Simon Hall, Visual Artist & GP Academic Clinical Fellow, Bristol, discusses his experience as event organisers at the British Science Festival 2023
For the British Science Festival 2023, I was invited to bring my art workshop ‘Sculptural Snogging: Beyond the Binary.’ This project explores public health research about transgender and non-binary people’s sexual healthcare experiences. Public events like this I hope will invite in broad audiences to raise awareness and promote action for change. We know that by working with trans communities in partnership, health services can be significantly better. This includes engaging trans people in the design and delivery of interventions, training sexual health workers on trans sexual health needs and including them in the development of health programmes and research.
In collaboration with the LGBTQ+ charity the Intercom Trust, the drop-in session aimed to debunk myths about sexual health, explore public health challenges, and promote queer body positivity. The public could step into a make-shift art laboratory space to delve into the art and science of our mouths, kissing and sexual health by sculpting fantastical queer lips and tongues in wax. Historically used for anatomical models, they could make them uniquely their own with piercings, ink and make-up. Participants could also view the 3D mouth sculptures in a virtual reality art gallery set-up in the space which they could walk around. These digital anatomies explored queering of the body and transcendentally enhanced oral creations to playfully explore the body.
The most fun part of the event was seeing the diverse attendees curiously walking into the space and sitting down to get stuck into some hands-on making. With a varied assortment of tools and crafting equipment at their finger-tips, they readily sculpted weird and wonderful creations whilst chatting to new people. They could take home their handiworks in a decadent red velvet-like bag to share their experience with others, or put on the VR headset to peer into the virtual gallery, inquisitively being immersed with the sculptures all around the room. Intercom charity representative Faye was at hand to offer resources throughout the evening. As an LGBTQ+ domestic violence support worker, particularly for trans communities, learning about her experiences was valuable and sparked new stories and conversations to explore together. More than anything, whilst the subject may appear serious, the art workshop was silly and we laughed with the tongue-in-cheek activity to open this exploration for all.
In the run-up to the British Science Festival, I worked with the Festival team to plan the space and atmosphere we wanted, alongside liaising with local sexual health and LGBTQ+ charities. On the day, with quite a complicated activity to setup in a couple of hours, I couldn’t have done it without the help of artists Anna Dumitriu and Alex May. Problem solving extraordinaires, they helped sort electrics, lighting and setting out equipment. It came together as a space brimming with personality and we had seats full at the making stations all evening!
One participant brought her friends and they threw themselves into the making, with wonderful creations they proudly were going to keep on their mantle-pieces. It turned out she was a community support worker who was planning on developing an inclusive relationship and sex education programme for schools. We stayed in touch afterwards and discussed ideas for her course and how the arts could fit in. It was a great way for the workshop to inspire new avenues to collaborate and reach new audiences. I am developing Sculptural Snogging further in Bristol, and with links to local sexual health services and communities, I hope it may educate and inspire others to improve sexual health experiences through the creative arts.
If you are interested in hosting an event at the British Science Festival 2024 we are now accepting proposals. Anyone can propose an event and the Festival celebrates science in its broadest sense. You can find out more on the British Science Festival website here. The deadline to complete the proposal form is 23.59 on Tuesday 16 January 2024.