The Legacy of Gesture 2018
R & D images taken throughout the residency, public workshops, and at a simulation clinic at UNIPOD (United National Institute for Prosthetics and Orthotics Development) where students learn to work with and support amputees. Images courtesy of the artist.
Developed out of a research in collaboration with FACT Liverpool, NHS Hospitals Trust Liverpool and DaDaFest International, an AeroDrums virtual drum-kit was adapted as a means of accessing ideas around alternative and expanded physicalities.
As assistive technology and automation evolve, new dialogues emerge around the status of the differently-abled body, augmented by technology, and what this means in a productive, creative society. The research process involved a public workshop as part of DaDa Fest 2018, aiming to explore all bodies as potential chimeras or cyborgs, echoing the question posed by Haraway ‘why should our bodies end at the skin?’.
The work was realised within LCR Activate and Future World of Work at FACT and was part funded by the European Regional Development Fund of the European Union.
Text on The Legacy of Gesture:
By Catherine McDermott
For the Future World of Work and DaDaFest, visual artist and researcher Bridget O’Gorman developed ‘The Legacy of Gesture,’ a workshop produced in collaboration with music technology company Aerodrums, in tandem with a research residency at NHS Broadgreen Hospital. By presenting participants the opportunity to experiment with Aerodrums’ virtual drum kits, O’Gorman’s project explores the intersections between disability, assistive technology and creative work.
As O’Gorman points out, “the beat of the drum has been used for centuries in ritual ceremonies, a tool for protest or activism, for mobilisation, or gesture of defiance and expression.” Of course, in Western society drumming is strongly associated with a kind of boys’ club mentality. Rolling Stone could only muster up five women for its list of the 100 greatest drummers—and those didn’t even make it into the top 50.
Aerodrums are likewise implicitly targeted at a specific kind of customer: male, probably white, and definitely able-bodied. O’Gorman speculates as to whether the intersection of music and digital technology might also tacitly suggest that products like Aerodrums aren’t “for” anyone who doesn’t fit this narrow criteria. This provokes questions—who has access to certain kinds of technology? And more widely, who has access to creative practice and expression?
To explore these questions, O’Gorman’s project appropriates Aerodrums’ virtual drum kit, technology that’s designed specifically for able-bodied people. In doing so, she also questions the “tendency to categorise technological devices depending upon what kind of body is using it,” drawing a comparison between the specialist Aerodrums kit and other forms of “assistive technology” designed to support a person’s independence and wellbeing. Although almost every kind of technology aids or extends human ability in some capacity, only devices specifically designed for disabled people are labelled “assistive” in this way.
Why do we call a smartphone “technology,” while a wheelchair is designated “assistive technology”? One enables communication, the other mobility. Yet only one is marked with a label that draws attention to disability. We can begin to see that the ways we categorise technology play a crucial role in shaping our ideas about the distinction between ability and disability.
For instance, labelling technology as “assistive” informs commonly held assumptions that disabled people are uniquely in need of support. Even more vital is the way that omitting the word “assistive” creates a sense that able-bodied people are wholly independent. This cements the notion that being disabled means requiring assistance, creating the illusion that able-bodied people don’t rely on technology in quite the same way.
Unpicking this kind of language helps us to see that the division between “technology” and “assistive technology” elides the fact that—whether it be transportation, domestic equipment or electronics—we all depend on tools and devices designed to make our lives run more smoothly.
As well, technology labels have a huge impact on who is most likely to use it. Access to technology like Aerodrums fosters important creative skills—but currently only for some users.
That’s why when it comes to the future of work, O’Gorman’s research project asks a vital question—are we able to imagine a society in which all human potential for creativity and productivity can be realised?
Berry, Barbara E. 2012. ‘Assistive Technology: Providing Independence for Individuals with Disabilities.’ Rehabilitation Nursing, Vol 21.1.
Davis, Lennard J. (ed.). 2016. The Disability Studies Reader (2nd edition). Routledge.
Ravneberg, Bodil and Söderström, Sylvia. 2017. Disability, Society and Assistive Technology. Routledge.