The Road to Voting: an interdisciplinary study of the aesthetic and affective dimensions of voting

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Fine Art History of Art&Cult Stud


A great deal has been written by political scientists about methods and systems of voting, the socio-demographic structuration of the electorate, motives for voting or abstaining, and the cognitive capacities and rational calculations of voters. But, with few exceptions, scholars have not examined voting from the experiential perspective of voters. Our intention is to redress this omission in an innovative set of practice-based investigations, such as exhibition, performance, video essay, that will inform and be informed by a social science research context. Endorsing the concept that artistic practice is a form of theory and the desire to make different disciplines legible to each other, we propose to explore the aesthetic and affective dimensions of voting in its various existing and counterfactual forms.

Our specific aim is to address the following six questions:

1. How do citizens experience the process of voting in contemporary society?
2. What kind of issues, from local to global, would citizens like to vote on if they were given a chance to do so?
3. Are there ways of mediating the voting experience that could emphasise its quality as a live event?
4. Can new ways be invented to enable citizens to reflect and deliberate upon the intensity of their collective preferences?
5. How might people design their own voting methods which emphasise reflexive and imaginative dimensions of choice-making?
6. How can the consequences of voting be made more visible?

Through the intertwined and porous research practices of a political scientist and an artist, we aim to create legibilities between two disciplines usually not legible to each other. Central to our research is the methodological task of making the results comprehensible to one other and to others within our different research traditions. What is there to be learned from parallel methods of focused attention?

The project comprises two stages:

1. This first stage will involve assembling public views and visions of voting. We shall meet with a range of community groups within and around the city of Leeds to discuss their experiences of, and hopes for, voting in various forms. We shall record, transcribe and analyse these group discussions, and invite participants to complete surveys and novel questionnaires. We shall both work with the groups to find out how people know the experience of voting.
2. In the second stage of our research we shall work with artists, designers, performers and political activists with a view to translating public aspirations into an exhibition of The Road to Voting. There will be four outcomes from this stage:
i) An experimental film that will explore ways in which residual traces of popular cultural imagery and narrative influence people's ideas about voting and their place in society.
ii) A multi-channel video installation comprising interviews with people about their memories of the first time they voted, situated in a sculptural installation that questions viewers' received wisdom about the psychology of space as it relates to the site of voting.
iii) A series performances and theatrical events on and around election day, meant to suggest a novel association with politics: pleasure.
iv) A proposal and maquette for an archive, or library, whose form emerges from the effort to make different disciplines legible to each other. This component, perhaps the most original and ambitious element, seeks to mutate already known forms of research into ones not yet read or seen. We will work with architects known for their commitment to social design to encode the results of our research into the very fibres of the library structure and its visual displays. We know that it will include interviews with people about their memories of voting and meeting with local organizations, but we don't know how this will be visualllyarticulated.


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