Shape speaks to artist Noëmi Lakmaier to gain insight into her involvement with our second Tate Exchange programme Ghosts in the Machine, at Tate Modern from 1 to 4 March. She'll be showing new video work and performing a new durational piece - The Task of Containing - created in homage to the late Adam Reynolds, namesake of Shape's flagship art award, the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary.

Shape: Welcome Noëmi! We are very pleased to have you on board as a participating artist for Ghosts in the Machine. Can you tell us a bit about your recent artistic endeavours?

Noëmi: Over the past few years I have been very busy with my Unlimited commission ‘Cherophobia’, a piece where my bound and immobilised body is being lifted by 20000 helium filled party balloons. Since performing it in London in 2016 I toured it to Sydney Opera House last year and produced a film of the piece.

I am now keen to develop some smaller scale, intimate performance pieces and ‘The Task of Containing’ is one of them.

I have also been training and recently qualified as an existential-phenomenological psychotherapist, which is increasingly influencing my art practice. Existential thought in particular has heavily informed my Tate Exchange commission.   

S: The Task of Containing is an homage to the noted disabled artist and sculptor Adam Reynolds’ unrealised piece Sisyphus. What are the shared themes between the two works, and how did the concept of Adam’s piece work as a starting point?

N: I felt very honoured to be invited to create a piece in homage to Adam Reynolds. I am very saddened that I never met him in person, but I was the first recipient of the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary, without which, I am certain I would not be where I am in my career now.

I took his unrealised piece ‘Sisyphus’, the myth of Sisyphus and Albert Camus’ take on it in particular as a starting point and developed the commission from there. I am particularly interested in Camus’ assertion that Sisyphus was a happy man, as he found meaning in his futile task. ‘The Task of Containing’ is a piece about repetition and futility, but also meaning making and connectedness. This lead me to reflect on Martin Heidegger’s text ‘The Thing’ in which he challenges our relation to the things around us and through them to the world we live in.

S: How do you see The Task of Containing contributing to Ghosts in the Machine’s discussions around disability, inclusion, recognition and production?

N: I feel uncomfortable in asserting that ‘The Task of Containing’ or indeed any work of art by any artist can in and of itself further inclusion or recognition, but I hope the piece will offer an experience to viewers that will lead to discussions of how we all relate to the world in all its diversity.  

S: Can you tell us what, for you, is the significance of Shape’s Ghosts in the Machine programme as a whole, and its aims of challenging and exploring assumptions about the role of disabled people in art?

N: I feel that like with all the work that Shape does or is a part of, such as the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary and Unlimited, the ‘Ghosts in the Machine’ is a wonderful opportunity to bring disabled artists and their work to the heart of the contemporary debate, but importantly without pressuring artists to box themselves into categories they may not identify with or create work that is necessarily disability focussed.                              

S: Lastly, what are the societal changes that you hope to see disability-led programmes such as Ghosts in the Machine achieve, and how can the wider arts sector help us to get there?

N: I think the changes have been and are happening all the time, precisely through programmes like this and through the artists involved in them. It is heartening to see how disabled artists are increasingly exhibited and commissioned and our input is sought for the quality of the work and ideas. I think the most important thing the wider art sector (and the government) can do is goes wider than disability-led programmes. I believe it is vital that arts and creativity are recognised as an indispensable aspect of society, and that artists need to be involved and put in the centre of decision making and receive appropriate funding.

Thank you Noëmi! If you can't get to Tate Modern to see Noëmi perform The Task of Containing in person on Saturday 3 March, you can watch the livestream below:

Ghosts in the Machine takes place from 1 to 4 March at Tate Modern, from 12 to 6pm daily. It is free to attend, suitable for all ages, and is fully wheelchair accessible and BSL interpreted.

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Image: Unlimited commission ‘Cherophobia’ by Noëmi Lakmaier at Sydney Opera House; image c. Prudence Upton