Activating Captions is an online platform that critically engages with captioning as a singular artistic form of expression. The project features artists' videos, newly commissioned texts, and a site-specific intervention by visual artist Shannon Finnegan on the facade of the ARGOS building.
Traditionally, captioning is the process of converting the audio content of a film, video, television programme, or live event into text and displaying this text on a screen, monitor, or other visual display system. Captions not only visualise spoken words, they also include speaker identification, sound effects, and music description. They are essential for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing, as well as numerous others, such as people who are learning a new language or those who watch captions for convenience reasons.
In recent years, however, a number of artists have taken a more active approach to captioning. These artists are searching for new ways to highlight and undo the shortcomings and inadequacies of this visual tool when employed in pop cultural and artistic contexts. They have been using captions to underscore this system's limited capacity to sufficiently make audiovisual culture accessible. In their hands, captioning – instead of a medium that straightforwardly communicates information – becomes a multi-layered, generative site for critical, poetic, and/or humorous interventions that at the same time explores its aesthetic value.
Activating Captions presents the work of artists for whom video proves an important setting to experiment with captioning. It additionally introduces new forms of media that question the assumption that audiovisual output is comprehensible for everyone. In doing so, Activating Captions underscores audiovisual culture's inherently exclusive nature, as well as its relationship to written languages, and imagines a new, more expandable future for it.
The Activating Captions magazine features texts from art
writers, scholars, and poets that reflect on captioning from personal
perspectives and experiences.
These newly commissioned texts aim to broaden the awareness and understanding of growing captioning culture across media, disciplines, and borders.
Alex Dolores Salernowebsite
Alex Dolores Salerno is an interdisciplinary artist based in Brooklyn, NY. Informed by themes of care, interdependency, and queer-crip time, they work to critique standards of productivity, notions of normative embodiment, and the commodification of rest. They have exhibited at The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation’s 8th Floor Gallery, the Ford Foundation Gallery, Franklin Street Works, Gibney Dance (New York), IA&A at Hillyer (Washington, DC, among others. They participated in Art Beyond Sight’s Art & Disability Residency Program (2019-2020). Currently they are an artist in residence in the Artist Studios Program at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.
Alison O’Daniel is a visual artist and filmmaker. She has exhibited internationally at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow; Centre Pompidou, Paris, FR; Centro Centro, Madrid, Spain; Renaissance Society, Chicago; Art in General, New York; Centre d’art Contemporain Passerelle, Brest, France; Tallinn Art Hall, Estonia. She was included in Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film and writing on O’Daniel’s work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Artforum, Los Angeles Times, BOMB and ArtReview. She is represented by Commonwealth and Council in Los Angeles and is an Assistant Professor of Film at California College of the Arts in San Francisco.
Amalle Dublon received their PhD in Literature from Duke University, where their dissertation brought questions of sound and aurality to bear on queer and feminist thought. Their writing has appeared in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, TDR: The Drama Review, and with Constantina Zavitsanos, in I’m Still Coming: Ellen Cantor’s Coming to Power 1993 & 2016, among other publications. They helped to organise I Wanna Be with You Everywhere, a gathering of disabled artists and writers at Performance Space and the Whitney Museum in 2019. They teach at the New School in New York.
Carolyn Lazard is an artist and writer based in Philadelphia and New York. Lazard has participated in exhibitions at Palais de Tokyo (Paris), Museum fur Moderne Kunst (Frankfurt), MIT List Visual Arts Center (Cambridge), Institute of Contemporary Art (Philadelphia), The Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), Contemporary Art Centre (Vilnius), Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), New Museum (New York). Lazard is a 2021 United States Artists fellow and a 2020 Disability Futures fellow. They hold an MFA from the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Film and Anthropology from Bard College.
