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Unfixed: the meeting point of art, disability and technology

a table littered with lego

Rachael Burton the coordinator for Watershed’s creative technology and talent development projects writes about Unfixed 2.0.

In September, we welcomed the Unfixed artists to spend a week in the Pervasive Media Studio to further investigate the notion of a ‘fixed’ and an ‘unfixed’ body. With the controversial ‘superhuman’ and ‘disabled’ rhetoric surrounding the Rio Paralympics recently filling our media, dedicating time and energy to explore the intersection of arts, disability and technology from an artistic perspective seems timely.

Unfixed is a creative research project bringing together ten disabled artists from the UK and Australia to examine the unfixed theme and collaborate across a diversity of creative and cultural backgrounds and lived experiences. The participants span a wide range of artistic practices from filmmakers to writers to VR content creators. The project kicked-off in Adelaide in November 2015 with a two-week residency to dissect the semantics surrounding disability, agree a shared language, negotiate (sometimes conflicting) access requirements and to discover the cultural differences across the UK and Australian disability arts sector. The second part of the residency brought the artists together in Bristol with a focus on collaboration and making.

We set out with a schedule of talks, workshops and activities designed to inspire and hopefully stimulate some ideas for potential collaborative projects. Studio resident Sabrina Shirazi ran a workshop on the synergy between sound and taste, as well as sharing her prototype bone-conducting gobstopper (sending sound waves through the skull bone rather than the ear canal). Magician Stuart Nolan facilitated a Serious Play LEGO workshop exploring language and metaphor through creating structures. We also investigated conductive ink with Jono Sandilands and resonant bits with Pete Bennett.

As well as discovering projects by other creative practitioners, it was really important to give the Unfixed artists time to collaborate with each other, share their experiences and find some common ground for designing and developing initial seeds for projects. The participants expressed that the process of getting hands on and making was critical to them finding some achievement in the week. We were asked to suggest a smorgasbord of potential technologies we had to hand that could be used for prototyping or provoking ideas. This led to an interesting discussion around what comes first, the idea or the technology? The art or the meaning is often the driver behind an idea, and the technology is the mechanism or tool. On the flip side, if an artist is unaware of the available technology their ideas may be restricted by what they perceive practicable. If the feasible technology is laid out early on it can act as a catalyst to the art, rather than a limitation.

The artists formed three small groups and developed their early-stage project ideas rooted within the Unfixed theme and parameters. The group agreed to abandon perfection and adopt an iterative process through collaboration; the artists shared their ideas in a Lunchtime Talk at the end of the week:

Caglar Kimyoncu, Michèle Saint-Yves and Tim Wheeler explored the importance of a diverse society through the lifecycle of cress. Their project read the emotions and recognised a range of physical attributes of participating audience members through ‘cress-cam’. The cress requires a multiplicity of emotions and physical attributes, such as ethnicity, to nourish it with the optimum levels of food and light. Once the cress is ready to be eaten, the participants must decide whether they eat all, some or none of the cress, exploring individual and collective responsibility and notions of demo-cressy. A lot of cress puns were used and abused in the making of this project while exploring the sentient language and soundscapes surrounding the lifecycle of plant life.

Aidan Moesby, John Flanagan-Willanski and Sue Williams worked together to create a new piece titled ‘Nothing to see, hear’. The work manifest as a blank piece of white paper that viewers were encouraged to explore with their hands. As they touched different areas of the ‘image’ they triggered sounds that poetically described the work, enabling them to build the image in their own imaginations – to see by listening. Working with Unfixed’s Fee Plumley and Studio resident Jono Sandilands, the group used conductive ink on the back of the blank sheet, to bring their piece to life. It was a beautiful idea, brilliantly realised.

Daniel Savage and Jane Gauntlett conceptualised a film experience involving an audience watching a short film in a cinema and hearing the inner monologue of one character alongside the usual dialogue. The inner monologue is delivered through directional microphones, which can only be heard by one person. Different audience members hear different thoughts, and they only discover after the film that they had different experiences, hopefully triggering debate around the subjective nature of perception, opinion and assumption.

We had a fantastic week and learnt so much about how we can improve our lab design and facilitation to make them more accessible for everyone. The artists appreciated the time and space to critically engage and collaborate with each other without disruption from external day-to-day worries. We are excited to see what’s next for the Unfixed project and the artists.

Unfixed is produced by The Australian Network for Art & Technology (ANAT), Access2Arts (AUS), Unlimited (UK) and Watershed (UK).

This blog is republished with the kind permission from the writer Rachel Burton and Watershed.

rachel

Rachael Burton
Rachael is the coordinator for Watershed’s creative technology and talent development projects.

All of Watershed and the Pervasive Media Studio’s programmes are open to applications from Deaf and disabled artists, please get in touch if you would like to find out more email Rachel.

You can also check out the Unfixed project blog