The Asylum Project

An Olimpias Project by Stephanie Heit and Petra Kuppers

PBS/Detroit Performs Documentary

Detroit Performs/PBS shot a documentary about our community arts approaches in an Asylum Project workshop at LightBox in Detroit, and here is the video:

Detroit Performs screenshot with two white women (Petra and Stephanie), in red, eyes closed, meditative


The Olimpias present: Asylum Project 2016: Netherlands, Belgium, Norway
In residency at Vandaler Forening, Oslo, August/September

How do you feel safe? What is home? Who do you welcome? How do we create sanctuary for one another?
In the aftermath of the Japanese hate crimes against institutionalized disabled people, the killings of queer Latinx dancers at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, and many more attacks in public space around the world, all of us are called upon to create positive space to support those whose vitality is compromised by injustice.
Our month of performance inquiries in public spaces in Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway explores multiple meanings of "asylum:" from asylum seekers to psychiatric asylums, from queer sanctuary space to temporary places of security and refuge in public.
Join us for open explorations. All actions start at 3pm, and will incorporate companionship, physical engagement (with multiple options of being involved or witnessing) and writing.

We are leading these actions as two disabled women, one with multiple experiences of psychiatric hospitalizations, one as someone who shifted across national borders in order to find citizenship as a wheelchair user, both embracing different contemporary meanings of ‘queer/crip’ poetics and politics. Our main agenda is to make contact and to explore together the shapes and feelings of international disability culture lives.

If you'd like a better sense of what might happen in our sessions, check out this 8 minute documentary shot inside an Asylum Workshop, created by our local Detroit PBS station, as part of Detroit Performs: Now imagine something with a similar energy in outdoor, public spaces.

Specifics: Belgium/Netherlands
Disability culture explorations of safety, home, spirituality, queer histories and somatic sensing, at historic women's sanctuaries. Join us for small-scale, site-specific, en-passant asylum performances at the beguinages in Zuienkerke, August 16th, in Bruges on August 17th (both in Belgium) and on August 18th at the Begijnhof, Haarlem (Netherlands).  Meet at 3pm in front of the main entrance.

Specifics: Norway
Our explorations will center on and around the Vandaler Forening artist residency in Oslo. From August 20th to September 11th, we will run bi-weekly asylum performances in public spaces throughout Oslo. Please email us at to get specific dates and times. We are also available for lunch and coffee dates.

More workshops are happening in 2016, see News.

In 2015/16, Stephanie and Petra ran Asylum workshops at the Earth Matters on Stage festival in Reno, Nevada; at the Disability and Sexuality conference at Dayton, Ohio; at the Five College Consortium Dance Department in Massachusetts; with the Dance MFAs and the graduate and undergraduate Disability Culture classes at the University of Michigan, at the Moving Communities conference at the University of Otago in Aotearoa/New Zealand, at LightBox Detroit, and at PhiloSOPHIA: Poetry/Feminism/Politics conference in Denver.

Our initial call, from July 2015:

The Olimpias present: Asylum Project: A London Week
In collaboration with the Disability Research Centre and the Centre for Arts and Learning, Goldsmiths University of London

Our Asylum collaborative inquiry explores multiple meanings of "asylum:" from asylum seekers and the limits of Empire, to psychiatric asylums and queer sanctuary space, to temporary places of security and refuge.  In this summer week, we’ll use movement, writing and resource texts to investigate how bodyminds inhabit, touch and intersect asylum space. This work draws on our personal histories:  Stephanie Heit’s experience as a psychiatric system survivor and Petra Kuppers’ experience with arts practice as a mode of inquiry in disability culture.  We inform our investigation with pages from I, Little Asylum by Emmanuelle Guattari, which poetically chronicles her childhood growing up in the French psychiatric asylum Le Borde, and a page here or there from feminist theorists Sara Ahmed, Mel Chen and Alison Kafer.

Feel free to join us for one session or for all. Open outdoor exploration, experimental access: we find out together what works for those of us who assemble. We tweak our improvisation scores and modes of engagement in ways that allows us to be with one another and to share experiences. No prep necessary (apart from the Thursday research seminar, where we’re asking participants to read a short chapter from Studying Disability Arts and Culture). Please email us at to check in, so we have a sense of numbers.

