consider myself very fortunate to be part of it”

Kevin McPhee certainly knows the value of fun in creativity: “We view playing and being playful as important, we know that it's a very unorthodox way to make art together, but it's something that works really well and is valued by everyone involved”

At the opening of the exhibition, artist Lawrence Armstrong thanked everyone with a handshake. For Lawrence, actions speak louder than words.

KMAdotcom letters

Fiona from the museum, said “We have been very fortunate in having the opportunity to engage with KMAdotcom. We have been able to explore the museum collection and the development of a new museum facility in new and creative ways which have initiated some interesting and challenging dialogues with participants of the project, our museum volunteers and the general public and we are all the richer for the experience”

The KMAdotcom exhibition runs until Friday 10 March at the Corn Exchange Museum, Dalkeith, Midlothian.

KMAdotcom artwork

More about KMAdotcom

KMAdotcom are supported by Artlink Edinburgh, an arts and disability organisation which believes participation in the arts has an important role to play in realising personal and social change.

This project is funded by Creative Scotland, Midlothian Council and supported by Melville Housing Association and Dalkeith History Museum.

This article was published on 07 Mar 2017