9. Feminist knowing through art and science

Feminist knowing through art and science

Convenors: Maria Huhmarniemi (D.A., University of Lapland) & Ilmari Leppihalme (PhD, University of Oulu)

Contact: ilmari.leppihalme (at) oulu.fi

Seminar room: Galaxy (parallel session 1); TM103 (Parallel session 2); Frost Club (Parallel session 4)

Format: Hybrid

In recent years, many research projects have sought to bring together science and art, and we are interested in the experiences of researchers and artists on such projects as well as the experiences of single researcher-artists and their individual projects.

  • What kind of experiences we have of the collaboration between art and science?

  • What could be the epistemological surplus value of art for feminist research, knowledge, and activism?

  • Could art, as a transgressive and innovative form of action, help to facilitate feminist knowing and, vica versa, could dialogue with research benefit art?

  • Could we, in the context of art, talk about a specific aesthetic experience and aesthetic knowledge, that differs from practical or conceptual knowledge and how could we combine these dimensions?

  • Could the influence of art be based on the aesthetics of empathy producing shared experience?

  • How could the collaboration of researchers and artists open up traces of unspoken affective experiences?

  • How could cooperation of art and science thematize the issues in an effective, activating and participatory way?

These and other questions related to the possibilities and challenges of the collaboration of science and art will be discussed in the workshop. On the basis of presentations we will consider what possibilities the dialogue and synergy of science and art and activism might open related to knowing as well as to visibility and societal impact of research and art.

Presentations can take the form in various formats: traditional conference presentations, as well as for example video installations or other forms of art are warmly welcome.


Elizabeth Whitney

Shona Hunter & Katalin Halász

Eleonora Togyer

Sara Van den Bossche

Aino-Kaisa Koistinen

Marian Tumanyan

Barbara Grossman-Thompson & Charlotta Salmi

Kati Leinonen

Miina Kaartinen, Michaela Casková, Tiina Arjukka Hirvonen, Salla-Mari Rantala, Sanna Ritvanen & Hanna Kaisa Vainio

Tereza Jiroutová Kynčlová

Maria Huhmarniemi


Elizabeth Whitney, Visiting Scholar, University of Helsinki

Associate Professor, City University of New York

Avanto and Embodied Practice: Autoethnography and Digital Storytelling as Creative Research Methods

I offer a mediated presentation that combines digital storytelling and autoethnography as creative research methods. My work draws on field notes, original images, and video documentation from my practice of swimming in the avanto–the Finnish word for the hole in the ice made when the water freezes in winter. In many ways, ice swimming seems counterintuitive to human survival. Why would I make myself cold when warmth is key to life in winter? Lowering myself into freezing water requires a willingness to transcend physicality; to think beyond or outside of embodiment. In the numbing water, I no longer feel my body in any conventional sense, even though I know it is still there. My limbs move entirely from memory, through impulses sent by my brain. This is the essence of embodied experience, while at the same time challenging the concept of embodiment itself. It is a decidedly queer feminist way of knowing, this practice of othering my own body to become more present and deepen awareness. The alienating and yet radically present somatic experience of swimming in freezing water offers an ideal opportunity for employing self-reflexive and mediated research methods. Similar to the way that ice swimming allows me to re-examine my relationship to embodied experience, autoethnography and digital storytelling allow me to re-think traditional ways of doing academic scholarship.

Shona Hunter & Katalin Halász

Affecting racialized bodies in discomfort

The video/installation and accompanying paper extend the provocation of George Yancy’s question of “How Does it Feel to Be a White Problem” (2015)? Instead of responding to this question however, the works open up aesthetic and conceptual spaces to think through how whiteness is known in the body in discomfort, and the epistemological and methodological potentials that ‘staying with’ (Haraway 2016) discomfort holds. Following Chadwick (2021), the works explore how the relationally produced ‘affective intensity’ and ‘epistemic resource’ of discomfort can open up or close down inquiry on whiteness because of the dis/orientation it induces in differently racialized people experiencing it. Whereas much of the consideration of white discomfort views it as property of white people (Diangelo 2018), our approach challenges this via a relational understanding of discomfort produced through/in bodies in relation. The visual and written work together examine the psychosocially embodied experience of discomfort as collectively produced and holding open a dynamic space for a relation of depth. Through the video/installation that is specifically produced for the conference, we investigate how feminist knowing through the body can be produced via arts-based research methods and the direct experience of the artwork by the conference participants.

