Sixteen clear glass jars with black lids, and 4 clear, covered petri dishes, all with horizontal white labels printed in black ink are sitting upright on a horizontal surface. Various natural materials (flowers, soil/dirt, leaves, stones, seeds, fruit, herbs), and liquids of varying colors; red, yellow, brown, fill the containers. Some of the labels have names of people or streets on them, all are accompanied dates.

Jamie Wyld (JW): Thanks for being part of the Vital Capacities residency programme! Can you say a little about yourself and your work, perhaps in relation to what you’re thinking about doing during the residency? 

Romily Alice Walden (RAW): I’m an artist working mostly with text, video and publishing. I work both individually and collectively as part of Sickness Affinity Group Berlin, a group of artists and arts workers concerned with sickness, disability and labour conditions. My work looks to the fragility of the body, the connection between the land and the body, and the socio-political ramifications of living as a sick and disabled person under late stage capitalism.  

JW: You’re one of the first four artists to take part in Vital Capacities, how do you feel about being one of the first to take part?

RAW: I’m very excited to take part and very grateful to have been invited. There are unfortunately very few accessible arts opportunities that are fairly paid and not limited by lines of geography and ability; the Vital Capacities residency has been one of the most accessible projects I’ve worked on over the past five years. This brings me a lot of joy and hope for the future. During COVID, arts sectors have been pushed to reframe the hierarchies of present/absent, physical/virtual, sick/well. Building residencies that trust artists to create and foster community and practice from their homes is a really exciting development. I’m happy to be one of the first artists at Vital Capacities to be able to explore together with the Video Club team and other 3 artists what it can look like to build our studios inside the internet. 

JW: One of the aims of Vital Capacities is to create an accessible site – how do you think this will be an opportunity to develop your way of working? 

RAW: I have loved the conversations that have opened up around access as a site for creativity during this process. One of the really striking aspects of this experience so far is that access has been a primary consideration from the outset. So much of the time access is an addition at the end of a project, when everyone is tired, time is very tight and budgets have already been spent. This perpetuates an idea that making projects accessible is an expensive, tiring chore, but anything which has to be done under those circumstances is going to feel bad and give you that false impression. 

With this project, access has been considered and prioritised from the beginning. This means that we as artists have been given time and assistance to figure out what access can look like within our projects and to understand access as a framework with which to challenge and reimagine our practice and the way that we present our work. In this way, an image description can become something more than a factual description, it can move beyond that into an alternate form of the work itself, an audio description can be a chance to think about what is seen and unseen in our work, and how and why we’ve made those kinds of choices. That is why I love thinking about access, if approached with time and creativity, it not only allows you to do this very basic thing (that should be completely routine), of including members of your community who have access needs, it can also expand our notions and understandings of what it is to experience and to create. 

JW: What would you like to achieve through the residency? Is there a particular project you’ll be focusing on?

RAW: During the residency I will be working with curator and member of COVEN collective Frances Breden to put together an online exhibition of performative video works by sick and disabled artists. I am currently a fellow of the UdK Graduate School in Berlin where I am working on a two year project titled ‘Foregrounding Sickness’. One of the research questions I’m focusing on for this project is ‘How can I be a performance artist when my body can’t perform to the ableist standards expected of performance artists by the art world?’. When I was asked to join the Vital Capacities residency I thought it would be a unique chance to work with Frances and Video Club to develop an exhibition that puts this research question into the real world and into conversation with sick / disabled / video / arts communities. 

I will be also be making new work to go into the show, and using the time and web studio format to archive a lot of the material I’ve been filming and collecting over the last 6 months. 

JW: How do you see the next few weeks unfolding? Where would you like it to take you? 

RAW: I am looking forward to the archiving process. Seeing the studios that the videoclub team built for us, I felt like I could really use the space to zoom out of my research and get a kind of overview on what I’ve been collecting recently. A lot of my work comes from snippets of text and small pieces of footage, so I think that having that all in one place and not spread out over the phone / computer / brain space could be really useful. Once I have that up I’m sure that I’ll start looking at new ways to put those things together into new text/video/performance works.

Having the PRESENTS show up will I’m sure feel really amazing, it’s been a lot of work and something I’ve been hoping to be able to do for a long time. I hope that it can expand and invite some questions around sickness, performance and the digital. So many of the artists in the show are people whose practices I’ve followed and been in awe of for years so to be able to put their works in one place and be in conversation with them and a videoclub audience is incredibly exciting. 

Image credit: Crip Ecologies, archive, 2018
Glass, soil, rocks, plant life, animal specimens, formalin, isopropyl alcohol.

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