Psychosocial digital research: an invitation

I’m running a workshop at Furtherfield on Thursday 2nd November as part of the current exhibition Are We All Addicts Now?  It will inform my PhD research, but also feeds into the wider outcomes of the AWAAN?  project. The workshop is a generative and playful process that I think of as an opportunity to write a collaborative ‘text’ with an audience group that informs future exhibition making processes.

I’ve led a few of these workshops and have worked with many participant groups. While I always explain the process fully, there is never time to expand upon the full theoretical armature or give detail on how the content generated in the workshop finds its way to becoming curatorial research. So, the following thoughts on the use of the visual matrix process in my research might interest past and future participants.

The visual matrix* is a tool for understanding how audiences experience exhibitions (often curated by me) that deal with the relationship between digital technologies and mental distress. Psychosocial studies is an emerging field of research that examines subjective experience in social context. For me, its value is that it preserves the centrality of the psyche and of human-to-human relationally in a cultural moment increasingly dominated by automation, artificial intelligence and speculative futures. It is also a form of research that marries contemporary psychoanalysis with left-leaning politics, allowing for a critical, reflexive engagement with (somewhat unfashionable) ideas of the unconscious in digital experience.

In these workshops groups of participants are invited to free associate about how they experienced an exhibition. When I say free associate, I mean I ask people to withhold analysis or judgement and instead relate to the exhibition using images, memories, thoughts, stories or ideas that were triggered during their time in the exhibition. As the process unfolds, people in the group begin to associate in response to each other’s contributions, which can result in a very generative process; a collage of imagery; or a kind of playful poem. I later transcribe this and use it as a text that serves as a hermeneutic tool for analysis and a lens to read the exhibition through. In the second half of the workshop, we switch to more analytical language and reflect on the associations that people made and the ideas generated by the group — attempting to find patterns and connections. This begins the interpretive process of finding meaning in people’s relating to the exhibition in a way that is fully collaborative between audience and researcher.

You will recognise the term ‘free associate’ as a Freudian method. While psychoanalysis plays a part in the ways that I construct meaning, it is post-Freudian forms of object relations and relational psychoanalysis that provide the most useful discursive framework for my curatorial research. In her response to Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie psychotherapist Kirsten Lentz argues for the radical potential of psychoanalysis as a means of struggling with the residual past in order to make space for new forms of subjectivity to become available in the future. I suggest that understanding digital experience through its emotional resonances is as urgent and compelling as speculating about the wilder, futuristic impacts of robotics and technological science.

If you come along to one of these visual matrix workshops, you’ll be invited to be part of a group that shares images and ideas triggered by the exhibition in a playful and associative way. Then, you’ll be invited to work with me to make sense of the patterns and themes that we have generated together. You won’t be asked to share any personal information — the processes is about the group as a whole. After the workshops, myself and my colleagues work with the collaborative ‘text’ through a hermeneutic process that produces a set of suggestions about the ‘psychic work’ done by audiences in relation to the exhibition. Research papers like this one document details of the findings more fully. Participants are invited to continue to input into the research process after the workshop if desired.

Mind map of themes and images from a generative visual matrix on work in progress from the Are We All Addicts Now? project, September 2016.

If you would like to know more about the research, or are interested in coming to the workshop on the 2nd November, you can contact me on

* The visual matrix process was developed by Lynn Froggett and her colleagues at University of Central Lancashire. I am not the first person to apply this method, but I am the first to direct it toward curatorial research about the relationship between technology and mental health.

More information:

Bartlett, V & Muller, L (2017). Curating/Containing: Exhibiting Digital Art About Mental Health ISEA Proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Electronic Art. ISEA 2017 Manizales 16th International Image Festival. 279-288.

Froggett, L., Manley, J., Roy, A., Michael, P & Doherty, C. (2012). Public art and local civic engagement, Development Grants 7042 Cultural Value Project Awards.

Muller, L. Bennett, J. Froggett, L. Bartlett, V. (2015). Understanding Third Space: Evaluating Art Science Collaboration ISEA Proceedings of the 21st International Symposium on Electronic Art. Vancouver, BC: ISEA International. 95-109.

FEATURED IMAGE: Are We All Addicts Now? Artwork by Katriona Beales. Photo Pau Ros

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