After the ideal: by Elizabeth van der Beugel

Research through the arts initiative breaks new ground in Exeter

An Arts Council England funded project called Exeter Enquires aims to engage a wider public in the innovative work and practise of academic-artistic collaboration.

It brings four artists in residence together with four University departments and community groups, in order to inspire the artists to communicate academic research and ideas in imaginative ways.

During their residencies, each artist is spending time with an individual academic to learn about their research from diverse areas such as mood disorders to climate change. The artist will then work with a chosen community group to raise awareness of the research and invite them to contribute to their creative process. The artists will draw on the research and community experience to produce a piece of work in their own chosen medium, be it visual art, theatre, dance or another creative response. Four one-year residencies will take place over a two year period.

The first two residencies are now underway; Elizabeth van der Beugel is a visual artist undertaking a residency with Dr Heather O’Mahen, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at in the Mood Disorders Centre at the University, specialising in perinatal mood disorders. The residency culminates in an exhibition of Elizabeth’s work, entitled After the ideal; piece by piece, on show in the University's Forum building from 1 to 27 May this year. 

Dr Heather O’Mahen said of the residency, “This residency has been an enriching experience – both in terms of reaching people in new ways about an important area of mental health, but also in terms of reciprocally shaping the research questions we ask in our lab.”

Elizabeth explains, “As an artist the challenge has been to convey some of the incredible emotional depth and complexity of the subject matter that has been explored during the residency. It is hoped that the medium of drawing can help give expression to ideas, thoughts and feelings that can otherwise be extremely hard to communicate.”

Anne-Marie Culhane is the second artist undertaking a residency this year. She has been working in the Geography Department  with Professor Tim Lenton who, with his team, is focusing on understanding evolution of the Earth, including changes caused by human activity. 

Professor Lenton recognises the value of the project’s approach. He said: “As we face an uncertain environmental future, it is vital that scientists and artists work together to imagine, create and celebrate a better world”

Anne-Marie will be developing participatory activities, inspired by the research, this Summer. She said of the project: “I’m excited by working with Tim and his team. There are many shared points of interest and connection in our work and passions exploring the impact of humans on the earth and its systems and we are looking forward to creating an opportunity for the wider public to feed into and learn from this collaborative process”. 

Naome Glanville, Arts & Culture Co-ordinator at the University said:“It is intended that the residencies will enable academics to give their research a broader audience and to  provide opportunities for artists to use research topics to enrich their practice in innovative ways. It is also intended to give members of community groups an introduction to research in a participative and accessible way.”

The project is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. Local arts organisations are also giving support in kind to the artists, including the Exeter Northcott Theatre, Exeter Phoenix, Kaleider, and the White Moose Gallery.

Date: 18 May 2015

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