Cleaner Required – Kristina Veasey and Simon Wood (Interview)

In response to FCA’s website 1st birthday, Donna Richardson, Aidan Moesby, Kristina Veasey and Simon Wood were each awarded £1000 to produce fully accessible artwork that engages with digital technologies.

We wanted original work on any theme which we could display on our DigiCommission website.

All artworks commissioned were to show:
– That digital creative accessibility solutions can produce more interesting work for everyone, whether they have specific access needs or not.
– That technology provides excellent tools for solving access to art in its focus on connectivity and joining people up.
– That making something more accessible doesn’t have to be expensive.

We feel that the artists selected fulfil the brief and we’re excited to launch the website.

We hope to commission accessible digital artwork each year and build on the website to create an archive.

Here we interview Kristina and Simon about their work.

Cleaner Required

1. To what extent if at all do you feel your work represents/reflects (your feelings about) disability? 

Kristina: I don’t specifically choose to make work about disability but my ideas for work sometimes arise out of situations I find myself in. Giving a creative response to a negative situation allows me to turn things on their head and come out feeling positive. I don’t usually set out with that agenda, it all happens more organically than that. I face lots of challenges as a result of my impairments and Cleaner Required! is a response to one of those. With some pieces of work, like my film Disabled, My Arse! I am able to directly confront other people’s attitudes and assumptions. Given the nature of the topic, both these pieces could be really heavy and dark, but they’re not. They’re lively and fun, which is what allows people to become easily engaged.

Simon: As well as making soundscapes, I am a singer songwriter. My songs are largely urban folk with strong rhythmic guitar. I don’t think about disability when I’m writing, but my life experiences are woven into the lyrics and sometimes that has included my experiences with psychosis. White Knuckle ride would be an example of that

2. Had you previously thought about creating fully accessible digital artwork prior to this commission? 

Kristina: I have done disability equality consultancy for many years so making things accessible is really important to me and something I think about a lot. However, even those of us who are well versed in it rarely achieve full accessibility. Hopefully future technology will allow us to completely personalise the way we access things. The least we can do now is use the technology and know-how that currently exists as standard practice. It’s just a matter of getting those making and curating art to develop new habits. Making it accessible to others has usually come as an add-on afterwards. Simon and I collaborated on an earlier video and soundscape and we hadn’t put any captions with it. There was no speaking in it so we hadn’t thought it necessary. We plumped for the bottom line in access, that Deaf and hearing impaired people would access it visually, and that blind and visually impaired people would access it through the soundscape. I wasn’t really thinking about how these audiences would get the most out of the experience and how I could best convey my concept to them. Digicommission really got me to think about how I could do this better. The first thing I did was assess how I could get the concept of the piece across to different audiences. It’s actually an exciting challenge for artists because it adds another dimension to both the way you think, and to the work itself. You start asking: what will a Deaf person get from this? What are they taking away from this experience? Have they got the concept I wanted to convey to them? It stretches your creativity.

3. To what extent do you feel that digital technology is a useful tool in improving access to art? 

Kristina: Digital technology has so many possibilities that are there for the tapping. My own knowledge of technology is fairly limited and this has certainly inspired me to look at developing how I can use it more, particularly within my art. Even simple things like housing art on a website immediately allows more people to access it. Sometimes I am amazed by what is now possible. However, although the possibilities may be there, they aren’t always easy to find, particularly if you have little idea where to start looking. If you aren’t already a techy person, it’s quite hard to know where to begin. I ended up doing quite a lot of research and wasn’t always able to source what I wanted. For example, I couldn’t find a readily available media player that allowed you to turn on and off a variety of options like captions and audio-description. It would have been a far more attractive way of presenting the piece. It’d be great to have simple things like this available widely for everyone to use.

Simon: Digital formatting allows one to move huge files around with great ease and also to collaborate over any distance at the click of a mouse. The empowering nature of computers, adapted or otherwise, allows the artist to reach a much wider audience than was possible before the advent of this technology.

