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The story of the art of relationships

A still from the film - Digital Life, together-apart-together

The Art of Relationships was driven by my desire to explore the use of art as a means of both communicating research findings and also acting as a way to collect data. Myself and Prof Jacqui Gabb secured funding from The Open University to pilot a project in which we could continue the amazing impact work that Jacqui had already undertaken in her ESRC funded research project on 'Enduring Love' whilst also testing ideas that I had about how we might engage the public with art and then evaluate that engagement. I was in contact with the artist Steve Geliot already as he had previously produced artworks for colleagues at the OU but we had not yet worked together.

As with so many projects, we were up against the clock from the outset with our original project plan out of the window before we had even started. Coming together to discuss the creative vision and our needs was energising and immediately engaged us all with the process. Less enjoyable but no less necessary were the endless decisions. What location and venue should we use for the premiere? How should we show the films? And so on. Our initial plan was to show the films outside as an 'incidental' art project that people would come across by accident. This however was not going to be possible as we could not guarantee the weather and we did not have the time or money for much flexibility. We explored many possible venues and eventually settled on the RSA House in central London. The underground feel was exactly right for a film showing and the location was superb.

Time passed very quickly as Steve worked tirelessly to produce the films with myself and Jacqui feeding back into this process. Ultimately though we wanted the films to be the product of Steve's artisitic vision following his immersion in the research findings from 'Enduring Love' and our specific academic demands. This included a request to look forward to our next planned project on resilient citizenship amongst queer youth. The film 'Game of Phones' is Steve's response to this very specific request and one that we think works perfectly.

In addition to feeding back about the films and engaging in the event planning process I was also consumed with working out the detail of how to evaluate the effectiveness of the project. In the end, I decided on using a variety of techniques including the mysteriously named 'visual matrix method', one to one interviews and an online survey. Publications from this evaluation activity are forthcoming and detailed in the publications section of this website.

The launch event itself proved to be a wonderful success. The venue was really quite beautiful with two interconnected rooms offering two quite distinct experiences. I managed to get David McAlmont and Guy Davies to perform at the event so we had live music to accompany the films, which was an enormous privilege (especially as I have loved their music for years). The wine flowed and the people filled the venue. I photographed the event and loved seeing how engaged people were with the films and music, it really felt as if we had found a way to truly engage people with research.

Prof Darren Langdridge

The Open University, UK

9 September 2016