Personalising prosthetics: digital interventions in disability and dance

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


The pandemic had a significant impact on artists and for disabled artists the impact was particularly difficult. A survey conducted by the UK Disability Arts Alliance, suggest there are significant threats to the continued participation of Deaf and disabled people in the arts and culture sector as a result of the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis . Despite digital streaming and conferencing technologies allowing live performance to continue in some form, disabled artists voiced their concerns about being ‘left behind’ in a time of post-pandemic reconstruction: Musician and activist John Kelly, said: “The pandemic has just amplified our experience of discrimination .” However, the pandemic also provided an opportunity to turn our gaze inwards, which for disabled dancers meant a chance to reassess their bodily practices, including relationships to their prosthetics.

For us, this took the form of an interdisciplinary collaboration between prosthesis-using disabled dance artists, computer scientists, and engineers to explore the transformative potential of digital technologies to co-create aesthetically personalised prosthetics from dance movements. Early experiments were designed to challenge the ways in which technologies intervene in the recording and visualization of human motion. Each dancer brought an individual experience of, and relationship with prosthetics, based on their own body and dance practice. Beginning with the process of motion capture, we first explored how different (non-normative) bodies require new ways to mark up, track and measure motion, to ask how traditional power structures in the dancer/technology interface might be challenged and rethought in the interaction between uniquely physical dancers and the motion capture process.

Improvised movement sequences captured from individual dancers then drove a computational design algorithm that, inspired by the layering of natural rock formations, generated a distinct visual design or ‘aesthetic seed’ for each dancer – a kind of personal signature from their movement. These seeds were shared with the dancers as a source for generating new movement responses. These were also algorithmically mapped onto the shapes of prosthetic limb covers that could be 3D printed in a variety of materials. The resulting designs were presented back to the dancers as a stimulus for further discussion.

As an iterative, co-creative process, the experiments revealed insights to the dancers’ own artistic decisions, their relationship with their prosthesis, and the potential for digital processes and the emerging designs to be collaborating partners in the sustaining their practice. We will share some of the insights that have emerged, including the dancers’ own reflections on how the process generated questions about agency, appropriation, ownership and the political implications of disability as a site of resistance. It will suggest some ways in which digital methods can offer disabled artists different routes towards making and sharing work, whilst foregrounding the importance of inclusion to challenge normative thinking around what ‘connection’ and ‘access’ means in the context of digital innovation.
Period6 Sept 2022
Event titleDigital Resources in Humanities and the Arts: Digital Sustainability: from Resilience to Transformation
Event typeConference
LocationLondon, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational