How can art shape science, and how can science shape art?

2011-11-03

Eva Hayward, Guest researcher at the Centre for Gender ResearchCan an artist in experimental film at the same time be a successful scientist? For Eva Hayward, guest researcher at the Centre for Gender Research, everything seems to be possible. Encouraged by her mentor Donna Haraway, Hayward has helped to develop new ground for transdisciplinary work – mixing art and visual representation with zoontology and feminist techno-science studies.

When Eva Hayward first applied for graduate studies programs, Donna Haraway, an influential feminist scholar in the field of feminist techno-science studies, invited her to imagine how she could bring together her interests in marine ecology, queer theory, and visual studies together.

- I applied to programs at Stanford and Berkeley as well as at UC Santa Cruz. When Donna Haraway called me to let me know I was accepted to History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz, I could hear her dogs barking in the background and she talked to her dogs and me at the same time. I was so enchanted, and surprised, by this that I instantly felt I would be happy to study there, Eva Hayward says.

She therefore ended up graduating in History of Consciousness, with a concentration on visual studies and science studies, at the UC Santa Cruz in 2007. With Donna Haraway as her PhD advisor. But her way toward graduate school started with a genuine interest in and the practice of art.

Experimental film

Eva Hayward, 16mm film still from "Fluiluminal"As an artist she practices experimental film, which means hand painting each frame in a filmstrip (16mm and 35mm) that becomes a moving painting when projected on the screen. Most of her artwork pictures marine animals and other organisms. Having studied art in college and high school, her artistic interests were already at an early stage anchored in science. And during undergraduate studies, where she chose ecology as her main subject, she knew that she wanted to remain at the interface between art and science.

- For me, this was the beginning of interdisciplinary work. How can art shape science, and how can science shape art?

After completion of her dissertation she remained at Santa Cruz for a few years, working in the film department and as a research assistant at the Long Marine Laboratory. She then got a job at the University of New Mexico, and has recently finished a postdoctoral fellow at the Department for Women’s Studies at Duke University. She first came to the Centre as a guest researcher in 2008, and she has continued to return to the Centre for book writing projects and conferences.

- I love the environment here at the Centre, it’s a great place to do interdisciplinary work. It’s very unique, not since graduate school have I been in such a supportive environment as the Centre. It is difficult to do interdisciplinary work at most American universities, so Uppsala University feels like a wonderful breath of fresh air.

Queer marine animals and organisms

Her interests in human-animal studies, sexuality, and embodiment make her an obvious member of the Centre’s two research groups HumAnimal and Body/Embodiment. Although being placed in different parts of the world, the group members stay connected and work on joint book projects and applications.

- When thinking about the representation of marine invertebrates, many are hermaphroditic or change their sex, I’m also thinking about what they teach me in terms of sexuality and queer identity, she explains.

Eva Hayward, Cup coral from "Fingery Eyes" essayShe has just finished the project “Fingery Eyes – Impressions of Cup Corals”, where she looks at laboratory practices focused on sexual selection, and tries to think about how working with organisms—corals specifically—shapes our bodily experiences and our critical tools. She is also asking how humans superimpose their sexed assumptions onto animals so as to confirm the naturalness of sexual difference.

- I try to suggest that when interacting with corals, there is a constant engagement with both human and coral that involves sensation and perception. I think we need to look at this movement of bodily sensation to think about ethics in cross species encounters.

Columnist for the Independent Weekly

Her activist approach when it comes to gender, sexuality, and animals is shown in the American newspaper The Independent Weekly, where she has her own column. For her, writing for a newspaper is an opportunity to make her research more accessible, but it also improves her academic writing.

- It’s challenging, but fun. I get the chance to take very complicated ideas and put them in another context, forcing me to make my arguments clearer. I have non-academic readers edit my texts to show me what is too confusing or abstract. Otherwise, as an academic researcher, you easily get lazy and take for granted that other academics understand your writing.

The importance of her work, whether being expressed in work of art, a newspaper column, or in a research paper, is obvious when she explains the core of her work.

- I try, and hope, to make our relationships with other beings on this planet more ethical, responsible, and careful. I hope my work helps to break down disciplinary boundaries, so that we all have better tools for thinking about complex problems in our contemporary world.

Text: Ester Ehnsmyr

Read more about Eva Hayward

Read Eva Hayward’s column in the Independent Weekly

Read more about the HumAnimal group

Read more about the Body/Embodiment group

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