‘Inspiring Stories’ with Anna Heinrich & Leon Palmer
Artists in Residence, Winchester School of Art
This is part of the Engaged Medicine ‘Inspiring Stories’ blog series. The blogs explore the stories behind outreach and patient-public engagement activities of staff and students from the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Medicine. This month’s edition also features guest blogs from those working at the interface between the humanities, arts and medicine.
What do you do to engage and outreach with the public or patients?
We have worked together as an artist partnership since the early 1990’s and our work in the public realm is central to the way we work and engage with people. Many of our projects develop through a process of research and engagement with a site and its community.
What form this journey takes depends so much on the context – for example it may involve running workshops with service user groups to find out how people think and feel about a place or through direct conversations with archivists or community groups.
Over the years we have made work in response to a wide range of sites such as galleries, heritage sites, country parks, hospitals, schools and spaces in the public realm. Each context offers opportunities for people to engage with the artwork in different ways and it is something we think about a great deal when we are embarking on a new project.
We are fascinated by the blurring of boundaries between real and virtual space, light, material and architecture. We often use film, projection, light, and sound to explore the processes behind the world of appearances and facades and to reveal hidden structures or narratives. Taking the image beyond the screen to become a more immersive experience is an important aspect of our practice.
We are currently artists in residence at the Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton since. The title of our residency ‘Inner Worlds’ (https://www.instagram.com/inner_worlds_artist_residency/) describes the nature of our explorations into networks and imaginative collisions of scales and spaces. We have been collaborating with the Biomedical Imaging Unit (BIU) based at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust to explore a range of otherwise invisible forms, structures and systems that flow through our everyday world. Our role has been to make experimental, creative, and hopefully surprising connections between the arts and science faculties across the University.
What has driven you to participate in public engagement or patient involvement?
Most of the work we make is site specific (a term used to describe artwork that has evolved in response to a particular place or site) and for us engagement in some form or another is almost an inevitable part of that process. We enjoy the conversation and the way in which an idea can take an unexpected twist through a chance discussion or discovery. In the early stages we like to keep an open mind to see what evolves out of this process and from this then decide on the best materials and processes to communicate the connections we make.
Working within the public realm there is often immediacy in the way people respond and make their own connections with the work and we enjoy the opportunity to participate in those conversations.
How did you get started with public engagement or patient involvement?
We began projection mapping onto buildings in the early 1990s which involved using projected imagery to create illusory architectures that could support a symbolic weight rather than necessarily having a structural function. We were interested in exploring the influence that an urban space could have on people’s perception and movement. As these buildings were part of the cityscape the audience’s reaction to the work was both public and immediate and we learnt a lot from these early encounters and experiences.
Why do you consider Public Engagement / Patient Involvement to be important?
It is important for different reasons and this can vary depending on the context. It can open new ways of thinking and experiencing the world and allow people a foothold to explore and develop their own ideas. It can also help foster a sense of ownership – something we feel is important if you are making a permanent work for a community such as a hospital or school.
From a personal perspective it presents an opportunity to make connections across different interests and disciplines. This interconnectivity of ideas and processes across the arts, humanities, science and technology is at the centre of our year as artists in residence at Winchester School of Art.
What reaction do you get during an engagement event?
This can vary depending on the nature of the work and how it is presented. Some of our work is experienced as large scale public events which invariably attracts people of all ages and backgrounds, whereas other work we make can be more intimate and quiet.
In some cases engagement might run in parallel to our own work. For example we have spent a good part of our residency working with the BIU exploring different scales and imaging techniques, in particular scanning electron microscopy (SEM), but have also been sharing our process with students and staff at WSA, which due to the pandemic has been mainly via virtual platforms.
During our recent Inner Worlds: Work in Progress exhibition at the Winchester School of Art Gallery we were able to physically meet with students and staff and share some of our outcomes and experiences. Coinciding with these visits the BIU brought their Microscopic Roadshow to the gallery providing art and design students an opportunity to explore the potential for using microscopy within their own practice.
Response from the various departments in the school of art has been very positive and it has been well attended by students and staff alike.
What do you feel is the impact of the engagement events, what happens as a result?
People share ideas; they open up and express their views and insights. New collaborations can be made and networks established and developed. It is about a very human need to understand, connect, take part, communicate and discover.
For further information about Anna & Leon’s work you can visit:
@HeinrichPalmer Heinrich & Palmer (@HeinrichPalmer) / Twitter
@AnnaHeinrichLeonPalmer (1) Anna Heinrich & Leon Palmer | Facebook
Stay Connected! To find out more about the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series, Faculty of Medicine educational programmes and research, or to get involved use the links below or contact Dr Lucy Green.
University staff or students click here for the Engaged Medicine SharePoint