Art and science in ‘The Waiting Room’

Ella Rhodes reports on some novel public engagement from the University of Bath.

Six psychologists from the University of Bath, whose research primarily looks into stress and pain, have collaborated on creating an art exhibition in Bath featuring works based around themes in their research. The January exhibition had an overarching theme of a waiting room and also featured hands-on demonstrations of some of the measures the psychologists use.

Hannah Family (above), who works as a health psychologist within the university’s Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, led the team of psychologists in their collaboration with artists Katie O’Brien and Annabelle Barton, who curated the exhibition at the 44AD gallery. She said: ‘I spoke to Annabelle and Katie about our research, and from this they identified several themes that linked our research together: distraction, attention span, overload, routine. The associate artists who work with the 44AD gallery were then invited by Katie and Annabelle to submit pieces of work for this exhibition, and we had an overwhelming response – with 31 pieces of work, including performance art pieces.’

Alongside the artworks Family and her colleagues, Dr Julie Turner-Cobb, Dr Ed Keogh, Dr Abby Tabor, Dr Chris Eccleston and Dr Rachel Arnold, also demonstrated some of their own work. ‘The Waiting Room’ exhibition included a video recreation of the original person swap and invisible gorilla experiments to show how visual attention can be fooled – which relates to Family’s work as she has looked into workload, stress and how this related to errors made by pharmacists in their work.

They also included pulse-oximeters around the exhibition and invited people to measure their heart rate as they carried out activities including a wire-buzzer game. Family added: ‘We wanted the exhibition to be a space where artists and the researchers could meet with the public and talk about the interpretations and context of our research. For the researchers this was a great opportunity to meet with and speak to several people who have taken part in our research, and share the findings of our research with the local community in an accessible and interactive format.’

Family said such collaborations with artists work particularly well for psychological research and felt artists and psychologists were very like-minded, she added: ‘We are all ultimately interested in human experience. Artists are able to offer a new lens or viewpoint on our research and they are exceptionally skilled in interpreting and representing culture, meaning, sense-making, experience of a mood, sensation or memory – it is like working with a team of highly skilled qualitative researchers.’ 

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