S3 Ep2: Navigating The Arts
Join Cerys, Molly Rasbash, Maria Bunyon and Ariana Ravazi as they discuss how we navigate the arts.
This month we’re covering the prevalence of eating disorders in musicians, how an art installation in Rye, Sussex is helping fight climate change, and the fascinating neuroscience behind how we combine emotions and logic to interact with spaces.
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Dr Marianna Kapsetaki is a medical doctor, neuroscientist, and classical pianist. Following her Medical Degree (1st Hons), she obtained a MSc (Distinction) in Performing Arts Medicine from University College London, a PhD in Neuroscience from Imperial College London, and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow position at UCL. She has been presented with over 100 awards and scholarships in science and music such as being included in the Forbes '30 Under 30' Europe list, 1st prize in 12 international/national competitions, UNESCO Medal, Rotary Club Honorary Award, Citizen of Honor Award, Onassis Foundation PhD scholarship, and ‘World in Harmony’ Association scholarship after performing in the presence of HRH Princess Irene. Marianna has performed over 160 concerts appearing at major venues throughout Europe such as Cadogan Hall (London), St John’s Smith Square (London), St George’s (Bristol), and has performed as a soloist with many orchestras under prominent conductors. She has been invited to give over 60 talks/presentations, including at Harvard University, University of Oxford, Fifteen Seconds Festival, and TEDx. Marianna (or her research) has been featured in international media outlets including BBC News, The Guardian, and Classic FM. She enjoys regular invitations from radio and television where her 3 CD recordings with her twin sister are played.
Dr Dzmitry Suslau is a lecturer at UCL's School of Slavonic and East European Studies. One of the modules he teaches (SEEE0014) explores cultural practices that emerged across Central and Eastern Europe and Russia after 1989, taking into account transnational subjectivities and dynamics of spectatorship. A specialist in public art, he has contributed to exhibition research at the V&A and other cultural institutions. His current research focuses on human ecology, critical issues in public art and the interconnection between culture and environmental change.
In 2020, with his friend, Evgeniya Ravtsova, Dzmitry founded Climate Art, an interdisciplinary public art platform that brings together community groups, artists, and researchers in joint action against the climate crisis. Their first three-month residency and exhibition took place in Rye, East Sussex and featured the work of three multidisciplinary practitioners alongside projects by the Bartlett students (UG2, BSc Architecture Unit).
Lara Gregorians is a PhD student in the Spiers Spatial Cognition Lab at UCL. She is part of the Leverhulme Doctoral Training Programme in the Ecological Study of the Brain, which aims to explore brain and behaviour in the real world. Her research focuses on exploring human experiences in the built environment, bringing the worlds of Architecture and Neuroscience together to explore brain and body responses to different architectural environments with the development of a video database of affect-laden first-person journeys through built environments. Lara has an interdisciplinary background, holding a MSc in Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Buildings from the Bartlett, and a BASc in Arts and Sciences.
Cerys Bradley 00:07
Hello and welcome to series three of #MadeAtUCL, the podcast.
My name is Cerys Bradley and I'm here to share with you UCL’s groundbreaking research and its impact on the world. Each month the #MadeAtUCL team and I will be exploring a research theme and gathering stories from all over the UCL community to try and understand it. In Episode Two, our theme is Navigating the Arts, which is a pretty intimidating topic to me. I was once told that you only truly feel at home in the arts, when you're confident enough to double back against the flow of traffic in an art exhibition.
Can you imagine?
They have one way signs up for a reason, you know.
I haven't really done art since I scraped my C at GCSE more than a decade ago. But I feel like during the last couple of years, because of the pandemic, I've been rebuilding my relationship with art and with crafts especially. I recently took up lino printing, for example, and it's been so exciting to start something completely from scratch, to develop a new skill and to be right at the beginning where the whole project is filled with potential. It reminds me of starting out as a researcher and having all these different questions to answer and approaches to try out.
So despite my lack of knowledge in this area, or maybe because of it, I was excited to learn more about the world of art and different approaches to navigating it as told through the eyes of UCL. In today's stories, we're going to hear about how science is understanding the world of music, how art can be used in climate change research and how it is only when we combine both emotions and logic that we can understand our relationship with and navigate the spaces around us.
Our first story is brought to you by Molly Rasbash as she learns about the prevalence of eating disorders in the world of classical music.
Molly Rasbash 01:55
Here's a quick content warning for the next section. It includes a discussion of eating disorders and their risk factors. If you're not ready for that today, you can skip ahead 10 minutes to the next segment.
There's an abundance of literature on the benefits of music, for example, for dementia, building relationships, even memory. Music is often thought of as an escape something relaxing or fun.
Dr Marianna Kapsetaki 02:25
So they were surprised that music can have sort of a negative impact but it's not really music is the musicians lifestyles…
Molly Rasbash 02:37
People who dedicate their lives to the arts have more to navigate than just the arts themselves. The Arts is synonymous with a certain lifestyle, which also takes some negotiating. To learn more about this, I spoke to…
Dr Marianna Kapsetaki 02:49
Dr. Marianna Kapsetaki, I'm a medical doctor and neuroscientist and also a classical pianist. I studied medicine in Greece. Then I did a master's at UCL on performing arts medicine, and I did a PhD I Imperial College London, then a postdoc at UCL, again, looking at memorialability, and now I'm working in Greece as a medical doctor.
Molly Rasbash 03:19
Quite the lineup, right? Marianna being a classical pianist has spent many years observing musicians, she noticed that the lifestyle of musicians was punctuated by risk factors for eating disorders, like anxiety, stress or depression.
Dr Marianna Kapsetaki 03:34
It starts all from when you're a young child like how you're taught like with classical music, you have to be so exact
Molly Rasbash 03:41
Mariana decided to focus on Master’s dissertation on eating disorders and musicians.
Dr Marianna Kapsetaki 03:45
I'd noticed that many professional life musicians and mainly those that travel a lot it seemed to me that they had a lot of anxiety, stress and maybe depression and all these factors are… they are risk factors for eating disorders.
Molly Rasbash 04:03
Marianna identified certain aspects of a musician's lifestyle that are different from a typical working life and potentially indicative of eating disorders.
Dr Marianna Kapsetaki 04:11
Many people have like a nine to five job and that’s it. You always know that it’s nine to five, you can have a steady salary, you don't worry about that, you don't worry about whether you're going to have a salary like next year or I'm going to have a job looks here some like that. So
Molly Rasbash 04:31
for musicians a lack of this security can cause problems
Dr Marianna Kapsetaki 04:35
Basically you never know what's coming up. So you, you might have a last minute concert in the other side of the world and the next month, you don't have any concerts and concerts are usually say nighttime and you have to eat after that which is not very good. I mean, eating at one o'clock at night or two or earlier and also because you're in another country you’re not sure about what to eat. What you eat is not what you're used to and maybe there’s a lack of sleep,
Molly Rasbash 05:07
Marianna created a survey, and with it recruited over 300 English speaking musicians worldwide. Half of the survey was
Dr Marianna Kapsetaki 05:14
Like demographics things age, gender, things about their musical career like whether they were soloist or working in orchestra, whether they traveled abroad, or they were only based in the UK and other things like to do with their musical career.
Molly Rasbash 05:34
The other portion of the survey sought to see if each participant thought they had had an eating disorder at some point in their life, alongside definitions of each eating disorder for clarity. Also, there were questions which related to typical risk factors – depression, anxiety, stress, and perfectionism. The research findings reinforced Marianas thoughts and exposed much about what navigating the arts really means.
Dr Marianna Kapsetaki 05:56
The main finding was that one in three musicians reported having an eating disorder sometime in their life. And also we found increased levels of depression, anxiety and stress. So all the risk factors for eating disorders.
Molly Rasbash 06:14
and this is higher than in the general population
Dr Marianna Kapsetaki 06:17
A hundred in three hundred musicians is quite high, because in the normal population, it's like, maybe 1%, I mean, depends on the eating disorder.
Molly Rasbash 06:27
and there will also differences within these results. For example, classical musicians had increased the level of perfectionism in comparison to non-classical musicians. Age and gender also seem to be important factors. with eating disorders being most prevalent in females, and during teenage years, which aligns with previous research and the general population.
Molly Rasbash 06:51
The findings from the study can go on to guide improvements in mental health support for musicians and increase practitioners awareness of the risk factors in musicians lifestyles,
Dr Marianna Kapsetaki 06:59
That’s the thing with most psychiatric conditions that it's difficult to see whether they have one and it's not just that you might look too thin in anorexia nervosa or in another like binge eating disorder you might look very obese but it's also about… some people can die from eating disorders, especially on the Lexa nervosa or they can cause like serious complications. So, it's quite serious.
Molly Rasbash 07:29
Through this research, Marianna uncovered vital information about eating disorders in musicians, but the sensitivity of the topic pose challenges for the study.
Dr Marianna Kapsetaki 07:37
It took more to do the ethics then the actual projects, really, people don't want to talk about psychological psychiatric problems like depression, anxiety, and all that. So that's why it was important to make an anonymous online survey so nobody knows whether you completed it or not, and you can say whatever you like in the survey, because these are psychiatric things, and nobody really wants to say whether they cover depression, anxiety or things like that.
Molly Rasbash 08:13
Despite the stigma around the topic, this project has had a huge impact on academic and non-academic audiences. The paper has been downloaded over 11,000 times, discussed widely in mass media, was selected for multiple awards such as the Springer Nature 2019 highlights and Marianna has been invited to talk at numerous conferences. One reason Marianna attributed to why this study resonated so much with the public and media said it was novel and interdisciplinary. Marianna’s interests which bridge music and medicine offer a unique perspective on both arts and science.
Dr Marianna Kapsetaki 08:49
I mean everybody used to tell me I mean, keep on telling me when you going to decide if you're gonna do medicine or music? But I wanted to find like a way to combine these things because I love both of them.
Molly Rasbash 09:05
I have absolutely no musical ability, and I have a really romanticized image of musicians and their lifestyles. This study has been so interesting for me, as it has unveiled another angle to what living on tour and onstage is actually like. This study tells us about the reality of navigating the arts, stressful and unpredictable lives produce risk factors for eating disorders, and other psychiatric problems. Marianna’s study served to fill a gap in academic literature and public consciousness, and given its impact has succeeded in her aims of bringing awareness to this contentious topic. If you're struggling with disordered eating, please reach out and get help. Talking to your GP is a great first step. Or contact BEAT, the UK’s primary eating disorder organization.
Cerys Bradley 09:52
So from using science to understand art to using art to understand science, next up, Ariana Razavi brings you the story of a groundbreaking art installation and community project about climate change in East Sussex
Art installation (multiple voices) 10:10
On boats some of the principles of defense for example, they don't change and you think about defense in depth and you think about remaining agile, maintaining a reserve, maintaining deception, around visibility and develop maneuver and all the, the principles of of how you would set up a defensive position. Don't don't change. To protect a bit of land is to listen to it.
Explosion and sea sound effects
Ariana Razavi 10:53
Dr. Dzmitry Suslau is a lecturer at the UCL School of Slavonic and Eastern European studies. He was one of the curators of a public art program in Rye, that was focused on the intricate relationship between people and their environment. I spoke to him about the program and how he's using art to explore climate change.
Ariana Razavi 11:16
This project is really unique because it thinks about the interaction between art and discourse. It's not just about the sort of physical dimension of art, but also its impact. So sort of what was yeah, what was the project and how, how did it get started?
Dr Dzmitry Suslau 11:33
I would call Climate Art an interdisciplinary public art platform or commissioning body which I started together with my dear friend Jevgenija Ravcova, who works at the Victoria and Albert Museum. And it's a project that looks at how art could be a tool and a vehicle of bringing together communities first of all, as well as researchers, academics, creative practitioners, artists, in this joint conversation, and hopefully action, to with the crisis we all face - the climate crisis.
Ariana Razavi 12:11
As part of Climate Art, and the exploration of the relationship between art and public consciousness, Dzmitry put on an exhibition called the vanished sea without a trace.
Dr Dzmitry Suslau 12:23
It was opened in Rye in East Sussex, in the ancient town, very pretty, two miles, roughly, from the coast. And the exhibition itself was the outcome of the three months residency, we had there. And again, we had this opportunity together with Jevgenija to start this project, that was our first major project. So by looking at the city, which is obviously so historic, and has so many layers, culturally, for us, obviously, the key focus was the very complex relationship between the sea and the town, and how that very complex, very nuanced urban ecosystem emerged through this strange and unpredictable at times interaction between the sea and the landscape. And what we want to do there together with Jevgenija was to create this space for three practitioners, not necessarily just visual artists, to create artworks that would be site responsive, so they would not just honor but they would engage with Rye, its history, but most importantly, its community. And its current predicament because now we obviously have this shifting shorelines and the sea and, well, the threat of flooding is still very much that.
Dr Dzmitry Suslau 13:37
We thought that for people, for the artist practitioners, to really engage with the community of Rye, three months would be a decent amount of time to actually get to know them and talk to them. Because we really wanted the local residents to be involved in the creation of whatever art works we might or might not have, by the end of the project.
Ariana Razavi 13:58
That's so great. And they did right, they did interact with the…
Dr Dzmitry Suslau 14:03
Oh, absolutely. In fact, one of the practitioners, one of the residents, Joseph Williams, was an- is a local resident, he grew up in the area. And that was such a, you know, it was the idea from the start when we had an open call to have a local locally based artist. And that was great because he really not only had all those previous connections with the landscape of community, but how the other two artists and I should mention their names - one of them is Alistair Debling who is a conceptual artist and a Mo Langmuir who is a multidisciplinary artist but also citizen scientist. So she has been doing incredible work with the local community so all three of them were really different. And all three of them working there you know, was just an incredible thing to witness and see how they have they respond to the initial ideas we had about the residency but also the place, the landscape the history
Ariana Razavi 14:58
Through this residency, where artists were fully embedded and immersed in the community. They produced some incredible artwork that really touched the residents of the town.
Dr Dzmitry Suslau 15:10
So Joseph created this beautiful bamboo pavilion temporary structure. For the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, which was wonderfully fragile, yet sturdy. We had storms and everything that it withstood. But it also was a comment on transience of a local flower it was inspired by, but also architecture, and construction being one of the most polluting industries in the world really. Alistair produced this beautiful multi-channel installation, which responded to the themes, but also really directly involved the community in production. So he talked to, interviewed different residents there. And the key question that Alistair was posing was protection of the coastline. So what does it mean to protect the coastline? And you know, unfortunately, and that’s a reality we really had to take on board and tragically, I suppose, that area close to right is where a lot of the refugees attempt to come to the UK. And obviously, the refugee crisis is so interlinked was the climate crisis, but we couldn't quite avoid it. And we didn't want to avoid it, we had to really engage with it. And so Alistair did work with a local charity that works with refugees in both the making this film, but also getting his understanding of the area. I think one of the former refugees did also take part in the making of the film, and she's interviewed in the film. And thirdly, Mo - Mo's work was harder to define. But what she produced towards the end was an exhibition and she called it sort of tongue in cheek Rye – Rye’s Own Museum, that was a reference to a local publication, which she found in a supermarket and then got got to know the editor. And because you know, Rye is such a small place, that was absolutely fantastic. So the artists really got to know people.
Ariana Razavi 16:55
It's clear that working with local artists, and truly understanding the local community, was crucial for this project, and really shows how important it is to work at the grassroots level when it comes to the climate crisis. I think this project really shows the role that art can play in the life of a community, and in understanding the environmental crisis around us. Translating science into art can impact individuals and as we've seen in this project entire communities in a way that pure facts and science cannot. This gives me a lot of hope that we'll see new ways to come to terms with climate change and learn what we can do about it.
Dr Dzmitry Suslau 17:36
Yes, I think that with this kind of climate art projects, not climate art as in projects made by us, but projects that would like to bring together art and science, there is the inherent danger that the scientists would see, and obviously, it's all in quotation marks, but that the researchers could see “art” as an illustrative tool to whatever sort of research they've been doing. And I don't think that's exactly the right approach to take. The pickle we're in at the moment is because some things are not working, exactly. And I think art really was being so undefinable, but also being so free and, and, and also having its own internal logic could really help direct some of the research that's being conducted now, and I think that's really the potential we are trying to harness was climate art.
