Media @ McGill

Radical Affordances: Concept, Abstracts and Biographies

Submitted by Media@McGill on


Radical Affordances – Concept:

The idea for this conference is grounded in Arseli Dokumaci’s original applications of Gibson’s theory of affordances in the area of critical disability studies. In an interview leading up to the conference, Dokumaci summarized some of her research activities on this topic:

“[W]hat I did in my doctoral and postdoctoral projects was to develop a research program that considered affordances from the lens of disability. I began my research by asking: What if we think of disability not as the negation of an affordance but as an affordance in and of itself? With this question in mind, I embarked on my fieldwork, filming the everyday practices of people with various forms of disabilities. After having been in the field, working together with my research participants – who were very generous and articulate – I came up with this argument: Disabled people – whether they are disabled by an illness, chronic pain and/or the barriers of their environments – relate their bodies to the surfaces and substances around them in highly creative ways. These improvisations not only allow them to feel as little pain as possible, or to skilfully detour around obstacles; they also let their bodily differences, pain and discomforts be expressed in the form of an otherwise unimaginable affordance. These new affordances turn able-bodied norms upside down. They defy the physical, mental and attitudinal moulds into which our bodies are expected to fit. They open up other ways of moving, sensing, acting and being in the environment that we all share.” (Interview published in the McGill Reporter, 13 March 2015)


Julie Châteauvert

Abstract: “Narrative Creations in Sign Languages: The Promises of Image Technologies”

Around the world, narrative creation in different sign languages is teeming. Traditionally, this work was presented on stage, during social or community events. Its transmission was generally considered to be an equivalent to that of oral literatures. While this may still be the case, and while a number of festivals allow us to see live contemporary narrative sign language creation onstage, the growing accessibility of image technologies is radically transforming these works’ modes of dissemination. Indeed, more than dissemination alone, the very relationship with creation is potentially altered, since it is now possible to record these works, to identify and classify them, in other words to conduct their very editing and publication. Consequently, it becomes easier to study these works, to memorize and interpret them, as well as to analyze and develop discourses around them. The Internet also facilitates access to an international repertoire of works in diverse sign languages, allowing us to hope that a recognition of this literature might be achieved in the same way as it has been for vocal languages. In this presentation, I will offer an overview of the promises put forward by image technologies with regards to the dissemination and recognition of narrative creation in sign language. I will conclude by considering what these technologies also promise on the level of creative practice.

Biography: In 2014, Julie Châteauvert completed a Doctorate in Études et Pratiques des Arts at UQÀM, entitled “Poétique du mouvement: ce que les langues des signes font à la littérature” (Poetics of Movement: What Sign Languages do to Literature). Her current research seeks, on the one hand, to develop methodological tools for the criticism of sign language literature, and on the other, to understand the modes of dissemination of sign language literature that are currently being used.

Arseli Dokumaci

Abstract: “Misfires that Matter: Disabled Ways of Affording the Everyday”

In his concept of the “absent body,” Drew Leder (1990) argues that people barely pay attention to the movements of their limbs or to the surfaces and textures that they are in contact with throughout their habituated ways of moving through the everyday. But when they suddenly hit something and fall onto the ground, a feeling of acute pain strikes. It becomes impossible to be unaware of the weight of one’s bones, the vulnerability of one’s skin or the stiffness of the concrete.

This presentation addresses a similar kind of awareness that arises when disability disrupts the harmony between the body and its environment. It involves a series of video clips and testimonies in which individuals with various kinds of visible and invisible disabilities perform or talk about mundane activities of the everyday. Drawing on James Gibson’s “theory of affordances” (1986), I invite the audience to think about how disabled individuals might challenge the invisible norms of the everyday by inventing new tactics and action possibilities within which their bodily differences and physical suffering are welcomed and recognized. Deploying the theory of affordances from a performance perspective, I claim that these improvisations are performances as affordance creations where the actions of the body become a tool to reshape the relationship between its inside and outside and create new ways of doing bodies in the everyday.

Biography: Arseli Dokumaci is a Fonds Québécois de Recherche sur la Société et la Culture (FQRSC) postdoctoral fellow at McGill University’s Department of Social Studies of Medicine. She received her PhD in performance studies at Aberystwyth University and completed postdoctoral research at Concordia University’s Mobile Media Lab, where she still works as a research associate. Her work focuses on the intersections of disability and performance, with an emphasis on everyday life performances, visual ethnography and measurements of disability in medicine. Arseli is also a video-maker and has created several videos, including “Misfires that Matter: Invisible Disabilities and Performances of the Everyday” (2012), “Misfire, ‘Mis’perform, Manifest: Disability and Everyday life” (2014) and “Blindness, Techno-affordances and Participation in Everyday Life” (2014). Her research has appeared in Performance Research; Wi: Journal of Mobile Media; MISperformance: Essays in Shifting Perspectives (Maska, 2014) and Disability in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Palgrave, 2011). Arseli is the co-convener of Performing Disability/Enabling Performance Work Group at Encuentro and the Chair of Constituency Groups at Performance Studies international.

Read an interview with Arseli Dokumaci about Radical Affordances here.

Further reading and viewing:

Florian Grond

Abstract: “Art and Design in the Context of Assistive Technologies: Two Projects”

I will present two projects from the field of art and design in the context of assistive technologies and interfaces. Both centre on the use of sound. The first is an ongoing art project, audible sculptures, which creates a platform where blind and sighted individuals can experience the shapes and forms of artworks using the senses that they share: touch and hearing. The second project, audible pointers, is an indoor exploration and navigation project for shared public space in Alexis Nihon shopping mall. While audible sculptures is an artwork destined for an audience, and audible pointers consists in a smart phone application for users, both aim at creating platforms for shared experiences between people with varying abilities. In my presentation, I will address practical experiences emerging from the participatory creation process as well as theoretical reflections on the role of art and design in assistive technology.