Eleonora Togyer, KU Leuven, Belgium, togyereleonora@gmail.com

"Merging narrative and landscape: Margaret Atwood’s narrative techniques to write back against the masculine tradition of silencing and exploitation in ‘Stone Mattress’

In ‘Stone Mattress’ (2014), which is seemingly a typical crime story set in the Arctic, Margaret Atwood addresses the masculine tradition of silencing and exploitation of women. Thereby, I argue, she establishes a parallel between the female subject and the ecosystem in general, and the Arctic in particular. I claim that in Atwood’s text the Arctic landscape is not simply the setting for a crime story. It becomes transformed from place into subject and it is allowed a separate integrity as the long-standing metaphorical link between ice/cold and evil women is evoked by Atwood by portraying Verna, her female protagonist, as a femme fatale, the ultimate embodiment of the Arctic, patriarchy’s own construct.

The Arctic, however, is a land of not only ice and snow. Significantly, it is also the landscape of geological strata. My reading of Atwood’s story illuminates in what ways the language of geology dominates Atwood’s short story the same way as pebbles, contours of stones, formations of rock, geomorphic crenellations dominate the Arctic landscape. Relying on feminist literary theory, feminist ecocriticism and literary analysis, I will guide my readers/audience through the story to understand the purpose of the use of geological aesthetics that pervades Atwood’s narrative, and the function of stromatolite as the organizing image for the story.

My reading will help to excavate in Atwood’s text the layers of abuse, exploitation, privilege and entitlement enjoyed by patriarchy, exposed as debt by the female protagonist — of men to women and to prior forms of life. My analysis investigates Atwood’s narrative techniques to write back against the masculine tradition of silencing and exploitation in a story which is, in many ways, about settling accounts.

Sara Van den Bossche, Tilburg University - Department of Culture Studies, s.vandenbossche@tilburguniversity.edu

Walking the Line: A Cognitive-Feminist Reading of Gendered Mattering and Orientations in Disney's "Aladdin" (Animation and Live-Action Remake)

When the Walt Disney Company remade its 1992 animation Aladdin into an eponymous live-action film in 2019, the latter received some positive criticism due to the enhanced role of the female protagonist, Jasmine, and its playing into feminist questions. As the animation was strongly embedded in patriarchal ideology, this raises the possibility that the two versions of Aladdin differ strongly and therefore would make for a fruitful comparative study in terms of gender roles. In this paper, in order to make this comparison, I adopt a lens that is both feminist and cognitive.

Tying in with feminist scholarship by Mary Beard (2018), Simone de Beauvoir (2011), and Judith Fetterley (1978), among others, I examine the cognitive ‘cultural narratives’ (Trites 2014) that govern the female characters’ gender roles in the two film narratives. Building on Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology (2006), I conceive of these gender roles in material terms, viz. as phenomenological, gendered ‘orientations’ that, due to their inherently embodied nature, have far-reaching implications for the characters’ projected life trajectories.

My cognitive-feminist reading of the 1992 animation narrative foregrounds the myriad ways in which the patriarchal setting endorses a severe curtailment of female motility and voice. The 2019 remake, my analysis shows, redresses some of the original’s antifeminist plotlines. Nevertheless, its failure to wholly undo the patriarchal constructs that characterised its predecessor, make for a reading that corresponds to the label ‘postfeminist’ (Hollowell 2020) rather than feminist. In Aladdin (1992/2019), then, female matter matters immensely. Exactly how it does so, I will demonstrate in this paper.

