Words by Anahita Harding
Steps (2023) is a visual performance piece where Wheelchair user Anahita Harding, Artist has used her upper body strength to manoeuvre her way up and down 311 steps of The Monument, in London. As a wheelchair user, she has been interested in fire evacuation procedures for mobility impaired people. It has been the norm for her and other wheelchair users to wait in a certain area referred to as a ‘safe spot’ until a staff member arrives for the evacuation out of the burning building. In Harding’s experience this has been a considerable amount of time waiting to be evacuated, with no communication.
Harding has chosen The Monument, in London because it commemorates the Great Fire of London and the number of stairs demonstrates her difficulty in leaving a building in the event of a fire. During the performance, she was wearing mountaineering clothing to reflect the high level of skill and determination involved and can be seen as similar to a non-disabled person climbing a mountain. This performance required immense bodily strength on Harding’s part; to ascend and descend the steps of The Monument, taking breaks in-between to demonstrate the hardship. Harding had two photographers documenting this innovative and pioneering performance. This performance took place between 9.30-12.30 on Friday 27th January 2023.
The members of staff at the Monument to the Great Fire of London were extremely helpful, and supported me all the way up and down. Visitors were still granted entry, and I had a few chats with passers by as they made their way up and down the steps.
The idea behind this was to look at fire evacuation plans in buildings for disabled people- in the past I have had to use my arms to get up and down steps to leave a building. This climb made me reflect on this further, despite being happy to have achieved the ascent and descent in under three hours.
I used my upper body strength to manoeuvre my way up and down the steps of the 202ft column (311 steps) , and chose the Monument because of its history as a commemoration to the Great Fire of London and its tall, iconic structure.
I reached the top of the Monument- the view was fantastic but I was shattered. I didn’t even feel the cold as I had so much adrenaline. I had a good rest before making my way back down.
I had a livestream which was playing for people to watch, and was supported by friends, family and CLADDAG Leaseholder Disability Action Group. Climbing the Monument – Twitch
CLADDAG Leaseholder Disability Action Group, said: “Whilst we clearly welcome the innovation of STEPS, the fact that such a demonstration of disabled struggle is needed, in fighting for evacuation plans, is a sad and disturbing reflection on our society. No doubt we’ll have strong mixed emotions on viewing, but we hope that it will make people think and question this inequality. STEPS epitomises our slogan, ‘Let Everyone Escape.’ That is all we ask.”
I am also a performance artist, and my performance works have often examined bodily differences and encourage viewers to reflect on their relationship to disability. My work positions the disabled body to make it visible, where often it is erased, or made more palatable for a non-disabled audience. In 2022 I performed “Are You Comfortable Yet?” at the Tate Modern as part of We Are Invisible We Are Visible (WAIWAV), and recently performed at the Tate Liverpool.