Unfixed in conversation

Daniel sitting talking to a fellow delegate. He has long hair and is wearing a black and white tshirt.
Artist Daniel Savage at Southbank Centre's Unlimited festival 2016. Image for Unlimited by Rachel Cherry.

Jo Verrent chaired an Unlimited commissions discussion at the Southbank Centre, introducing a small cohort of artists from the Unfixed programme prior to their second intensive workshop at Watershed in Bristol. The conversation focused on the work of disabled artists and digital practices as an integral part of the work made, or the way the work reaches audiences.

Unfixed is a residency and exchange programme between arts communities in Australia and the UK focused on practice, technology and disability. The first Unfixed gathering was hosted by the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) in Adelaide, Australia, in October 2015.
Jo was joined by Daniel Savage from Australia and Aidan Moseby and Jane Gauntlett from the UK. At the meeting Daniel shared some of his earlier works in photography, video and installation, exploring perception from the point of view of someone who had recently acquired his impairment whilst studying for an arts degree at University.

“All of a sudden, being able-bodied and then disabled, I could see differences in the way people react and the way people move,” said Daniel.
Building himself into an exoskeleton, he created contrasting images of himself within photographic pieces in his series, Fluxability (2013). ” I was there in the image three times; I was standing, I was in a chair and then in this suit and all at once, the audience couldn’t decide if I was able-bodied, disabled or in-between,” said Daniel. His work since then has continued to develop themes of categorisation, and the spaces disabled people inhabit and how they are constructed, using digital as part of these enquiries.

For Aidan Moseby, his work has taken time to move into digital streams, referencing a 15 minute affair with letterpress as a starting point. “Even though you set the type and the press, you walk away and you get a totally different result,” Aidan explained. His recent work has seen a focus on words: the language of space, and the language of how we interact with spaces, challenging attitudes around disability and disabled people as ‘broken versions’ of themselves. Aidan shared one of his recent developments: a Periodic Table of Emotions which he enhanced digitally using social media hash tags in a live installation, designed to capture the mood of a city.

“You can tweet and within 30 seconds, it’s illuminated on the screen. You can choose when it fades out by altering the decay rate.”
Aidan described his early work in digital as being another world opening up without the language or tools to navigate. Unfixed has changed all this, giving him the space to interrogate and the confidence to develop digital to extend his practice.Aidan also referenced the two sides to digital practice; the duality of the effect it can have on us all as an interesting part of it. “We’re all on the screen and no one is talking to each other. Digital can bring you together, but can also alienate,” he said.

With a focus on digital and empathy, Jane Gauntlett, artist, theatre maker and producer, shared her body of work In My Shoes using multi-sensory experiential pieces and Virtual Reality as a means to give audiences access to her life with brain injury.
“In My Shoes is a story started from the desire to communicate what felt like an incommunicable series of events, the multi-layered and momentous experience of being human,” Jane explained. The work guides the audience through the experience of Jane’s seizures.
Considering digital as a means to convey points of view, and as a means to deliver disability equality for some, is problematic, giving a false sense of what the lived experience of disability might mean.

Yet the fusion of documentary, education and theatre within Jane’s work has been widely appreciated at festivals, theatres, hospitals and universities, even Parliament for its valuable insight using art and digital.

Further Unfixed conversations addressed the developing possibility that digital practice can enrich media that for some disabled people has been impossible to access, creating rich informative artworks for all.“Developing my work using Virtual Reality with haptic feedback technologies will create different sound pieces and surround sound systems, creating new kinds of audio descriptions for everyone,” said Daniel.

A contribution from the floor, drew attention to the inaccessibility in practice of many new technologies and also the increased expense of working like this.
“I’m trying to develop accessibility as I learn, in VR, so I’m not adding it as an afterthought. So a lot of it will be in the programming. Building in access when they write the programme will make it infinitely more accessible than adding it in afterwards,” Daniel responded.

“Working in those fields, whether it be any area of the cultural industries, any area of technology, any area of augmentation, any area at all, we need to keep pushing for increased access,” added Jo Verrent. “That is the only way that a wider range of artists and people are going to be able to explore, and that’s the only way that we are going to be able to increase that level of equality.” There is no doubt that digital will be increasingly more useful and available in the future, giving us all access to lived experiences, extending the ideas of disabled artists in exciting ways for all to see.

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