A Portrait of Luton

A portrait of Luton

People, Place and the STEM Hoarding space

In My last blog post I talked about an outreach project delivered with secondary school students and to transform their T+ Luton central library space. This time I worked with local sixth form students to explore identity, Luton and perceptions.

The space:


As part of my time on the testbeds artist accelerator programme I have partnering with the The University of Bedfordshire (UoB) to access hoarding space along the University’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) development site.

As part of this STEM project I developed a model of outreach to engage people studying and specialising in scientific subjects to develop an artistic concept for this urban development site. The concept was to be formed from interdisciplinary workshops exploring perceptions of space and identity with an overriding aim to improve civic pride amongst local young people. 

The Students:


I chose to work with Stockwood Park Academy Sixth form science students as students with knowledge of a subject linked to the STEM building site that would inform my artistic research, and crucially as local young people who would gain the most out of a project exploring Luton's identity and the towns connection to them as a group of individuals. 

after initial sessions exploring themes of perception, the human eye, art and technology and Luton I found students had a mixed view of their town, often fueled by a conflict between personal views and perceptions from others influenced heavily by negative stereotypes and the media. To explore these perseptions further and develop an artistic concept around their views I arranged for an interdisciplinary day at the University of Bedfordshire engaging the students with the STEM site and the school of psychology as a subject relevant to their studies.

STEM Visit (University of Bedfordshire)


To explore themes of Luton, science and perception further, and come up with an artistic concept for the STEM site I invited the students to the University of Bedfordshire to attend a STEM day. We took the day to look at perceptions and optics in psychology, working with Dr William Brown and Senior technician Paul Cavendish from the Universities school of Psychology and form the concept for our artwork. Students attended a lecture on optics and human vision, and a brief overview on research undergone about attractive human characteristics and celebrity facial structures. After some discussion we formed the basis of our concept, a portrait of Luton's identity.

Below are the results from an adaptation of the psychological 'Brunswick' experiment. Students were presented with a series of simplistic faces with differing features and asked to pick three faces which they felt most accurately depicted ‘depressed’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘optimistic’, three words they used to describe Luton. This formed the basis of our concept, a portrait of Luton's identity.


As part of the STEM day visit I also ran an experiment using the Psychology departments mobile eye tracking equipment. Pupils were asked to wear the goggles and walk around the university campus, unbeknownst to the group, their route passed the STEM hoarding site. This was a chance for me to assess how engaged the students were with the site at current. The below images show the workshop and the resulting data demonstrating engagement with the hoarding site before and after artwork was present.


The last workshop I underwent with the group looked at our joint research and how our interdisciplinary explorations had come together to form a comprehensible artistic concept, which the group directly informed. My hope is that open discussion within relevant workshops can challenge negative perceptions of Luton and build sense of pride within participants. The development of an artwork at the site will reinforce a physical connection between the group and Luton, whilst also allowing access and engagement with the new STEM site for participants and the public.

From the basis of the portrait we established, we incorporating psychological research from the STEM visit which showed humans may refer to the left side of a face for honest reactions, leading to the left side of our portrait being the honest side formed from personal opinions of Luton. The right side of the portrait shows the more skewed perception from media stories and stereotyped attitudes. The portrait also references the groups discovery that 3D facial scans of people are very difficult to identify and relate to. When it came to our portrait we decided to use the monotone colour of a 3D scan to remove any context, preconception and stereotypes that the portrait could hold.

Partnership with the University of Bedfordshire is ongoing to develop the concept portrait into a truly interactive artwork to be installed on the STEM hoarding site, which will use technology and artwork to engage the public and open a social discussion about Luton's identity.