The Barometer of My Heart: Visual matrix research and evaluation project

Author(s):*Listed Alphabetically
Froggett L, Manley J, Wainwright J

Year of Publication:

University of Central Lancashire

Publication Type:


This report is the outcome of an in-depth study of audience reception of an artwork which itself involved years of in-depth inquiry and prolonged collaboration between artist, Mark Storor, and consultant endocrinologist, Dr Leighton Seal. The work was produced by Anna Ledgard in association with Artsadmin and was supported by a Wellcome Trust Large Arts Award and the Arts Council England. Undertaken by the  Psychosocial Research Unit at the University of Central Lancashire, the Barometer of My Heart is an exploration through visual art and performance of men’s experiences of erectile dysfunction and impotence.

The project arose in part from the wall of public silence and private despair that surrounds these issues – only too often met with incomprehension and fear. In the absence of public health education, erectile dysfunction attracts negative projections that may or may not be internalised. Men may delay seeking help with potential deadly consequences. Impotence can be regarded as something to be worked through with professional healthcare and supportive relationships or it may be experienced as a source of shame and a psychosocial catastrophe. What then are the conditions for compassionate understanding and an enlightened public conversation?

The Barometer of My Heart uses visual, acoustic and digital media in a performance to communicate matters that all too often have been shrouded in secrecy. It does this through a process of artistic enactment and symbolization rather than representation – in other words it presents its audiences with forms for the inchoate and unspoken feelings that the subject arouses.

The audiences in the study made use of these cultural forms, mingling them with personal life experiences. It was expected that their engagement would be accompanied by anxiety, fear, desire and perhaps hope –and that the scenes of the show would create a ‘third space’ where unacknowledged and unrecognized emotions could find expression and emerge into consciousness, perhaps for the first time. For this reason a recently developed group based method – the visual matrix – was used to gauge audience reactions, which gives expression through imagery and affect to what is ‘known’ but as yet ‘unthought’. When the study began, the method had already been used to assess civic engagement with public art, but not in such an intimate and private area of experience.

Whereas the primary aim of the project has been to understand and account for audience engagement with The Barometer of My Heart, a secondary aim has been to determine whether the visual matrix is a suitable method to study an artwork that deals with a subject that is hard to think about, hard to speak of and very often hard to bear.

Evidence Type: Qualitative Research

Research Purpose: Public / Service User Views

Context: Community

Participant Group: Specific Physical Health Condition

Art Forms: Visual Arts

Access Type: Free Download

APA Citation:

Froggett , L., Manley, J. & Wainwright, J. (2017). The Barometer of My Heart: Visual matrix research and evaluation project. Preston: University of Central Lancashire.