What our Hub residency taught us about rest, work and play

Hubbub was the first residency in Wellcome Collection's groundbreaking interdisciplinary research space, The Hub. It ended in July 2016.

Dr Felicity Callard, the residency’s Director, reflects on what she learned during the two-year project.

Over two months in the summer of 2015, Hubbub collaborator Des Fitzgerald and I co-authored a book about interdisciplinarity – in particular about the process of conducting research that crosses the social sciences and neurosciences.

Writing the book was one in a series of experiments – scientific, social-scientific, artistic, creative-critical, psychosocial, political – that have punctuated Hubbub’s residency. We hoped the book might bear the traces of The Hub residency and the intense collaborative relationships it engendered.

Reflecting on the book now, as Hubbub's residency in Wellcome Collection draws to a close, I see how it catches our residency in mid-flight. It shows the sometimes 'thin sutures that … hold interdisciplinary collaborative projects together' – and the significant emotional labour they rely on.

Author Lemn Sissay and BBC Radio 4 presenter Claudia Hammond

Credit: Camilla Greenwell, Wellcome

Author Lemn Sissay talks to Claudia Hammond at The Rest Test results launch.
And other passages bear witness to our funny, somewhat fractious interdisciplinary discussions.

These culminated in The Rest Test, a global survey, launched on BBC Radio 4 by Claudia Hammond in late 2015, which gathered over 18,000 responses.

The findings were unveiled in front of a live audience in Wellcome Collection's Reading Room earlier this month. You can listen to The Rest Test results on BBC Radio 4.

Exploring rest through myriad means

What has been most striking for me, in our collective work, has been Hubbub’s desire to produce such diverse kinds of knowledge.

We have employed musical composition and performance, qualitative exploratory interviews, conversational dialogue, radio, psychological scales and mobile sampling.

And we have shown how artistic, political and scientific interventions in the world might open up new ways of experiencing and thinking about rest. Consider, for example, Guerilla Science’s Listening to the City at Rest, collaborator Christian Nold’s work engaging with people suffering from noise under the Heathrow flight path, and Lynne Friedli’s research and activism with those challenging current practices of workfare.

On the one hand, we've moved forcefully and positively out into the world, gathering new data – psychological, sociological, economic – on people's patterns of rest and activity.

On the other hand, we've taken side-turnings into unexpected corners of rest and its opposites. Collaborators have burrowed into questions of rest in ways that perhaps surprised themselves, as well as the larger Hubbub group.

Finding our working rhythm – and disrupting hierarchies

The way in which Hubbub collaborators' daily and weekly practices – for instance, Shabbat (keeping the Sabbath), working part time in a homeless hostel or watching ASMR videos – became a way into the bodily vicissitudes of rest and unrest were fascinating to me.

Indeed, the rhythms of our residency, of working individually and together, have been the foundation to our labours. One of the opposites of rest is, after all, work. We have attended to practices of living and thinking together through contractual and collaborative relationships that have felt unlike many others I have known. More intimate, at times more intense.

The physical space of The Hub staked out freedom and constraint in particular ways. We could organise as we liked, and do things that would have been very difficult in our 'home' institutions, but there's nothing like the ticking down of a 22-month clock to focus the body and mind.

What has been delicious, and perhaps a little bit surprising, is how it has been possible to rough up some of the hierarchies and demarcations – between academics of different ranks, across domains of expertise that still employ ossified divisions between 'researcher', 'practitioner', and 'administrator'.

I have learned most from hearing about rest, work, stress and exhaustion from those not usually given the authority that the title 'researcher' can bring.

Where next for rest?

Wellcome Collection visitor in the Reading Room.

Credit: Camilla Greenwell, Wellcome

Hubbub's research indicates that we need moments of solitude to rest. Insecure jobs leave people too tired to rest properly, as Barbara Pokryszka's painting of a hotel worker depicts.
Our research indicated that moments of solitude – which can act as a bulwark in the face of all that the world demands of us – are particularly important.

I have a sense that it is not only me who feels, at the end of our experiment of two-and-a-bit years, that the question of where, now, to turn to ensure our findings can effect change in the world is both more pressing and harder than it was before.

I think, too, about all the traces – material and psychological – that our practices of working with one another, and with so many within Wellcome, have left on us all, and how they might shape us well into the future.

Regrets? I lament the constricting grip of busyness that it was never quite possible to throw off.

One powerful way of exiting the Hub would have been to embrace lassitude and passivity as ethical and political modes of living together. We haven't taken this route. Our exhibition, our radio series, and our collaborative book are all entering the world at the same time – Right now! As I write! – and the exhausted exhilaration produced in situations of great intensity is upon us.

Perhaps this is an indicator of how our residency has remained captive to a certain logic of productivity. Perhaps it's merely the excitement and urgency of wanting to make the very most of what the Hub award has allowed us to open up.

So I have resolved to take December off. Please hold me to it.

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