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Mobility Device: Carmen Papalia Performance with Century HS Marching Band @ GCAC

Mobility Device
A Performance by Carmen Papalia
with the accompaniment of The Great Centurion Marching Band from Century High School, Santa Ana


Saturday, June 1, 2013
Begins 6PM @ Grand Central Art Center

carmen-marching-band-2Carmen Papalia image credit:  Jordan Reznick

Excerpt from A New Model for Access in the Museum

In my second year of college, I really started to care about access—my own access in particular. It was hard not to care. I was coming to terms with a progressive vision loss that made it difficult for me to read a printed text—which, at the time, I had to do quite a lot since I was an English student and a magazine editor. I remember giving myself a headache every time I struggled to focus on a poem, and, more often than not, stressing over more editing work than I could manage. I privileged my access to the visual world so much that it was bad for me.

I eventually chose to rely on the accessibility accommodations that were available to me as a full-fledged disabled person, but it soon became clear, even while accommodated, that my access was vastly different from that of my peers. Shopping for groceries with an assistant was weird. The audio description for movies sucked. I couldn’t walk into a library, select a book and start reading. I constantly felt limited by the systems that I had chosen to rely on because I hadn’t yet claimed agency and established a system for my own access.

In one of my first published poems about blindness (West Coast Line, 2010), I wrote a list of synonyms for the word “blind”. It’s a pretty accurate reflection of how I was feeling at the time:

I am: careless, heedless (ran into a pole), ignorant, imperceptive, inattentive (don’t look directly), inconsiderate (don’t look directly), indifferent, indiscriminate (can’t judge by appearance), injudicious, insensitive (have hurt the feelings of others), myopic, nearsighted (used to be), neglectful, oblivious (addressed an inanimate object), thoughtless, unaware (impeded on a bike lane), unconscious, undiscerning, unmindful, unobservant (especially of visual cues), unperceiving, unreasoning, unseeing (sometimes).   I am: hasty (I often cross too early), heedless, impetuous, inconsiderate (I often cut off buggies and the elderly), irrational, mindless, rash, reckless (I have walked without a cane), senseless (I have driven a motor vehicle), shortsighted, thoughtless, unseeing, unthinking, violent, wild (I have driven a motor vehicle), I am: blocked, closed, closed at one end, concealed, dark, a dead-end, dim, disguised, impassable, leading nowhere, obscured, obstructed, secluded, unmarked, without exit.

Feeling all of these things, I started to use a white cane—a symbol that I felt good and bad about. On one hand, it was a tool that promoted my access and mobility. It showed me things and made my map a whole lot bigger. On the other hand, it institutionalized me. It was a symbol that was connected to an institution that wanted me to be a certain kind of blind person—the kind with huge sunglasses, the kind that was either a piano tuner or a masseuse, the kind that walks a certain way on a predetermined route, and that talks a certain way about his blindness. The kind that you never saw but which you knew existed.

Mobility Device is a performance in which artist Carmen Papalia is accompanied by a marching band that replaces his white cane as his primary means of gathering information about his surroundings. As part of this site-specific performance of Mobility Device for the Grand Central Art Center, Papalia will explore downtown Santa Ana while The Great Centurion Marching Band from Century High School in Santa Ana provides musical cues indicating objects, obstacles and other information that might be relevant to the artist on his journey. As a piece of music, Mobility Device is an extension of the musicality of the white cane—bringing attention to the things that the white cane, on any occasion, might touch into sound. With Mobility Device, fixtures such as curbs, lampposts, and sandwich boards become notes in the soundscape of a place. Alternately, Mobility Device proposes the possibility of user-generated, creative process-based systems of access. It represents a non-institutional (and non-institutionalizing) temporary solution for the problem that is the white cane.  The community is invited to join the performance.

The Great Centurion Marching Band from Century High School in Santa Ana is in its second year under the direction of R. Scott Devoe. They perform during football game  halftime  shows, community events, and parades. The Marching Band is seeking sponsorships and donations to help fund various activities and  operations  costs. Please contact the director at for more information.

Grand Central Art Center thanks KCET’s ARTBOUND and writer Carolina A. Miranda for the outstanding preview article on Carmen’s performance.  You can find the article at the following link:

A video documentary of the performance, by filmmaker Mickey Fisher, is being created, so keep checking the GCAC Blog for its completion.