Public engagement is an important aspect of academia. As researchers we tend to disseminate our work to an academic, service provider and policy maker audience primarily through report/journal writing, and conference/meeting presentations. Methods of disseminating research to the wider community usually involves media engagement and public lectures, the latter being few and far between.
Another means of communicating research outside of the academic field is through art. Not only does art provide a tool to express research knowledge to a public audience, but it also provides a unique way of disseminating research findings and concepts through more novel, creative and experimental means.
As well as being a Senior Researcher within the Centre for Public Health, in my free time, I am also a resident artist working at ROAD studios, a city centre based studio housing a community of creatives in the historic Carlisle buildings, Victoria Street, Liverpool.
Applying my skills as a researcher I produce conceptual art which is methodologically, theoretically and empirically informed with the aim of visually questioning and critiquing a number of contemporary social, political and cultural issues through the use of word, simple imagery, photography, installation, sculpture and everyday items.
As a fan of art that has social and political relevance, and someone whose research interests are also a hobby, presenting academic knowledge through artistic media is not only enjoyable, but has also helped me further question and critique a number of important social and political issues, whilst reinforcing my enthusiasm for conducting research that has obvious social significance and impact. With research being very much dependent on funding opportunities, producing art which is informed by my academic interests has also at times provided me with the opportunity to explore ideas in areas where research funding is not readily or easily available. Moreover, the process of narrowing down complex theoretical concepts into more simple messages through visual means has helped me conceptualise more concisely within my academic writing, whilst at the same time considering more novel and creative means of collecting data.
Drawing on my own personal experiences, academic literature, research data and the practices of my research participants, my recent art work is heavily influenced by the notion of the performative and social constructionist nature of gender and the personal as political. For example, I have recently explored everyday experiences of street harassment (‘Not a compliment’), the double standards and hegemony inherent in media depictions of the body (‘Hegemonic censorship’) and the performance, negotiation and experience of gender in night life spaces in light of the emergence of ‘post-feminist’ ideologies (‘Post-feminist façade’).
The above pieces were exhibited as part of Liverpool Light Night (May, 2016), a culture festival that takes place over the course of a single evening. The festival provides the public with free access to various working studios and galleries across the city. The show was well attended and initiated interest in my research from members of the art world, but most importantly the wider public, who would not have otherwise had the opportunity to engage.
Extending the ideas expressed in this show, I will also be exhibiting a number of art works expressing the concepts underpinning my university and doctorate research into gender relations in night life drinking spaces as part of the studio’s Liverpool Biennial programme. As the largest international contemporary art festival in the UK hosting an extensive range of artworks, projects, and a programme of events aimed at the public, exhibiting my work as part of the festival is an exciting prospect.
Entitled ‘Gender Dilemmas: negotiating femininity and masculinity in contemporary night life’ the exhibition takes a feminist perceptive to draw attention to public drinking environments as commercialised neo-liberal contexts in which contemporary femininity and masculinity are performed, positioned and reconfigured, and spaces in which patriarchal relations are maintained.
The exhibition will explore a number of important issues present in such hetronormative spaces; the pornification of night life and the mainstreaming of pole/lap dancing clubs; young women’s negotiation of intoxication in the performance of the ‘hyper-sexual’ self and hegemonic masculinity and ‘stag nights’. It also explores public bathrooms as a public/private sphere in which the gender binary is reinforced.
Using a range of artistic techniques including photography, sculpture, installation, collected items and sound, each piece is theoretically informed and underpinned by reviews of the academic literature, observations, analysis of media content and primary qualitative research with young men and women.
The exhibition will run from 7.00am Friday 26th- 10pm Sunday 28th August, 2016 at ROAD Studios, Carlisle Buildings (Free entry).
Please do come along!