Shape speaks to artist Damien Robinson about her involvement in our second Tate Exchange programme Ghosts in the Machine, at Tate Modern from 1 to 4 March, where she’ll be leading a free workshop: Object-orientation.

Shape: Welcome Damien! We are very pleased to have you on board as an artist-facilitator for our second Tate Exchange programme Ghosts in the Machine, taking place at Tate Modern from 1 to 4 March. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your practice?

Damien: It's great to have been invited to take part!

I'm an Essex-based artist working with digital and found media, mixing 'low' approaches with higher-tech equipment and strategies. I often re-purpose and recycle found and donated materials, which helps me explore the technology we use and discard, and the content it conveys. Much of my work has socially engaged elements, involving collaboration with other artists and the wider public. I self-identify as D/deaf and as disabled, and this is an important element that influences the way I work. For example, the inaccessibility of many development and learning opportunities has led to me working out a number of techniques without support, and unwittingly distorting 'the rules' of how equipment should be used or processes followed. In turn this allows me to discover new processes and outcomes. I now see this as an influential and positive aspect of my practice.

S: ‘Object-orientation’ is the title of your four-day photography workshop at Ghosts in the Machine. What exactly can visitors expect and how will they be able to participate?

D: Object-orientation uses two photographic processes; you can try both techniques, though not in the same workshop slot.

‘Object’ is a process using discarded digital peripherals as a camera with a shallow depth of field, which means we can discover quite a lot of detail that might usually be unseen. We are asking participants to bring a small object that is important to them, and in groups, we will work together to record them and explore their meaning.

‘Orientation’ uses light painting techniques adapted for daylight working, to capture individual movement and gesture. Movement can involve the whole body or one finger; it is the individuality that is the focus rather than scale. For this programme I've been working with artist Walter Reid, creating and exploring new light tools that will be available to participants to use.

The outcomes will showcase the contrast between the precision of the object capture and the abstraction of the recorded movement. Images from both workshops will be displayed during the weekend; it's chance to see a collaborative piece you have been involved with on show at Tate – even if only on screen for a few seconds.

S: And what is the concept behind attendees bringing their own personal belongings in order to be captured and shared?

D: This approach began life as the development of a 'found' technical strategy; through experimentation I discovered a process whose outcomes I really liked. Objects were initially just part of those experiments, but when I started using the approach with individuals and groups, I came to understand that recording objects and their interrelationship is a method for reflecting a sense of selfhood disconnected from conventional portraiture. Current 'lifestyle' advice encourages us to free ourselves of unnecessary life junk, but our connections to objects are not just about 'stuff', they are imbued with meaning, external receptacles for our memories and relationships. They can tell a story that is not connected to their surface value.

For Ghosts in the Machine, I'm particularly interested in sharing the resulting images to explore differing perspectives on objects relating to access (in the broadest sense). For example, many people who know me are unaware my inner ear balance system does not function, and I rely on visual and muscular cues. This means low lighting and darkness are access barriers and I carry a torch everywhere; I have a battery operated light available in every room at home and in every bag. Torches therefore have a particular meaning for me, but I'd love to know other people's perspectives; while I might discuss balance, they might comment on the same object as having a different access benefit - or obstacle. Some people may bring objects that don't directly relate to access, but that still have a meaning and a story they can share. Shape volunteers will be supporting the process recording participant comments, linking stories and images to develop a multi-layered conversation.

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?

D: The programme title Ghosts in the Machine reflects - to me - the pseudo-visibility that disability has within the arts world; it is sometimes seen but still overlooked, as if on the periphery of the sector's vision. And that the arts as well as our wider society, often chooses what it wants to see in relation to disability, baulking at the complexities, preferring only to see black and white, rather than the full grayscale between those poles. There are amazing artists on this programme - it offers a fantastic mix of creative approaches and responses, allowing audiences to become involved and to consider yourself/your creative response/your political response both as an individual and as part of wider collective voice. I've worked in the arts for over 25 years, and know that while my individual voice might be passed over as a 'stuck record', our collective voice is much harder to ignore.

S: Lastly, how important would you say it is for arts organisations to take Ghosts in the Machine’s message on board and work to enable better representation of and contribution by disabled people?

D: We're living in a time when both the arts and disabled people are dis-valued and we constantly have to assert our role in wider society, so disability is not other in that sense, there are parallels. I would love to see arts organisations change their perspective on representation and contribution; to feel empowered by the possibilities and see change as dynamic. The programme demonstrates positive strategies and relationships – let's not have an 'us and them' relationship, let's come together to be 'we'.

S: Many thanks Damien!

Ghosts in the Machine will take 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.

Damien Robinson’s workshop Object-orientation at Ghosts in the Machine is open to the public every day from 1 to 4 March – drop in any time from 12 to 6pm; booking is not required, however due to limited capacity there may be a short wait for entry. Fully wheelchair accessible and BSL interpreted.

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