The AIM Lab has emerged through incremental efforts over the course of eight years. In this sense, the AIM Lab has been “in the making” for some time already. Here is our story:
In 2013, Kim Sawchuk, Laurence Parent, Arseli Dokumaci, and other researchers affiliated with Concordia’s Mobile Media Lab formed the Montreal In/accessible Collective (MIA) in collaboration with our community partner, RAPLIQ (Regroupement des activistes pour l’inclusion au Québec) and Catalan artist Antoni Abad. MIA collective developed a series of media projects on disability and discrimination, including the Megafone project, MIA video capsules, and Virtual Poster Series Traffic Lights.
The Megafone Project, developed by Abad, used the application Megafone, which enabled its participants to publish photos, text, videos, and sound recordings of various accessible, inaccessible, and half-way accessible places, sites, technologies, objects, and random daily realities in Montreal, ranging from subway entrances to stairs; from cars parked on sidewalks to terraces with no ramps; from cash machines that are too high for a person in a wheelchair, to inaccessible access points. Using this methodology, project participants produced a location-based taxonomy of barriers, half-way access, as well as good points of accessibility, with tags such as “barre!”, “presque” (almost), and “bravo!”, over the course of two years (2010-2012). Our collaborative mapping project resulted in this intricate geomapping of in/accessibility in Montreal.
In a second project, MIA collective, in collaboration with RAPLIQ members, produced a series of video capsules demonstrating disability discrimination in Montreal’s urban environment. One of our MIA video capsules, created in collaboration with disability activist Marie-Ève Veilleux, drew public attention to the inaccessibility of polling stations in Quebec, contributing to the establishment of an Accessibility Committee for provincial elections.
MIA’s third project, Virtual Poster Series, Traffic Lights, was a virtual exhibition that combined the research-creation projects that the collective and its individual members had undertaken over the years in order to intervene in ableism through the use of digital media. The projects included: Architectural Ableism (a collaboration with RAPLIQ), Montreal*in/accessible (a collaboration with Antoni Abad); and Cripping the Landscape 1: Quebec City by Laurence Parent. Virtual Poster Series was published as part of the online exhibition, Cripping Cyberspace: A Contemporary Virtual Art Exhibition, curated by Amanda Cachia.
Building from this groundwork, the MIA collective gradually evolved into broader projects and collaborations. In 2014, two core members of MIA, Kim Sawchuk and Arseli Dokumaci, co-founded and co-chaired the first working group on Disability and Performance at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics. The Institute is a collaborative, multilingual, and interdisciplinary consortium of institutions, artists, scholars, and activists working on issues of performance and politics throughout the Americas. Since 2014, our working group (WG) has held four international gatherings, including our first ever meeting in Montreal in 2014, and subsequent meetings at the 2014 Bodies-In-Transit: Articulating the Americas (and Beyond) Convergence in New York (the US), the 2016 Encuentro Festivals/Conferences in Santiago (Chile), and the 2019 Encuentro in Mexico City (Mexico).
The inaugural meeting of our WG brought together international artists, activists, and scholars from across the world, and it took place during the Encuentro Festival/Conference, MANIFEST! Choreographing Social Movements in the Americas, held at Concordia University in 2014. During the Encuentro, our WG not only had artistic and scholarly exchanges, but also made a public intervention in order to draw attention to the inaccessibility of art venues in Montreal. (You can read more about our working group’s statement here: http://hemi.nyu.edu/hemi/en/component/content/article/1951-performing-disability-work-group-statement) The intervention and overall activities of our WG were so impactful that they generated an ongoing debate and provoked awareness around art and accessibility in Montreal.
Drawing on this burgeoning synergy and ongoing discussions, we decided that it was long past due that we have a disability working group (WG) housed in Montreal. Through cross-departmental efforts, and just a few months after the Encuentro Festival, we founded Quebec’s first Critical Disability Studies Working Group (CDSWG) in a university context at Concordia. Sponsored by Concordia’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture, CDSWG branched across departments, bringing together students, faculty, researchers and creators from Communication Studies, Art Education, Anthropology, Sociology, History, the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, Educational Technology, Applied Human Sciences, and more.
Initially, CDSWG was a modest effort. It provided a space and dedicated blocks of time where researchers, graduate and undergraduate students, community activists, and practitioners committed to critical disability studies, could meet to discuss their current research and develop ideas for future collaboration. We began with holding series of research presentations, workshops and screenings by CDSWG members.
In just a matter of months, our activities rapidly increased. Other researchers, staff members, NGO’s, local community members and many more who were genuinely interested in questions of disability and access began to contact us, wanting to learn and do more. Over time, our networks expanded through further collaborations with local, national, and international artists, activists, community members, and grassroots organizations, and with a series of events, including two international symposia. A year after its founding, CDSWG branched beyond both the university and Montreal.
Given its expanding needs, the Milieux Institute began housing CDSWG under its Participatory Media Cluster and its accessible physical space in Concordia’s downtown campus in 2015. Since then, CDSWG continued its activities at an ever-increasing scale.
As a way of demonstrating the span of CDSWG’s achievements over this short period of time, some of our events included:
All of these incremental efforts over the years have now taken us to a stage when our needs and demands exceed the capacities of CDSWG. We need a permanent accessible space, infrastructure, equipment, and an expanded team of researchers and personnel to pursue our projects. The AIM Lab was born in response to this pressing need, and through our ongoing collective work and efforts to help strengthen critical disability studies in Quebec and broader Canada.
Given the barriers within academia and other public venues, it will come as no surprise that there is a scarcity of spaces for disability to be addressed as a cultural, social, and political issue, and for disability communities to flourish in the university. Disabled people need access to spaces, equipment and communities in order to do research and create collectively. Furthermore, academic ableism itself needs to be challenged, unsettled, and intervened in. The AIM Lab seeks to address these pressing needs. Designed as an open, flexible, accessible and welcoming space, and composed of a variety of media technologies, maker’s tools and state-of-the-art workstations, the AIM Lab will provide a space where disability creativity, knowledge and survival skills can be generated, accumulated and circulated.
Encuentro Performing Disability / Enabling Performance Working Group meeting in Montreal, Canada (2014) Photo by Arseli Dokumaci
Encuentro Performing Disability / Enabling Performance Working Group meeting in Montreal, Canada (2014) Photos by Arseli Dokumaci.
Encuentro Performing Disability / Enabling Performance Working Group meeting in Montreal, Canada (2014) Photo by Laura Blüer.
Inviting Movements: Emerging Critical Disability & Deaf Perspectives and Practices Symposium Opening Panel, 2016.
Vibrations logo design by Darian Goldin Stahl, 2018.
We would like to thank the past coordinators of CDSWG and those who have worked hard to make these events, projects and activities happen, including: