Leah Clements is an artist from and based in London whose practice spans film, photography, performance, writing, installation, and other media. Her work is concerned with the relationship between psychological, emotional, and physical states often through personal accounts of unusual or hard-to-articulate experiences. Her practice also focuses on sickness/cripness/disability in art, in critical and practical ways. Recent commissions include an artist residency at Serpentine Galleries, and her solo show ‘The Siren of the Deep’ at Eastside Projects.
Art of Access Screening Adjustments
An evening of screenings, readings and talks exploring the artistic possibilities of access adjustments hosted by Studio Voltaire in September, 2022.
The breadth of possible access adjustments around artworks are vast – from closed captioning, to audio description, wheelchair access and spaces to sit and rest. Each adjustment is designed with the intention of aiding people to view and experience a work regardless of their access needs. The social model of disability states that a person is not disabled by their impairment, but instead by disabling physical and attitudinal barriers in society. Access adjustments can be seen as one tool in dismantling some of these barriers. Yet, for too long access adjustments have been treated as an add-on or afterthought by cultural institutions, instead of an integral and necessary part of running a public space.
Leading the way in reshaping our attitude around accessibility are disabled artists who are building access adjustments into their artworks as a way of extending their creativity to a greater number of people. Not seeing access as extra; instead viewing access adjustments as holding limitless potential as an art form in and of themselves. This might include the translation of a physical exhibition into a bespoke film, which goes further than documentation by attempting to carry the experience of moving around the space for anyone who can’t physically be in the building, or positioning image descriptions and closed captioning as poetry.
The event took place online, via zoom, and included screenings of Leah Clements' The Siren of the Deep (2021), Djofray Makumbu’s Cover (2022) and Abi Palmer’s What Now? (2020), and Bella Milroy reading from her zine Access as Meditation: A Love Letter to Image Descriptions and Closed Captioning (2021). Screenings and readings were followed by a talk between the artists chaired by Jamila Prowse.
All films and the Q&A (with the exception of Cover by Djofray Makumbu) are available to watch below. All the films screened had closed captions. Closed and live captions were available for the duration of the event. All speakers self-described at the outset of the Q&A.
About the Films
What Now? (2020) by Abi Palmer is an intimate, meditative film focusing on small embodied movements that explore the moment of crisis which often comes at the end of a big project, or during periods of flux. Like the moment when a wave withdraws from the beach and mingles with the beginning of another wave, this sensory work looks to explore the little messy beginnings and endings, and sense of chaos that comes during the limbo between ideas. Threaded together as an immersive and ritualistic visual poem, the work focuses on the body, exploring and challenging its limitations, as a helpful practice for this period. This work was commissioned by Wysing Broadcasts and can be viewed here.
The Siren of the Deep (2021) is a film documenting an exhibition of the same name by Leah Clements at Eastside Projects, Birmingham in 2021. The Siren of the Deep takes its name from a term used by diving communities to describe an overwhelming pull to stay on the bottom of the ocean in a state of awe and never come back up. The exhibition draws on accounts of astronauts, cosmonauts, divers, religious euphoria, come-ups & come-downs to follow experiences of bliss and the subsequent return to Earth through light, sound, and sculptural elements that are activated and deactivated states.
Versions of the film with sound and visual captions are available to view here.
Access as Meditation: A Love Letter to Image Descriptions and Closed Captioning (2021) is a zine by Bella Milroy. It was produced as part of Soft Sanctuary, an ongoing project with Bootle Library. In 2019, the first iteration of Soft Sanctuary existed as a series of workshops marking World Mental Health Day, bringing together artists, library users and librarians. It focused on the idea of a ‘sick day’, what it means to take time to rest and give ourselves permission to relax. 2021’s Soft Sanctuary is accessible online, via a series of podcasts, articles, recipes and downloadable artworks. It is available to view online here.
Cover (2021) is a short film by Djofray Makumbu that was commissioned through Studio3Arts Black Art Matters programme. For the commission, Djofray interviewed a group of young people with learning disabilities to tell their stories.
Statistics from a 2021 report show that 15.9% of English school pupils are identified as having special educational needs (SEN) or learning disabilities. This percentage has increased steadily over the past five years. Only 3.9% of young people with learning disabilities have a formal care plan in place to support their needs. Many more go undiagnosed, misunderstood or unsupported, and many people still feel the need to hide or cover their disabilities. This film shares the experiences of Djofray, his friends and a group of young people with disabilities from Eastbury Community School in Barking.
This film is not currently available online.
Djofray Makumbu is a British Congolese artist born and based in East London working across moving image, sound, animation, performance and painting. He often works with friends and family when making his work which draws on his personal experiences and that of the people close to him. Recent works have focused on the shame and stigma of disability and mental illness, the pressures and violence of inner city life from the perspective of young people, police brutality and the joy of music and dancing.
Djofray’s was recently awarded the Alumno/SPACE Studio Bursary (2018), the Goldsmiths Exhibitions Hub commission (2020), the Studio 3 Arts Black Art Matters commission (2021) and the LOEWE FOUNDATION / Studio Voltaire award (2021). He has exhibited and screened his work at South London Gallery, SPACE, Guest Projects, Studio Voltaire, Studio 3 Arts, Brixton Library and Tate Exchange.
Bella Milroy is an artist and writer who lives in her hometown of Chesterfield, Derbyshire. She works responsively through mediums of sculpture, drawings, photography, writing and text. She makes work about making work (and being disabled) and not being able to make work (and being disabled).
She is continually motivated by concepts of public and private spaces, and where the sick and/or disabled body exists within them. These concerns find themselves emerging in many aspects of her work such as Sick Gaze, a recent solo show of photographic works at Level Centre, Derbyshire. These themes are also explored within the collaborative projects she creates such as Soft Sanctuary, commissioned by At The Library for Sefton Libraries, and Mob-Shop, funded by Arts Council England and Shape Arts.
Abi Palmer is a writer, artist and filmmaker. Key works include: Sanatorium (Penned in the Margins, 2020) - a fragmented memoir, jumping between luxury thermal pool, and blue inflatable bathtub; and Crip Casino - an interactive gambling arcade parodying the wellness industry and institutionalised spaces. It has been exhibited at Tate Modern, Somerset House, Wellcome Collection and Collective Edinburgh.
Her current film series Abi Palmer Invents the Weather (Artangel, 2023) explores themes of access, isolation and the urgency of climate change, through attempting to capture, distill and convey the entire outside world into small ritualistic performances for her indoor cats. In 2020 she received an Artangel ‘Thinking Time’ award. In 2021 she was a recipient of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s ‘Awards for Artists.’ Sanatorium was shortlisted for the Barbellion Prize.
Jamila Prowse is an artist, writer and researcher who works across moving image and textiles to consider methodologies for visualising mixed race identity and the lived experience of disability. She is drawn to stitch making and patchwork as a tactile form of processing complex family histories and mapping disability journeys, and moving image as a site of self-archiving and autoethnography.
Jamila is a member of the Brent Biennial Curatorial Committee 2021-2 and an Associate Lecturer in photography and moving image at London College of Communication, University of Arts London. Previous exhibitions and screenings include Hordaland Kunstsenter (Bergen, Norway), Obsidian Coast (Bradford, UK) and South London Gallery (London, UK). Her reviews and essays have appeared in Frieze, Elephant, Dazed, GRAIN, Art Work Magazine and Photoworks.
Still from Djofray Makumbu, Cover (2022). Courtesy of the artist.