Dr. Aino-Kaisa Koistinen, PhD, Title of Docent, Postdoctoral researcher, Contemporary Culture Studies, University of Jyväskylä, aino-kaisa.koistinen@jyu.fi

Writing to the Point of Heartbreak – Cat-writing as Feminist Knowledge Production

In Companion Species Manifesto, feminist philosopher Donna J. Haraway (2003, p. 3) asks: “how might an ethics and politics committed to the flourishing of significant otherness be learned from taking dog-human relationships seriously…?” This presentation examines, what it would mean to take the ethical implications of human–cat-relations seriously in the practice of writing and knowledge production – or, cat-writing. For Haraway, the messy entanglements between humans and their companion species manifest in “dog writing … a branch of feminist theory, or the other way around”. The presentation joins Donna Haraway’s feminist philosophy and selected discussions of animal ethics together with creative writing, namely poetry, and asks, what kinds of knowledges and violences are at stake when writing with a companion animal. In their article “Letting Our Hearts Break: On Facing the ‘Hidden Wound’ of Human Supremacy”, Rebecca Martusewicz (2015, 32) has asked: “What would it take to educate in such a way that opens up our capacities to love the world—the whole world—to the point of heartbreak, that is to the point of real embodied distress or agony? What potential does such suffering hold, and what stands in the way of these possibilities?” I argue that cat-writing may invite ethical imaginations for the acknowledgement of the suffering of others, making it potentially a pedagogical practice for feminist ecojustice education.


Haraway, Donna J. (2003): The companion species manifesto: Dogs, people, and significant otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Martusewicz, Rebecca A. (2015): Letting our hearts break: On facing the “hidden wound” of human supremacy. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education 19, 31–46.

Marian Tumanyan, University of Oulu, marian.tumanyan@oulu.fi 

The capacity of artmaking assemblages to enable positive changes in the ways children express themselves 

To be presented face-to-face, in English. 

Based on Deleuze and Guattar’s (1987) concept of assemblage, which refers to systems consisting of human, non-human, material, social and relational elements in a given situation, I propose the term of artmaking assemblage as a tool to explore different components and changes in the artmaking processes. The aim of this study is to explore the capacity of artmaking assemblages to change and bring changes. The explored assemblages are emerging around a primary schoolgirl. The data is generated through arts-based and creative workshops at her school. To fulfil the goal of the study, I have analysed video data of artmaking assemblages from the workshops. I use the artworks made by the girl as data, as well as an interview with the artist who participated in the workshops. The concept of artmaking assemblages is used as thinking and writing companion when analysing the events from the arts-based and creative workshops. The results of the study illustrate how a child’s expression and participation in workshops change in and through the artmaking assemblages, and how different details in the artmaking assemblages come together to promote those changes. Using artmaking to explore sensitive topics can elicit fear of vulnerability in participants, which can then cause defensive behaviours against the artmaking process. It takes trust building, carefully considering each component of the artmaking assemblage, repetition, to become open to the vulnerability of the artmaking process. Furthermore, I suggest that viewing the artmaking process as a complex assemblage can offer new possibilities for artists and researchers. When considering various components of the artmaking assemblage, different ways of interaction between participants and artworks, the importance of artmaking space, different colours and symbols, we are having more possibilities towards new and transformative way of artmaking. 

Barbara Grossman-Thompson, California State University, Long Beach, barbara.grossman-thompson@csulb.edu & Dr. Charlotta Salmi, Queen Mary University c.salmi@qmul.ac.uk

Visualizing Gendered Violence: Use of Arts-Based Research Methodologies with Adolescents in Nepal

This paper considers the methodological benefits and challenges of an arts-based research project with adolescent girls in Nepal. The projects focuses on their perception of gendered themes in public street art through an analysis of activity-based interviews with small groups of girl students. Street art is a popular media for social messaging in Nepal and has been used informally by independent artists as well as more formally by NGOs to communicate to a broad audience on topics of sex and gender. In particular, street art with themes of gender equity and proscriptive messaging about gender-based violence are visible on urban thoroughfares. Public street art has become a typical outreach tools for NGOs, raising important questions about its reception by the intended audience. This paper asks questions in two areas, first, what methodologies are appropriate in engaging with this unique research population and second, how do adolescent girls “read” street art ostensibly designed for their edification? The data was gathered during fieldwork conducted in 2019 and 2022 at four secondary schools. Girl students between the ages of 13-17 were presented with images of “awareness raising” street art and, in groups of 3-5, asked to develop a narrative to pair with the image. The narratives were then analyzed and coded for emergent themes, which include gendered religious motifs, the fear of violence against girls, and changing social norms for girls and women.

MA Kati Leinonen, Doctoral candidate, University of Lapland / Faculty of Art and Design

Materialities of a Photographic Portrait

This paper presents perspectives opened by my artistic practice around the photographic portrait. I consider materialities arising from a photographic body of work called Vastapuu. Vastapuu is the name of father-in-law’s home farm. When he died, the farm was in its original state and its buildings were filled with things that belonged to its founders Sylvi and Heikki. These belongings – material memorials – were the starting point of my artistic work and raw material for their portrait. I use photography to preserve and capture memories, but also to shape and fold them, and to create new memories using images from the family album cropping, enlarging and projecting them onto my experiences to juxtapose the past with present. I let them entangle and allow time to become visible through photography in the change of things. Within this body of work an encounter essential to the process of making a portrait happens as an encounter with the belongings. I am particularly interested in the active nature of objects within the process of building this portrait. As Hirsch & Spitzer write (2006) objects have power in the process of remembering and can serve as a point from which the past can be produced from the present. Vastapuu body of work uses the belongings to produce memories and visual history from the present. What kind of a portrait can be built from the belongings of someone? The attempt to portray the people I never met also embodies the impossible quest involved in photographic practice, the human desire to remember, and to be remembered. The theoretical frameworks is based on new materialistic discourse. I approach my raw material, the belongings, in the light of Jane Bennett’s (2004) vital materialism and in particular, the concept of ‘thing-power’. According to Bennett objects are alive as they have efficacy, they can make a difference and produce effects as well as alter the course of events. I consider my working method intuitive and reflective at once. Both intuitive knowing and reflection from distance are parts of the same process and are in a dialogical relationship with each other. The thinking begins visually in the photographs and continues as written reflections and visa versa.

The Vastapuu body of work is one of three artistic entities included in my doctoral thesis: Portrait, Materiality and Photographic Art – Materialities Arising from My Artistic Practice.

Vastapuu Project link: https://katileinonen.com/index.php/vastapuu/

M.Soc.Sc. Miina Kaartinen, doctoral researcher, Tampere University & Mustarinda

M.A. Michaela Casková, artist, Mustarinda

M.A. Tiina Arjukka Hirvonen, artist, Mustarinda

M.A. Salla-Mari Rantala, artist, Mustarinda

BA Sanna Ritvanen, artist, Mustarinda

M.A. Hanna Kaisa Vainio, artist, Mustarinda

Reconstructing (in/with) the house: a familiar conversation

Mustarinda house is an artist- and researcher-run residency center that focuses on ecological themes. The house is an old school building situated on the Paljakanvaara hill, in the middle of a rare old-growth forest in the countryside of Kainuu in Eastern Finland. The purpose of the residency is to bring together art and science, experience and experiment ecological living and take part into the wider ecological reconstruction of society by connecting practice and theory. Every month Mustarinda welcomes a new group of artists, researchers and other professionals to experience post-fossil living and working together.

In order for the house to keep running a lot of work needs to be done. In addition to tasks such as administration, writing grant applications and curating the program, there is always a housekeeper at work. Their responsibility is to take care of the house and the visitors, coordinate practical things and do the social work that hospitality requires. On a day-to-day level the work is always entangled with the personal and professional background and interests of each person doing it. This means that the limits and focus of the work are constantly changing and often difficult to define. Housekeeping in Mustarinda can be understood as post-fossil, post-disciplinary, collective feminist practice.

There has been some research done about Mustarinda activities over the years and also by Mustarinda members, but the academic research has never emerged directly from the bodily experiences of the people doing the housework. In the presentation, we share and reflect our situated experiences of housekeeping in Mustarinda. The research is based on work between the years 2016-2022.

