Embodiment of social research – exhibition as a form of multisensory research communication

Embodiment of social research - exhibition as a form of multisensory research communication

There is growing interest and recognition in creative ways of communicating academic research that reaches different audiences. Deborah Lupton reflects on how taking on the role of curator has allowed her to bring together diverse skills, people and ideas to make research accessible to all the senses.


Currently showing in the exhibition space in the main library building on my university campus is the first exhibition I have ever curated or participated in. communicated in a variety of ways beyond standard academic results in the form of journal articles and conference presentations.

As a result Inhuman welfare exhibition. It was created with the goal of providing learning opportunities for all age groups and as a form of community research translation. We wanted to bring our latest research findings to the public in a way that stimulates their interest and participation in accessible and creative ways. We drew images and ideas from the history of medicine, concepts from superhuman theory and the results of our own social research to engage the audience in a variety of and multi-sensory ways.

Figure 1: Vaughan Wozniak-O’Connor and Deborah Lupton’s Hand of Signs.

The exhibition had two key messages: First, people learn about their bodies and their health through their interactions and experiences with both digital and non-digital sources of information. Currently, digital devices and applications are being used to monitor and measure the human body and health. We wanted to go back to the pre-digital era, showing the importance of people’s experiences in the natural world as part of learning and understanding their health and well-being.

Secondly, in an era of environmental devastation, biodiversity loss, extreme weather events and climate change, we wanted to show that people need to be aware of how closely their health and well-being are intertwined with the ecology of which they are a part. Many of our works use images and materials from the natural world to showcase human connections with other animals, plants and fungi.

Wednesday and message

In line with these goals, Inhuman welfare was designed to appeal to as many senses as possible in order to ignite the senses and emotions of visitors. The short film featured human voices expressing answers in one of our research projects, layered with sounds as well as images of nature. Visitors were invited to touch the works of art, to feel their texture.

Four labs encouraged people to use their sense of smell, touch, and sight to consider their relationship with the environment. One example is a set of four “sense” boxes, each labeled with one of the four elements (earth, fire, water, and air). People are invited to reach out and touch the objects hidden inside, and to think about how these sensations make them “feel”.

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Rice. 2: Sense Boxes with Basic Elements, part of Sensory Experiments.

Written testimonials from visitors to the show indicated that it inspired them to “think differently”. One person wrote: “I found the history of human health modeling very interesting. I was thinking about how I visualize my health and how it relates to nature.” Another commented, “I enjoyed interacting with art. It provoked and sharpened my senses. I really enjoyed this exhibition as the art was beautiful. I liked the use of the senses in the exhibition, like the sense boxes and scents.” The third visitor responded poetically, expressing his responses:

“Emotions come to the surface.

I have a lump in my throat.

I won’t let myself cry here.

I want to be in nature

I want to “ground”

I want to be “drunk” – to swim freely. Walk slowly. To stop rushing/worrying.

I need a dose of nature.

I need a treatment plan.”

This approach was also intended to make the exhibition as accessible as possible. We have provided an audio commentary for the show for the visually impaired and subtitles for the film for the deaf and hard of hearing. For those unable to see the exhibition in person, several resources from the exhibition are available on our website. exhibition website. The site contains information and images of the artworks in the exhibition. There is a link to a short film. movie we did what is shown in the show, access to downloadable copies exhibition reader which provides a conceptual and research framework as well as downloadable copies two magazines which are on display and catalog booklet with a more detailed description of the works of art. We will be adding additional resources as they are completed, including a video tour of the exhibition and a set of learning materials for high school students studying related subjects.

A joint project

As a novice curator, I was lucky to have a great team to work with and could use their experience in art, design and curation to smooth the way. Most sociologists do not have experience creating art or curating exhibitions, so it was essential to the success of the exhibition that the team members had this experience.

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Figure 3: Megan Rose’s “Silk Anatomy”

The creation of this exhibition was a long-term plan within the research activities of the Australian Research Center. Center of Excellence in Automated Decision Making and Society. Exhibitions are a major component of the People program of this Center and the Health area that I lead. One of our key goals is to improve the public’s understanding of new and emerging digital technologies and keep the public informed about the discussions. From the outset, it was recognized that exhibitions could offer a creative and inspiring way to achieve these goals through the use of multi-sensory and 3D objects, not just written materials.

Subsequently, one of the postdoctoral researcher positions on my team was dedicated to an individual trained in art, design, and curation. Dr. Vaughan Wozniak-O’Connor was hired for the role and worked closely on the project from the start. I developed the concepts for the artworks and he used his artistic and curatorial skills to materialize the artworks and mount them in the exhibition. Also in attendance were two other fellows from the Center of Excellence team: sociologist and journal publisher Dr. Ash Watson and sociologist and artist Dr. Megan Rose. We also collaborated with several traditional academic publications (journal articles and book chapters), meaning we could reach out to an academic audience with discussions about the concepts behind the project and how we created the artwork, as well as the public.

As a curator, I also worked with an independent filmmaker to create a short film and commissioned independent designers to create an exhibition reading booklet and a catalog booklet. The team partnered with community partner Health Consumers New South Wales to develop a research project that culminated in a short film produced for the show, allowing the community to contribute from the start.

(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaPf_WevkwI(/embed)

Finally, we are fortunate that our university library has a staff exhibition support program. We received valuable assistance in creating materials such as the title wall of the exhibition, interpretive panels, promotional posters and other aspects related to the organization of the exhibition from the UNSW Library curatorial team led by Dr. Megan Fizell.

Show must go on

We are very pleased that our exhibition has already been used by our colleagues for educational purposes at the request of the organizers of such diverse subjects as ecology, data visualization and digital media studies. When the UNSW library show is over, we plan to show Inhuman welfare in public places in our city in order to reach a wider audience, in addition to the staff and students of our university. This will include a new set of conversations with community partners and show space managers, as well as tailoring exhibits to fit those spaces. The feedback we receive from attendees of the current show will help us decide if any changes need to be made.

My team members and I have learned a lot in the process that will serve us well as we do future exhibitions – the next one is on the drawing board. However, without this support and joint efforts, we would never have been able to create such a brilliant exhibition. For any sociologist with no experience in organizing exhibitions, I suggest seeking advice from those who have gone through the process and also ensure that you have an interdisciplinary team. Having access to adequate funding is critical. We have been privileged to receive sufficient funding and support from our university, our faculty and most notably the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence grant, which has provided the bulk of the funding for research, paper preparation, external accreditation and the editing of the show.


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Image credits: fig. 1 Silk Anatomy by Megan Rose, fig. 2 “Silk Boxes for Feelings”, part of “Sensory Experiments”, fig. 3 The Hand of Signs by Vaughan Wozniak-O’Connor and Deborah Lupton. , All images reproduced with permission of the author.


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