Shape Arts’ second Tate Exchange programme, ‘Ghosts in the Machine’ took place in Tate Modern, London from 1 – 4 March 2018. With a packed programme of workshops, interactive installations, live performance and conversational points the exchange explored the prevailing assumptions about disabled people in arts and culture. Review by James Zatka-Haas
Damien Robinson’s Object Orientation occupied the adjoining room of the Tate Exchange’s space. For the workshop, Robinson – who works primarily with digital and found media – invited people to photograph and describe hand held objects of personal significance; items which contain hidden stories outside of their seemingly trivial or benign use.
Objects could either be photographed traditionally or described through the gestures of a ‘‘light painting’, a technique in which exposures are made on a digital surface from a hand-held light source. The artist gives an in-depth explanation of her working processes and reflection on Ghosts in the Machine on Shape’s website.
In the centre of the gallery, behind a line of multi-coloured protest T-shirts, artist Poppy Nash got visitors to think about what disability and protest means to them. Commissioned by National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA), No More Pity asked visitors to respond to Nash’s provocation ‘What does equality mean to you now?’
The responses were collected, re-interpreted and printed onto a piece of material which, once it’s completed, will become a modern protest banner linking the historic Disability Arts Movement with the newly formed NDACA. The piece, like other works, felt like a strong link between the past and present. It encouraged visitors to engage in the ongoing conversation about equality that will, with any luck, have greater repercussions outside the seemingly innocuous Tate Exchange space.
Behind Nash stood a 5 foot acrylic doll Brave Boy Billy. Like a sort of lovable Clarabell the Clown donning psychedelic lederhosen, Billy, in his wild eyed grin and phallic features was there to give very explicit and unmissable voice to disabled people, a section of the community who regularly go under the radar. Developed by self-described analogue digital artist Jason Wisher Mills for the Global Disability Innovation Hub Summit,
Billy is an interactive sculpture imbued with augmented reality. Participants interact with Billy through a tablet’s camera and are able to learn about the experiences of a group of disabled people in animated form. Through passing the camera over several points on the sculpture, animations and sounds begin to appear on screen giving this already bizzare creature a deeper layer of meaning.
In a similar light Rubbena Aurangzeb-Tariq hosted a sculpture making workshop about what it is to be ‘seen’ or ‘acknowledged’ in mainstream society. The workshop was incredibly popular amongst children and families who, after a few hours of model making, were happy to take home their creations.
Artists Anahita Harding and Nina Thomas presented We Interrupt our Disappearance, an enthralling interactive installation about the disappearance of authentic disabled voices in wider culture. Drawing inspiration from the artist’s work around archives, visitors were invited to leaf through a series of photographic albums containing perspectives of and themes relating to disability from predominantly non-disabled voices. The allbums contained everything from Chicago’s ‘ugly law’ to Wittgenstein’s philosophy on language and the controversial novel Me Before You.
Visitors participated in the work by making collages based on the themes in the piece. We Interrupt Our Disappearance was an incredibly insightful but ultimately damning truth about the lack of disabled perspectives from disabled voices in our current society.
On the Saturday, performance artist Noëmi Lakmaier payed homage to artist Adam Reynold through The Task of Containing, a 4 hour durational work that had Naomi sitting on a table bankside of the Tate, repeatedly knocking over and re-gluing a small brown jug.
The piece, which was live streamed back into the gallery explored repetitive and futile actions using the Myth of Sisyphus and Heidegger as points of context. Hats really have to go off to Noëmi who, despite the freezing temperatures, pulled off a performance that was surprisingly captivating and, in respect to its inspiration, emotionally charged too.
Ghosts in the Machine worked because it encouraged dialogue from the get go. The responses to the exchange’s themes of inclusion (in)visibility and contribution – from both a disabled and non-disabled public – felt significant.
Through a series simple and informative workshops, the programme managed to be a hit with people of all ages and abilities, proving that in the 21st century, the topic of disability has taken a more pivotal role than anyone could have imagined a decade ago. And though we still have a way to go, the 4 days at Tate Exchange has proved that disability does matter, whether you identify with it or not.
For a series of Shape blogs, engaging with the artists presenting at Tate Exchange go to www.shapearts.org.uk/Blogs/arts-blog