Biography: Florian Grond ( is a postdoctoral researcher at Concordia University, funded by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Rehabilitation Research in Greater Montreal (CRIR). He is also an affiliate member of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology in Montreal. He holds an MSc (2002) from the Karl-Franzens University in Graz (Austria). From 2003 to 2007, he worked as a research associate and guest artist at the Center for Art and Media (ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany). He studied at the Cognitive Interaction Technology, Center of Excellence (CITEC) and received a doctorate from Bielefeld University, Germany, in 2013. His work, published in various journal articles, book chapters, and conference papers and exhibited in venues across Japan, Europe and North America, focuses on the intersections between art and science, with a special interest in sound. In 2015, he will begin a FQRSC-funded research-creation postdoctoral project at the Input Devices and Music Interaction Laboratory (IDMIL) at McGill in collaboration with the Société des Arts Technologiques (SAT).

Jessica Holmes

Abstact: “Singing Beyond Hearing”

Sound artist Christine Sun Kim brings her Deaf minority standpoint to the performance art tradition to “reclaim ownership over sound.” Integrating elements of American Sign Language with musical notation, written text, non-verbal vocalizations, recordings of electronic sounds, improvised technological instruments, and deliberate “silences,” she engages with sound through tactile, visual, and kinaesthetic stimuli.

In this presentation, I draw on recent ethnographic work to showcase two distinct expressions of vocality in Kim’s celebrated performance art piece Face Opera II (2013): Kim severs the related associations between the voice and vocal cords by staging a “silent,” embodied singing voice inspired by the facial nuances of American Sign Language, and likewise expresses an audible singing that at once defies Deaf custom and resists oralist control. By recuperating and refashioning the expressive potential of the singing voice, her unique approach affords new ways of listening and radically challenges what it means to be musical.

Biography: Jessica Holmes is a PhD Candidate in Musicology at McGill University. Her dissertation is a cross-genre, case study-based theoretical study of disability in contemporary music performance. Her specific research interests include music and Deaf culture, disability and voice, as well as music and prosthetics. Her doctoral research is funded by the Vanier Canada scholarship program, and she has presented her work at numerous academic societies including the American Musicological Society, the Society for American Music, and the Society for Disability Studies. Jessica is a cellist, singer, and improviser of several mixed media art creations.

Aimee Louw

Abstract: “The Underwater City Project”

The Underwater City Project is a multimedia production and zine series, searching for the most accessible city in urban Turtle Island/Canada. The project documents personal experiences of ableism and access in five cities – Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax – through writing, interviews, photographs and film. The project’s first major production, a 68-page zine, was published and distributed in summer of 2014, and is currently available. Within the zine are interviews with activists and artists living in each city, poetry, creative non-fiction, and analyses of barriers to access and the movements that emerge in response. Underwater City explores aspects of living within normative infrastructures, adding to discussions around queerness, who is welcome in our cities and communities, and sharing visions of swimming to the nearest grocery store.

The Underwater City is an imagined place where ableism doesn’t exist. Aimee hopes one day she will live there.

Biography: Aimee Louw is a writer, radio journalist, and performer based in Montreal. She is the director of the Underwater City Project, which documents personal experiences of ableism and access in five Canadian cities through blogging and a 2014 zine of the same title ( Aimee studied political science at Concordia University and has presented research on social movements and the rhetoric of mobilization at conferences at McGill and York Universities. She co-hosts the radio show “Native Solidarity News” and works for the documentary film network Cinema Politica. An affiliate of the Critical Disability Studies Working Group at Concordia and Accessibilize Montreal, she is happy to be part of the growing disability justice movement in Montreal. She finds her place in that movement campaigning for accessibility and facilitating workshops relating to ableism, queerness and moving beyond notions of normality.

Laurence Parent

Abstract: “Wheeling New York City”

In May 2013, I went to Québec City to present a paper in a disability studies conference. I knew that I would not have access to accessible transportation. I decided to attach my Go Pro camera to my wheelchair and film my journey. I used that footage to make Cripping the Landscape: Québec City, a short video documentary charting my thirty-five minute journey on wheels from Université Laval to the train station in Québec City, which was a distance of five kilometers, told from the temporal point of view of my wheelchair. Cripping the Landscape: Québec City expresses the desire to impair ableism and to damage the structures of power that reinforce the “normalcy” of ableist architecture. After making that video, I started thinking about what it means to wheel in cities and how mobile media could be used to develop new methods for the critical study of disability. I argue that “wheeling” – the act of getting around using a wheelchair – is also a mobile practice. In this presentation, I will talk about the first wheeling interviews I have been conducting with disabled people in New York City.

Biography: Laurence is a PhD candidate in humanities at Concordia University. She holds a MA in critical disability studies from York University and a BA in political science from Université du Québec à Montréal. She lives in Montréal and is passionate about disability activism and mobility. She wrote, directed and produced her first documentary filmJe me souviens: Excluded from the Montréal subway since 1966which has won the award of Emerging Artist at the 2010 International Disability Film Festival in Berkeley. She is currently working with the m.i.a. collectivea collective of researchers, affiliated with the Mobile Media Lab, who are engaged in interdisciplinary projects that contain practice-led and theoretical inquiries into the confluences of critical disability studies and mobility studies. Laurence’s doctoral research is an oral history project that examines disabled people’s sense of belonging in Montréal and New York City. Laurence is particularly interested in the use of mobile media technologies enabling the creation of new methods for the critical study of ableism.

Read an interview with Laurence Parent on her current activism and research.