ARGOS presents Activating Captions, an online platform that critically engages with captioning

April 12, 2021
Christine Sun Kim and Niels Van Tomme, Captions we came across throughout our research and that intrigued us, surprised us, or made us laugh, 2021. Various captioned images on white background.

ARGOS presents Activating Captions, an online platform and physical window display 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 façade of the ARGOS building.

Traditionally, captions convert the audio content of a film, video, television programme, or live event into text and display this text on a screen, monitor, or other visual display system. They not only visualise spoken words, but also include speaker identification, sound effects, and music description. Captions 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 them for convenience reasons.

Activating Captions creatively expands these habitual uses of captioning through work by Alex Dolores Salerno, Alison O’Daniel, Amalle Dublon & Constantina Zavitsanos, Eduardo Andres Crespo, Carolyn Lazard, Jordan Lord, Liza Sylvestre, and Park McArthur & Constantina Zavitsanos.

For these artists, video proves an important setting to experiment with captioning. They introduce new forms of media that question the assumption that audiovisual output is comprehensible for everyone, making captions a multi-layered, generative site for critical, poetic, and/or humorous interventions. In doing so, Activating Captions underscores mainstream audiovisual culture’s inherently exclusive nature, as well as its relationship to written language, and imagines a new, more expandable future for it.

Beyond presenting the artworks, the online platform also features texts by Aline Remael, Andrew Fisher, Ariel Baker-Gibbs, Emily Watlington, Grégory Castéra, Niels Van Tomme, Raymond Antrobus, and Sara Novic that reflect on captioning from a range of personal perspectives and experiences. These newly commissioned texts aim to broaden the awareness and understanding of growing captioning culture across media, disciplines, and borders.

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