Partner spotlight: accessible residencies with Vital Capacities

As part of UK Disability History Month, we’ve taken some time to reflect on our practices and consider how to better embed accessibility and inclusion into the core of our future work – with guidance from excellent resources such as Shape Arts and the University’s own Inclusive Communications Toolkit.

The team is committed to both increasing the diversity of artists represented in our collection and making sure our programme is more accessible to audiences, and one way we’re achieving this is through working with leading organisations such as Vital Capacities – with whom we co-commissioned video work [sound of subtitles] by Seo Hye Lee in July 2021. To launch our ‘featured partner’ blog series, Graduate Associate Rowan has taken a closer look at their work and current exhibition REVERBERATION.

Vital Capacities provides an accessible platform for digital residencies. Established by videoclub during the first UK lockdown, and designed in conjunction with artists, digital inclusion specialist, Sarah Pickthall, and website designer, Oli Pyle, Vital Capacities serves as a purpose-built platform for artists to explore and make work, and for audiences to engage with that work.

While over the course of the pandemic, the internet has become a tool of connection for so many, and digital alternatives to in-person events have become the norm, it is easy to forget that accessibility is just as important online as it is in person. By embracing the possibilities of the digital, Vital Capacities reflects the opportunities provided by a physical residency: skill sharing, new contacts, critical development, and space, in a genuinely accessible way.

Vital Capacity’s current exhibition REVERBERATION showcases their four latest artists-in-residence, Nadine Mckenzie, …kruse, Siphenathi Mayekiso, and Rebekah Ubuntu. The thoughtful and complex work, ranging from …kruse interactive word drawings, to Siphenathi Mayekiso’s video piece rooted in poetic movement storytelling, explores the intersections of identity, experience, memory, and movement.

Thinking about the work in this exhibition, particularly with the wider context of UK Disability History Month in mind, the work seems to reflect on the ways in which we communicate; how do we communicate an emotion? A sense of something?

In …kruse’s Stumpsoft to Hungerdream, the artist uses cloud software to remix their own writing on their experience of and relationship with walks. The resulting word drawings conjure images, emotions, and relay a sense of the artist’s own experiences, despite the invented language.

Similarly, through movement, both Siphenathi Mayekiso and Nadine Mckenzie explore the incongruence between how they are perceived and their own experiences within society. The use of movement to explore these inner dialogues in both cases makes for emotive communication of something very personal.

This exploration of what it means to communicate, despite difference, and across barriers, echoes back to the previous exhibition INTERTWINED in July 2021 – featuring our  to our co-commission [sound of subtitles], 2021, by Seo Hye Lee – Still viewable here.

Seo Hye Lee’s video work, applying her own captions to archive footage pottery and craft films, explores how the way in which we communicate sound through closed captioning can vary the meaning and impact of the footage – and discovers a ‘found poetry’ in subtitling texts. The work in REVERBERATION expands on these notions of what it means to communicate, and how we perceive our experiences, the experiences of others, and the world around us.

These contemplations on communication cast a spotlight on the important work Vital Capacities is doing. In making a platform with a holistic approach to accessibility at its core, Vital Capacities centers inclusive communication for both artists and audiences – for example providing audio transcripts and image descriptions – in both the website and the artwork generated from the residents themselves.

Vital Capacities serves as a prime example of good practice, and how accessibility can be ingrained into a creative programme. As we reflect on our own practices and programme for the year ahead, we see Vital Capacities as a benchmark of what inclusivity can be.

A still from an artists' video. Three identical images are shown side by side. They show a pair of hands sculpting a piece of clay on a potters wheel. Each image has a different text caption written in white text. The first reads 'holding', the second reads 'sound of remembering fondly' the third just has three asterisk * stars
Seo Hye Lee, [sound of subtitles], 2021. Digital video (still). Courtesy the artist