4. What or who influences your work or whose work do you get inspiration from? 

Kristina: I am not often inspired by purely looking at other peoples artwork, but when I hear the artist talk about the concept behind it I can find it utterly fascinating and it brings it all to life for me. I have had this opportunity a number of times over the past few years and it has really awakened something in me. Dolly Sen, Laura Keeble and Jon Adams are all artists whose work I have enjoyed in this way. I particularly enjoyed Jo Verrent and Sarah Pikthall’s recent showcasing of work from their project Short Circuit, which brought together disabled artists and experts in technology to collaborate on new pieces of artwork. I think that meshing of technology and art has such exciting potential. Being a part of this commission and seeing what others are doing has made me believe in my own ideas, and dare to put them into reality.

Simon: I’m not influenced by other soundscape makers exactly, my inspiration is percussive rhythms that years of listening to and playing music has given me a deep feeling for.

5. What was your intention in creating this piece? 

Kristina: This piece originates from my feeling overwhelmed by housework I can’t keep up with due to being disabled. Sometimes it feels as if all I can see is the mess; I can no longer see the furniture or the decor, just the mess! I wanted to convey an idea of the debris and muck in my house taking on a life of its own. The bits and bobs in the animation were actually found under my sofa. I think that since I finished the film they have probably found their way back there too!

Simon: I wanted people to find the soundscape fun and to wonder where these sounds and rhythms came from. I delight in telling people that, in fact, it was a bin lid or a cat or a door slam that they are hearing! All the sounds in this particular piece were “found” in our house.

6. Have you learnt anything in particular in doing this commission? 

Kristina: This is only my second go at stop-frame animation, so I was still learning as I went along. I also learn new things every time I use video-editing software. My biggest learning came through research for audio description. I really enjoyed exploring the history of it and seeing what the latest approaches are. I would love to have feedback on my approach and see how it could be developed in my future work.

Simon: I’ve learned that each time I do a soundscape I get a little bit better at manipulating digital files within the recording software. Also, I see how working with someone else can increase the scope of one’s project and, in this case, make the work available to many more people. Furthermore, it has been very educational for me to challenge my presuppositions about what constitutes accessible art

7. Would you consider the audio and text descriptions to be an integral part of the piece? 

Simon: Absolutely, the idea was to make inclusive art, not exclusive art, and the audio and text descriptions allow so many more people to get something from the piece. I think the strength of Cleaner Required! is that each component is interesting in itself and can stand alone and still have an impact.

Kristina: Definitely. I wanted the captions to convey the rhythmic nature of the soundscape and show how they built up into a chorus, so I played around with the timings the words appear on the screen. I thought I’d nailed it but the pace of the soundscape seems to set your pace for reading; you are naturally geared up for something faster. Watching in silence, the words seemed to be coming at me faster than I could read, so it took a lot of tweaking. Getting feedback from others was really important. A Deaf colleague pointed out that the captions don’t refer to anything you can actually see on the screen, which was confusing, so I added some text at the beginning to explain the captions referred to the sounds in the soundscape. For me, the research around the audio description was as enjoyable as the arts process itself. With the audio description, I wanted to present something more than a factual narrative. I wanted it to be a creative interpretation that brought its own vibe to the piece, not just be a poor man’s version of the visual version. I hope I’ve achieved that.

8. How did your collaborative partnership come about? 

Kristina: A friendship, a bottle of wine, some children, and then somewhere later along the line, a close working relationship! Also, I have great respect for Simon’s work; he is a brilliant songwriter and musician. Being able to collaborate in this way also means I can talk to him at length about my work and not feel guilty for going on and on about it.

Simon: Kristina and I had previously collaborated on her Beyond the Torch Run art project in 2012, and as this was a very successful venture there seemed to be no reason not to work together again. Kristina also made a music video for one of my band (Siglo21) songs Christmas time Again! so this is actually our third collaboration.