Justheat: Looking backwards to move forwards

Thermal House Image credit Becky Shaw (Justheat)

Dr Becky Shaw (Reader in Fine Art in CCRI and Postgraduate Research Tutor for ADMRC) begins role as lead artist and co-I on the Justheat research project, and five-artists are appointed to the pan-European research team .

Justheat: Looking backwards to move forwards is a three-year interdisciplinary, pan-European project to explore how major changes to home heating and heating technology over the last seventy years have been designed, managed and experienced, how they have impacted our lives and what lessons we might learn for the current transition to low carbon systems. This involves bringing together oral histories gathered from members of the public in case study locations in the UK, Sweden, Finland and Romania, with the work of artists, to explore lived experience. Artistic inquiry will combine with the oral history process and a breadth of disciplines across the international team, to attend to the aesthetic, cultural and sensorial dimensions of heat. We intend that the spatial, temporal and material qualities of artists work will generate connection with the multiple times and spaces of memory, expression and experience. The input of artists also opens up new possibilities for accessible research transmission.

The project is led in the UK with Aimee Ambrose, and Research Assistant Kathy Davies, both from CRESR, in the Social & Economic Research Institute at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU), with Shaw as co-I, lead for the artistic programme and also the UK artist (all SHU). Collaborations on this scale across institutes are relatively rare in SHU.

Becky and Aimee began working together following Becky’s presentation at ‘People, Place and Policy’ conference, which presented work from ‘How Deep is your Love’.

This event generated a shared conversation between Becky and Aimee about people’s engagement with energy infrastructure, and interdisciplinary processes. The eventual research bid, led by Aimee, was complex, bringing together different times and places.

The project brings together partners from Lund University, Sweden, Tampere University, Finland, Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, and University of Sheffield.

Justheat is funded by CHANSE, a collaboration of research councils across Europe and the UK with a focus on bringing together Humanities and Social Science.

The research will generate a series of events where artists work will be brought together with oral history materials to generate dialogue between energy users (all of us!) and energy providers and policy makers. A series of papers are planned, and Becky is currently developing the possibility of a touring pan-European show. In addition, the experiences of interdisciplinary working are generating ideas for a possible book on the rich and challenging space of interdisciplinary collaboration for artists.

During late 2022 and early 2023 we were involved in the careful recruitment of artists for our Finland, Romania and Sweden research teams, and also a film-maker to communicate the whole project. Recruiting artists to work in an interdisciplinary research project is challenging, with a need to give careful attention to differences in artistic commissioning, payment, community structures, systems of visibility, and the relationship between practice-based research in academia and professional practice.

We talked to many colleagues across Europe, and were particularly grateful for discussion with Laura Clarke and Arts Catalyst UK, Jason Bowman at University of Gothenberg, Iosif Kiraly at Uni Arts Romania, Mari Mäkiranta, University of Lapland, Kaisu Koski Lab4Living Sheffield Hallam University, VIS – Nordic Journal for Artistic Research, Ele Carpenter at UMArts Umeå Universitet, and Sarat Maharaj at Konsthögskolan i Malmö Lunds Universitet/ Malmö Art Academy Lund University- as well as many others.

In response to the call, we received a rich range of applications and intend to keep in touch with many people we were unable to appoint. In each interview, the UK team worked with the staff who would work most closely with the artists in Finland, Romania and Sweden, usually the researchers who would be carrying out oral history interviews in the chosen sites. The artists selected reflected the different emphasis and concerns of each team, promising really sensitive and productive working relationships.

At the same time we also commissioned three student designers, Meg Spencer, Jasmine Fowler and Lewis Johnson-renshaw, currently in their 3rd year of Graphic Design, to produce a logo that carried the temporal, spatial and technological concerns of Justheat.


Justheat artists
We are now in the early stages of working together. Each stage of working with artists within interdisciplinary research contexts demands care: standard research processes such as ethics protocols, process documentation and assignment of IP often contradict the norms of artistic practice, generating interesting problems and also scope for thinking differently about research process.

Artists appointed


In Finland, artist Henna Aho is working with Sofie Pelsmaker, Sarah Sarah Kilpeläinen and Raúl Castano De la Rosa from Tampere University. Henna makes extraordinary objects that hover between being painting and construction. These are understood as expanded painting drawing together a diverse matrix including (amongst many other aspects) traditional weaving techniques of Finnish peasants and the philosophy of new materialism and Vibrant Matter by Jane Bennett.

Photo of Henna Aho - Courtesy Becky Shaw

In Romania, artist and documentary photographer Denise Labont is working with George Jiglau and Andreea Vornicu at Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca. Denise uses photography and installation practices to explore social, economic and political relationships in labour contexts, with a particular attention to gendered constructs. Previous works have involved long collaboration with flower sellers in Bucharest.

In Sweden, Ram Krishna Ranjan is working with Jenny von Platten and Jenny Palm from Lund University. Ram makes moving-image works to build conversations around place-specific issues of social, economic, and political justice. His longstanding areas of interests are decoloniality, migration, gentrification, memory and nation, and the intersectionality of caste, class, and gender. Recent works explore the 1943 Bengal famine and questions the possibilities and limits of film in spaces of subalternity.

In the UK, Becky is working closely with Aimee Ambrose and Kathy Davies. Becky uses live art, social arts practice and exhibition making to examine the ways that individual and the state, publicness and autonomy materialise in sites of labour, education, production and infrastructure. Works are usually formed within long interdisciplinary working relationships, as in her recent work with leak locators for City of Calgary Water Services.

We are also delighted to appoint UK based film-maker Miles Umney. Miles will be based with the UK team but also work closely across all partners, to make a film which communicates the Justheat journey. Miles produces visually rich, beautifully paced narrative films to capture the work of arts organisations, charities and universities. Recent commissions have included films made for Academy of Urbanism and MK Arts for Health.

Now all artists are starting to work in the chosen sites, and we are looking forward to seeing how the relationships and work develop. Each partnership will explore two case study locations, seeking to understand the histories that shape a range of relationships to energy transition including resistance and enthusiasm.