Tereza Jiroutová Kynčlová, Ph.D., Charles University, Prague tereza.jiroutovakynclova@fhs.cuni.cz

Voiceless Authors? Textile Ways of Knowing

In the context of material culture, various authors point out that historically textile production is deeply linked with communication (Sullivan Kruger 2001). In feminist decolonial terms, weaving is a form of language and writing (Hill Boone and Mignolo 1994, Jefferies, Conroy and Clark 2016) and as such, textiles can be read as kinds of a texts that convey multiple layers of information (Dhamija 2004, Auslander 2014) which help construct narratives and identities along gender, ethnic, national, religious and other lines of identification and belonging (Amos and Binkley 2020, Heilbrun 1990, Parker 1984). Employing decolonial perspectives, Hill Boone and Mignolo (1994) argue for “alternative literacies” that would defy the Western epistemological tendency to equate language with speech and thus with writing. The effect of alternative literacies helps expand the notion of signification via glyphs and ornamental codes woven in textiles as these inherently represent a mode of transmission of social messages. Since textile making is through its association with domesticity historically gendered, research into women’s textile production can expand existing conceptions of cultural representation within the fields of storytelling, literary history, and production of knowledge passed on by social care, enculturation and gender socialization.

The intersection of creativity and/or art within the field of textile production on the one hand and literary theory on the other is the focus of the proposed presentation on three interwoven aspects that pertain to the axis of text and textile: 1) the established Western binary of art and craft (and/or folklore) which generated institutionalized classification of artistic styles, genres and techniques while concurrently infusing such classifications with gendered, classed and racialized characteristics; 2) the traditional displacement of women from the realm of authorship and their consequent incapacitation in contributing to cultural representation and creating of historical knowledge; 3) the reliance of Western literary history on written and oral traditions that traditionally preclude reading of the textile as a text. Feminist criticism has extensively exposed the ways in which weaving, knitting, embroidery, and textile production in general, have historically relied on domesticity and its socio-cultural association with femininity. Textual reading of textiles as proposed by decolonial/postcolonial theories can therefore expand both traditional understanding of women’s authorship and literary history.

The counterhegemonic intersections of the decolonial and feminist condition are manifest, for example, in Anetta Mona Chisa and Lucia Tkáčová’s hand crocheted tablecloth When Labour Becomes Form (2007) exhibited in The Gallery of Modern Art in Hradec Králové, Czech Republic. The piece both is and tells the story of how age correlates with women’s unemployment, for it is a crocheted statistics graph. Women’s creativity is therefore able to address institutional inequalities, yet as the presentation will argue, in this particular case, that it may not be completely void of symbolic silencing of marginalized voices and/or expropriation of their authorial powers. The proposed presentation will further discuss 1) how marginalized subjects achieve modes of (self) representation by means of textile and the textual, 2) how textile production and its cultural representation pertain to genres in which femininities and masculinities are portrayed, interpreted and performed, 3) and what intersectional connections there are in the liminal spaces between post-socialist and postcolonial/decolonial theories of self-representation that may allow for or fail at voicing counterhegemonic opposition.

Maria Huhmarniemi

Local, northern, material and aesthetic knowing in craftivism

In this presentation, I create a visual narrative of my artistic research in which I try to renew, Finnish traditions and cultural heritage, as well as raise awareness and discussion of cultural policies, identities and conflicts. I describe my art as craftivism: part of an international artistic movement in which embroidery, crocheting, knitting and similar textile crafts are used in conversations about uncomfortable issues.

Colour combinations, specific qualities of yarn, and decorative patterns give local character to mittens, cardigans, and other knits. In many regions, patterns have a communicative function: they carry cultural symbols and representations of cultural identities. In my craftivism, these regional elements have a communicative role.

In this presentation, I describe artistic productions that have included participatory methods and the use of patterns as visual communication. The study follows the approach of art-based action research in which cultural revitalisation and Arctic pride is promoted. I consider how artists and crafters can continue, revitalise and share tactile, material and cultural knowledge. My focus is on the contemporary Arctic.