Ariana Razavi 18:31
I think we could really see from the right project that art can really be a tool for both understanding the climate crisis and its impact and mobilizing communities to make change. To find out more about the Rye exhibition and other upcoming projects, please find links to Dzmitry’s work in the show notes.
Cerys Bradley 19:00
To conclude today's episode, we're taking a step into the world of experimental psychology to learn about an interdisciplinary research project that might just be able to answer the question of why I feel so uncomfortable viewing art out of order in gallery spaces. Our final story is from Maria Bunyan, who has been investigating the neuroscience behind how we navigate space and the tools that scientists have developed to study this.
Maria Bunyun 19:24
When we think about navigating the arts, we often think about understanding and connecting with them on an emotional level. Rarely do we actually think about, you know, navigating them, let's consider how we quite literally spatially navigate them. For this we must bring together the worlds of navigation and space, architecture and art. This is the exact subject of Lara Gregorian’s spatial cognition PhD here at UCL, which she’s conducting the Institute of Behavioral Neuroscience.
Lara Gregorian 19:56
My research sits at the intersection of Architecture, neuroscience and psychology. And what we're interested in doing is better understanding, well at the really broad scale, human experiences of the built environment in architectural spaces.
Maria Bunyun 20:16
Lara has two main components of her research. Firstly, how we navigate and encode spaces, and secondly, our affective responses to the inbuilt environment. So that's how we evaluate spaces and how they make us feel. Combining these two areas is something unique that Lara brings to the field.
Lara Gregorian 20:31
Really, if you think about any experience you have in the built environment, these two things are happening simultaneously. And they're being impacted by the space itself, as well as you know, a host of personal factors.
Maria Bunyun 20:41
I wondered what we could learn from research in this area. And Lara explained the importance of empirical findings.
Lara Gregorian 20:48
We're constantly in built environments, it's the it's the context of 90% of our experiences in life. And we have this understanding that they not only shape how we move and make choices, but also shape how we feel and respond and interact with people. So their influence in our actual lives, you know, it's pretty, pretty great.
Maria Bunyun 21:12
An example of this as a boundary or a wall in a building not only must be spatially navigate this, it may also incur an emotional response, such as a threatening feeling. So it becomes really important for us to actually understand how spaces themselves are influencing people's ability to navigate them, and how they feel when they're within them.
Lara Gregorian 21:36
Given that this is a relatively new area of research, Lara has established her own methods to study this everyday phenomena.
Lara Gregorian 21:43
One big component of our work is that we have been thinking about what stimuli to use how are we going to get people to actually experience these architectural spaces. And what we've done, which we think is the first of its kind, is developed a dataset of videos that walk people through first person journeys through different built environments. So the viewpoint you would have if you were navigating through a space.
Lara Gregorian 22:07
This dataset is key to the field because most previous studies use still images or VR videos merge the benefits of these two methods, because they describe real spaces and provide the feeling of dynamic movement through them. To visualize what the stimuli like imagine taking a 30 second video of the space that you're in, just start at one end of the room and walk or pan through to the other end of the room. This is what Lara finds when she studies people watching these videos.
Lara Gregorian 22:37
There’s three key qualities: homeliness, coherence and fascination that have been shown to be important factors in how the brain and body responses to build environments.
Maria Bunyun 22:48
These qualities measure the degree to which an environment feels like a personal space, the ease at which we can comprehend an environment and how interesting it is to us.
Lara Gregorian 22:58
And looking at spatial properties of the space as well. So their spatial complexity and unusualness, which we think will impact memorability of spaces, we find much like they previously have found with images, we find in our videos, that there are relationships between fascination, coherence of humaneness and valence as we would expect, but we also find that arousal is connected to some of these properties, which is a sort of interesting additional finding, we've got because valence and arousal are the two core components of core affect.
Maria Bunyun 23:35
With this work, Lara’s able to distinguish the relationship between aspects of human experience and emotion with architectural features.
Lara Gregorian 23:42
If we're thinking about these experiences in relation to how you feel about them in your affective response, then it's really important to consider these two components of effective experience. And so what we found is that arousal is seems to be linked to fascination and spatial complexity and unusualness.