Constantina Zavitsanos works in sculpture, performance, text, and sound to elaborate what’s invaluable in the re/production of debt, dependency, and means beyond measure. Zavitsanos has exhibited at the New Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Artists Space, The Kitchen, and Participant (New York), at Arika Episode 7 (Glasgow), and Wysing Arts Centre (Cambridge, UK). With Park McArthur, they co-authored the texts “Other Forms of Conviviality” in the journal Women and Performance (Routledge, 2013), and “The Guild of the Brave Poor Things” in Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility (MIT Press, 2017).
Eduardo Andres Crespowebsite
Eduardo Andres Crespo, formerly known as Andrea Crespo lives and works in New York. In the past, Crespo has examined cultural and historical narratives surrounding different forms of psychological and bodily being. Identity, or errors of identity, have also encompassed Crespo’s practice, though he has also focused on the connections of psychopathological realities, cultural formations, and digital communities associated with them. His body of works range across video and sound installations, prints, and drawings.
Jordan Lord is a filmmaker, writer, and artist, working primarily in video, text, and performance. Their work addresses the relationships between historical and emotional debts, framing and support, access and documentary. Their video and performance work has been shown internationally at venues including MoMA, Artists Space, Camden Arts Centre, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, and Performance Space NY. Their solo exhibition of video work After...After... was presented at Piper Keys (London) in 2019. They teach at Hunter College, CUNY (New York).
Liza Sylvestre is a multimedia artist and curator of academic programs at Krannert Art Museum. Sylvestre’s work has been shown at venues including The Plains Art Museum (Fargo), the Weisman Art Museum (Minneapolis), Roots & Culture (Chicago), the Soap Factory (Minnesota), and the John Hansard Gallery (Southampton). She has acted as the Artist in Residence of the Weisman Art Museum and the Center for Applied Translational Sensory Science. In 2019 she received a Citizens Advocate Award from the Minnesota Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing. Sylvestre’s work has been written about in Art in America, Mousse Magazine, SciArt Magazine and the Weisman Art Museum’s Incubator Web Platform.
Park McArthur is an artist who is interested in learning from experiences and concepts of debility, dependency, and disability. Park McArthur’s solo exhibitions include MoMA (New York), Chisenhale Gallery (London), SFMOMA (San Francisco), and Essex Street (New York). Group exhibitions include PS1 MoMA (New York), Ludwig Forum (Aachen), The Kitchen (New York) and the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo.
Shannon Finnegan is an interdisciplinary artist. Some of their recent work includes Anti-Stairs Club Lounge, an ongoing project that gathers people together who share an aversion to stairs, Alt-Text as Poetry, a collaboration with Bojana Coklyat that explores the expressive potential of alt-text, and Do You Want Us Here or Not, a series of benches designed for exhibition spaces. They have done projects with Banff Centre, the High Line (New York), the Museum of Contemporary Art (Denver), Tallinn Art Hall, and Nook Gallery (Oakland). Their work has been supported by a 2020 grant from Art Matters Foundation and a 2019 residency at Eyebeam. They live and work in Brooklyn, NY.
Note: Shannon Finnegan's contribution to Activating Captions cannot be experienced online. It consists of a site-specific intervention on the facade of the ARGOS-building. Read more here.
Christine Sun Kimwebsite
Christine Sun Kim is an American artist based in Berlin. Working predominantly in drawing, performance, and video, Kim's practice considers how sound operates in society, deconstructing the politics of sound, and exploring oral languages as social currency. Musical notation, written language, American Sign Language (ASL), and the use of the body are all recurring elements in her work. She further uses sound to explore her own relationship to verbal languages and her environment. She is represented by François Ghebaly Gallery in Los Angeles and White Space Beijing in Beijing.
Niels Van Tommewebsite
Niels Van Tomme (he/him/his) is director at ARGOS centre for audiovisual arts in Brussels.
Producers: Andrea Cinel, Stijn Schiffeleers
Technical crew: Femke De Valck, Kevin Gallagher, Kianoosh Motallebi, Luca Vanello
Editors: Andrea Cinel, Dagmar Dirkx, Maryam K Hedayat, Niels Van Tomme, Sonja Simonyi
Translators: Marine Van hoof (FR), Martine Wezenbeek (NL)