5 Questions With...Dora Colquhuon

Posted on 21 June 2022 by Liverpool Biennial

We chatted to artist and performer Dora Colquhuon ahead of her performance, 'Would you like a seat?', held from 11am-3pm at Sefton Park on Saturday 2 July as part of #WAIWAV. Dora invites the public to take part in an assessment to decide whether they can sit down in a lovely comfortable chair or whether they will be turned away.

This project is delivered in partnership with Dash Arts, marking the 102nd anniversary of the 1st Dada International Exhibition in Berlin. For the event, titled 'We are Invisible We are Visible' (WAIWAV), Dash Arts have invited 31 d/Deaf, Disabled and Neurodivergent artists to stage Dada inspired interventions in 30 museums and galleries across Britain and Northern Ireland on the same day.

Tell us a bit more about your project ‘Would you like a seat?’

The concept behind ‘Would you like a seat?’ Is about access. The UK is a country of archaic traditions and systems that enables some to thrive and some to survive. In the past 10 years I have noticed an increase in slanted benches, barbwire in shop fronts and intentional gaps in bus shelters. This is to discourage a person shelter and a spot to rest. In my mind it is saying ‘you are not welcome.’

I wanted to take the mundane everyday action of sitting, and frame it as a prestigious act of luxury. A Chesterfield chair is an iconic well-made item synonymous with wealth and comfort. I couldn’t afford one myself, luckily a friend of mine found one in perfect condition in a skip.

I have created the National Bureau for Sitting, The NBFS. I will assess people in the same way a person may be assessed for PIP or assessed to seek asylum, or the many other systems we have in place to assign meaning and value to a person. The NBFS is a body of professional seat sitting assessors. Let’s regulate sitting one cheek at a time!

Can you tell us about your thought process behind choosing what to ask participants before choosing whether they can take a seat? (Without giving too much away!)

I created the questions based on real questions asked during PIP assessments and a mixture of questions I would want to be asked myself that I would find humorous. ‘Have you been to Cleethorpes?’, ‘How confident are you wearing hats?’, ‘What did you have for breakfast?’. I want to have personal, intimate engagements with the participants. I find people fascinating and enjoy conversing with strangers, an art that I hope is not getting lost. Although in Liverpool chatting with strangers is part and parcel of living here!

There’s a great use of energy and humour to your practice, what inspired your decision to create an interactive intervention?

I created an interactive intervention as I enjoy interacting with people. My background is in theatre and performance and I have always enjoyed the liveness and unpredictability of the general public. The piece is about access therefore it’s important the work is in a space that can be accessed by passers-by. I have an idea of how I want the performance to go, but there are so many things outside of my control. The weather, who will be assessed, and a current concern is the gaggle of geese living by the NBFS site. I am fully respectful of the geese being there first and hopefully we can share the space in harmony. I am also wanting to challenge myself, since Covid so much has been transferred to screens and digital work. I am wanting to get back to human, face-to-face interaction which I think we all need!

What do you hope participants and viewers will gain from your intervention?

I hope the audience feel impacted in some way, whether it’s ‘What on earth was that about?’ or ‘that was a bit weird’ or they enjoy having attention on them. 1:1 performance can be daunting, but I think everyone needs their time in the chair, metaphorically speaking. Not the electric chair, the Chesterfield chair. I think we live in a time where the ability to contemplate and ‘be’ has been lost as we are so distracted all the time; I know I am! I would love people to come away and feel that they have been given a gift. To quote Eliza Doolittle ‘all I want is a room somewhere, far away in the cold night air, in one enormous chair oh wouldn’t it be lovely!’

I also want people to think about access and what it could feel like to be denied or put through a vigorous assessment.

In what ways are you inspired by Dada?

The Dadaists were the original punks, they were anti-bourgeois and used their work to critique society. They were performative, humorous, absurd and nonsensical. They paved the way for what conceptual art is now and I am absolutely honoured to be chosen to create the intervention ‘Would you like a seat?’ I like to think Dali would enjoy sitting in the chair. I have sourced a lobster to be placed on a table next to the Chesterfield to honour the artist himself.