Maria Bunyun 24:03
I think Lara's work is meaningful in a number of ways. First she has demonstrated that her method of using videos works. This can lead the way for future studies, because it's sophisticated, yet simple to use. Secondly, the results are psychologically interesting, because they provide insight into how we process spaces. And thirdly, this work highlights how fundamental our experiences in the built environment are because of architectural features. And so it's really important to…
Lara Gregorian 24:30
understand truly what it is that is affecting humans and what those human responses are. And if we're able to understand this sort of like cognitive processes, well, we would be able to just open up like a far better understanding of how these different elements interact.
Maria Bunyun 24:48
To me, Lara's research is particularly valuable because of her interdisciplinary approach. Not only is Lara bringing together the psychological fields of spatial navigation and emotional responses, she's really integrating the fields of psychology and neuroscience with architecture, and this is important because this is how humans work in the real world. Human experience is not in distinctive categories. Research at the intersection between neuroscience and architecture has existed for a couple of decades. But even now, it's still building momentum.
Lara Gregorian 25:16
I do think a huge problem is often interdisciplinarity can hit a lot of barriers, in terms of everything from you know, funding to bringing different academics together is like there are just barriers which you have to be willing to overcome, or you have to be in an environment that encourages you to overcome them, which I feel fortunate to be in.
Maria Bunyun 25:39
Lara did a Bachelor in Arts and Sciences at UCL allowing her to read a variety of subjects from maths to anthropology. This was when Lara first began to study the psychological impact from built spaces, keen to pursue this line of research, Lara then conducted a Master's at the Bartlett, where she studied how buildings can be designed to promote people's health. Now in a PhD, she has a primary supervisor in behavioral neuroscience, and a secondary supervisor in engineering. This has empowered her to master both subjects and champion an interdisciplinary approach. This shines through in her work, and it means it's closer to real life, and easier to apply in the future. But it's not quite this simple.
Lara Gregorian 26:17
It's a tricky one at this moment in time, because I think the place that we're at is, it's not directly what designers want, what the ideal outcome will always be is to say, this is what you need to do in the real world, in reality, to create the best experience for people. But that is, you know, like the million dollar question that really we're never going to have so clearly, so simply, because people are so different. There are so many factors at play, and lots of different things. But that's hopefully kind of where we're going towards. I think we're at such an early stage of this whole process that what I personally really like, is explaining this area of work to people who may never have even considered the fact that their environments impact them, and particularly their built environments, I think people are pretty comfortable with the idea of green space being really important, but I've noticed from my own interactions that people have far less of a sort of conscious understanding of their everyday environment that the more built environments impacted them.
Maria Bunyun 27:33
After having talked with Lara, it's dawned on me that I should think more about the spaces that I'm in, I now understand why I might prefer the more open bright spaces of modern buildings compared to the close darker spaces of some older buildings. I'm considering how I can make my student flat more relaxing, because the compact space and lack of light may be having a bigger impact on me than I'd ever thought. And there may be some changes that I can make that can make all the difference. It's really fascinating to think of all the processing that our brain is doing, just to find our way from one room to the next, and to process how we feel in these spaces. With Lara further developing her research, I look forward to finding out more about how architectural features impact our experiences and buildings, and to see how this can be applied to the buildings of the future.
Cerys Bradley 28:20
Well, there you have it, we can use science to help us understand art and artists. But art can also be a useful tool for scientific research. And only when we combine the two can we really understand how things work.
Thank you for listening to the second episode of Season Three. We'll be back next month with more stories from the UCL community. In the meantime, if you want further information on any of the projects featured in today's episode, you can check the show notes for links, pictures and more.
You have been listening to #MadeAtUCL the podcast, to listen to previous episodes or find out more about life at UCL visit www.ucl.ac.uk/made-at-UCL or subscribe wherever you listen to this podcast. This episode was presented by myself Cerys Bradley with stories from Molly Rasbash, Ariana Razavi and Maria Bunyun.
It was produced by Halle McCarthy with support from UCL and featured theme music from the Blue Dot Sessions. For a full list of audio credits, please see the show notes.
Special thanks to Marianna, Lara and Dzmitry for sharing their research with us. This podcast is brought to you by UCL Minds bringing together UCL knowledge, insights and expertise through events, digital content and activities that are open to everyone. See you next month.