In Conversation: Jay Hampton / Elizabeth Challinor

Jay Hampton is a working-class citizen Sciartist from Liverpool with a BSc Earth & Ocean Sciences and Zoology from the University of Liverpool and MA Art in Science from LJMU. Her practice is based around citizen science and the environmental changes during the Anthropocene, and a lot of her projects use climate data trends to look forward to the year 2050. Her main areas of research are the future of food, biosensors, climate change as a public health issue and the importance of the ocean as an atmospheric buffer. 

You can check out her ongoing IB21 project here – 

Contact details:

@citizensciart (Instagram) / @citizensciart (Twitter) / 

When did you first start your residency? How did you get involved with IB21?

I applied to an open call for artists in 2019 (I think) as I was graduating from my masters degree at LJMU. I got a place on the 2020 artist residency with four other artists at Metal Liverpool which included being a part of the Independents Biennial. I was surprised and happy to get something art related so soon after graduation. I started working on a project over lockdown but had no idea it would develop into my residency project. It was just something I’d noticed happening, not my usual area of research.

What are you working towards during this residency/what are you looking to achieve with your experience here?

While I’m here I would like to enact change within Liverpool, with the Independents Biennial being a catalyst for Liverpool to become the first rewilded city. Scotland is already making great strides in this area but to have a densely populated area leading on an important environmental issue would be great. Especially in the run up to Cop26 in November. Although I’m worried nobody will engage with my work as I don’t have an online following. 

I really wanted this experience to connect with other artists. My background in science means I know very few artists and I’m figuring out how the art world works. I need to start to build a network, being an artist is lonely! Due to the digital nature of IB (because of Covid) I don’t think I’ll achieve that.

What is your practise about generally & what processes/methods do you typically use? How has your work that you’re doing for the residency/biennial evolved from this? Is there a big difference between this specific body of work & the work that you usually do?

I’m a sciartist but most people have no idea what that means. I mix art and

 science to investigate the world or I look at science through an artist’s lense. My practice focuses on climate change, mainly microscopic organisms in the ocean and the barriers that working class people face. I first started working on climate change projects about ten years ago at undergraduate level. It’s nice the world has finally caught up but I wish it hadn’t taken this long and unfortunately greenwashing is everywhere. Usually I use microscopes to take detailed images and work with climate data to predict the future of Liverpool. The sea, beach, Mersey and oceanic organisms are my preferred collaborators. Growing up in Liverpool we are never far from the water, it’s in our blood. It’s a huge part of our history, the good and bad. A reminder of our connection to the rest of the world and the wonderful people that decided to call Liverpool home. It’s also unique scientifically. As an estuary it’s water changes in salinity depending on location. Lots of people will joke about it being dirty but it’s actually really clean. The colour is due to disturbed sediment as Liverpool has quick changing tides and Europe’s highest difference between high and low tide. The smell of sea air, sound of seagulls and sound of crashing waves helps me feel renewed. I couldn’t get to any body of water during lockdown so my practice had to pivot. I noticed things had started to become overgrown as the council suspended mowing and weeding in my area. It resulted in an explosion of plant life in areas that were barren before, which was nice since I don’t have a garden. So that’s my project now, documenting the weeds around me. There is a big difference between this project and my usual work. I don’t really like plants!

Did you have plans for your work (& to present it physically) before the festival was moved online? Did this change in platform affect you (& your work) much, or has it always been suited to being available digitally?

Originally my plan was to set up a physical sciart lab for the public to use. Very few scientists are from working class backgrounds and I wanted to bridge that gap to get people talking about climate change and what environmental projects they would work on if the equipment was available. Allowing them to experiment and play with equipment and to see themselves in these spheres that can so often seem elitist. More working class people are needed within the arts too. I want to hear from artists with real life experiences that I can relate to.

I hate working digitally. It wouldn’t be so bad if I had the equipment but with a battered laptop and an out of date phone my digital capabilities are limited and with no online audience who will even notice my work anyway? I also care for my gran with dementia so working from home is impossible. I desperately need studio space. I’m sick of every email starting with ‘sorry for  the delay’. I don’t want people to think I’m flaky or uninterested because I’m not, I just don’t get any time to focus on work.

I’m quite lucky in the respect that my practice can be done in the field and this project is citizen science at its core and is therefore low tech by design.

Have you been working as part of your residency prior to the launch, or have you only just started your working?

I started working on the project over lockdown 1 without knowing it would become my project for the IB. It was just something I noticed happening and decided to document it.

What’s it like (or been like so far) working with the Independents Biennial and Metal? Do you get much support from both of the organisations?

The Independents Biennial and Metal have both been great to work with. Everyone has been so supportive, I couldn’t really ask for more from them. I appreciate that they are understanding of my home situation.