Monday July 6th, 2-5 Greenwich Park/Royal Observatory.
Site of Empire time and the prime meridian. Let’s play in the park. Meet up in the lobby of the National Maritime Museum (free entry, accessible restrooms). We’ll see if we can get up the hill together, or where exactly on the site we’ll play.

Tuesday July 7th, 2-5 old site of the Glass Bar, London’s lesbian bar, between Euston Street Station and the Quaker’s Friends House.
Sanctuary/refuge/queer/safety in transit. Meet up in the Friends’ café, 173 Euston Road (free entry, accessible restroom).

Thursday July 9th – Seminar with Professor Rob Imrie’s Research Group, 2-5:
Embodiment/Movement/Design: An Arts-Based Research Seminar
Room 326, Professor Stuart Hall Building, Goldsmiths University of London. (free entry, accessible restrooms)
In this experiential workshop, we will look together at ways in which disability culture approaches can enhance our practices. How can we reclaim simulation exercises, shifting them away from simulation and toward stimulation? How can we explore the generative and creative potentials of our different senses and our forms of locomotion, our rhythms, our spatialities and our breaths?
Our session will involve collaborative space travel, likely outdoors. We will go on a journey together, and then discuss the format and its applicability to questions of design and community practice.
In preparation for the seminar, please read the short Embodiment/Enmindment chapter from Studying Disability Arts and Culture (Palgrave, 2014, chapter available from organizers).

Friday July 10th, 2-5 Bethlem Museum of the Mind, Bethlem Royal Hospital, Beckenham
We’ll meet at the newly (2015) opened museum of old Bedlam/new Bethlem, on the hospital grounds (free entry/accessible restrooms).
We acknowledge that for some of us, visiting a psychiatric hospital site is fraught, and we’ll come up together with a protective and supportive score.

Saturday July 11th, 2-5 South Bank River Meander, starting at Adopting Britain exhibit, ending at Tate Modern.
Walk along the river with us, and let’s find our hollows, halls, and underpasses. With optional refreshments at Gabriel’s Wharf or the British Film Institute (whatever your flavors of escape). Let’s meet at 2 in the Adopting Britain exhibit, Spirit Level at Royal Festival Hall, about immigration and the UK (free entry, accessible restrooms).

Sunday July 12th, 4pm: Performance/Sharing, Center for Arts and Learning, 310 NX Road Gallery.
310 New Cross Road (free entry, accessible restroom two doors down)
Come and see what we’ve worked on, what we’ve learned, what we wish for, from our week exploring summery London in our Asylum query. Let’s talk disability culture and art experimentation, university research and collaborative inquiry.

group of people at the Sex and Disability conference in Dayton Ohio, after Asylum Project workshop

Picture after Asylum Project workshop at Sex and Disability Conference in Dayton, Ohio: we just all came back from a sensory walk around campus.

Who we are – Olimpias Collaborators
Petra Kuppers is a disability culture activist, a community performance artist, and a Professor at the University of Michigan. She also teaches on Goddard College’s Low Residency MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts. She leads The Olimpias, a performance research collective. Her Disability Culture and Community Performance: Find a Strange and Twisted Shape (Palgrave, 2011, paperback 2013) explores The Olimpias’ arts-based research methods. She is the author of a new textbook, Studying Disability Arts and Culture: An Introduction (Palgrave, 2014), and a new poetry book, PearlStitch (2016).

Stephanie Heit is a poet, dancer, and teacher of somatic writing, Contemplative Dance Practice, and Kundalini Yoga. She lives with bipolar disorder and is a member of the Olimpias, an international disability performance collective. Her debut poetry collection, The Color She Gave Gravity, was a Nightboat Poetry Prize finalist and is forthcoming from The Operating System in spring 2017. Her work most recently appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Typo, Streetnotes, Nerve Lantern, QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology, Spoon Knife Anthology, and Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her partner and collaborator, Petra Kuppers.

two dancers under an old tree legs up and intertwined, at Bethlem (Bedlam)

Photo by Andrew Wille, during workshop at Bethlam Royal Hospital, July 2015.

The Olimpias is an artists’ collective, founded in 1996 in Wales during work with mental health system survivors, with artistic director Petra Kuppers. Associates come from across the world, with a current US center. We create collaborative, research-focused environments open to people with physical, emotional, sensory and cognitive differences and their allies. In these environments, we can explore pride and pain, attention and the transformatory power of touch. The Olimpias is disability-led, and non-disabled allies are always welcome.