A lady sits to the right of the image with brown curly hair, playing Pioneer03 by Maki Yamazaki
Playing Pioneer[03] at Tramway's Unlimited festival. Photo by Emily Crowe.

New Technologies and the Arts: Beating the Buzzwords

Unlimited has noticed a rise in new technologies embedded in the artists’ project proposals it receives: livestreaming, virtual reality, augmented reality, 360 filming, online content development… Sometimes they’re buzzwords and sometimes they’re core to the artistic projects, but it is undeniable that disabled artists are increasingly using new digital tools to innovate and bring their vision to an audience. Clara Giraud, Unlimited Project Manager, shares some recent thoughts…

Unlimited has a range of allies who specialise in supporting artists working with new digital technologies. In 2015 and 2016 we partnered up with ANAT (Australia) and Watershed (Bristol), to host an artists’ residency, Unfixed. Most recently, we worked with The Space to host an artists’ development workshop in this field, and are project partners for Watershed’s Creative Producers’ Programme linked to their Playable City project. We also have a number of artists in our alumni cohort who use this work as part of or even the core of their practice: Aidan Moesby, Ben Fredericks, Caglar Kimyoncu, Extant, Jane Gauntlett, Jason Wilsher-Mills, and Maki Yamazaki, to name a few.

Having had the opportunity to take part and observe events linked to these partnerships, I’ve highlighted a few recurring points:

What comes first? The tech or the creative idea?

This is a bit like the ‘chicken and egg’, there isn’t necessarily one way to look at it. However, all the artists and project managers with extensive experience in these areas highlighted the importance of clarifying first what it is you want to do, and how you want to engage and affect an audience before you get too excited about the tech. Sure, new gadgets and tools can be hugely exciting and open a realm of possibilities, but at the end of the day the project will remain tokenistic and superficial if the intention isn’t clear and focused from the start.

The strength of communities

The internet is built on a culture of sharing, of open-source structures, of complex, generous and self-regulating communities that are innovative, reactive and supportive. Name something you want to learn, and you can find a free course or tool or programme or video or book list or forum online to help you do just  that– and if there isn’t there probably someone keen to make it up with you. The ‘tech world’ is filled with self-taught hyper curious beings who have learnt from peers, online, from all over the world. They’ve taken someone’s pen-source coding and adapted it to do what they want to do and then shared that.

But the community spirit isn’t just strong online, it’s also there in person- and if you’re more of an analogue type, preferring to turn to pen and paper and face-to-face conversations, there are networks to do that. The partners mentioned above are a great place to start, they are organisations that support artists and technologists to work together, and they can help you find the tools and people that you might be looking for. It’s a generous field, so don’t be afraid to knock on doors and ask for a chat.

Innovative ways to engage with audience

Digital technologies are evolving very quickly – tools are getting cheaper, easier to access, easier to hack and adapt to one’s own needs. At the end of the day, though, they’re offering new ways to reach audiences.  The potential reach of one’s work and ideas expands hugely with the capacity to live stream for free and from mobile devices, or simply through development of online content. The depth of interaction one can have with audiences is exponential when considering the realm of communication tools made available – to email, to have a conversation on social media, to keep in touch over time, to exchange from across borders and from intimate to public spaces…

The internet is a growing public space, fragmented and partitioned, but also offering huge opportunities to create work for audiences to be directed to or stumble upon, and we’re only just scratching the surface of the potential this offers for artists and their work.

If you’re a disabled artist who has an idea for an artwork that would require some research and development to expand and clarify before it can become a full-blown project for an audience, why not apply for one of the Unlimited Main Research and Development Awards? Or, if you are less experienced in your field, our Emerging Awards are also open to submissions from emerging artists looking to create a new work or try out a participatory project. Both awards are open for applications from disabled artists or disability-led companies until 6 November. For full criteria and how to apply, go here.

Download a list of links and basic notes from a recent workshop we held with The Space here.