Imagining Desires

A participatory research project about sexuality, visual culture and education

Imagining Desires is a scientific-artistic research project in which secondary school students, teachers (in training), scientists, sexuality education professionals and artists come together to research questions of sexuality, visual culture and education.

Field of Research

Imagining Desires asks which pictures with sexual connotation come to the attention of students and teachers in training in their everyday lives, and in what ways they notice them, i.e. which images inspire, upset, attract, repel, alienate and evoke curiousity. It is after all through pictures that notions about sexual concepts, lust, desire, intimacy and the human body emerge, are formed, visualized, normed, irritated etc. The research team of Imagining Desires also seeks to explore which pictures are used in pedagogical contexts when sexuality, body and intimate relationships are discussed. The project analyzes and criticises the pictures collected from everyday life and pedagogical contexts with regard to their visual strategies and options for identification: Who is (and is not) depicted? What notions of sexually active persons, desirable bodies, intimate relationships, pleasurable sex and problematic behaviors are transported?

Imagining Desires works from the assumption that young people are both capable of acting independently as well as in need of adults who support them and protect them from discrimination and violence. From this perspective, Imagining Desires develops a participatory research design for students to partake as equally as possible, and to methodically inquire about their questions of relevance together with teachers in training, (sex) educators, scientists and artists. The project combines various approaches from cultural studies, educational science and the arts, and refers to knowledge from gender, queer and postcolonial studies.

In the first part of the project students are undertaking research in workshops on pictures with sexual connotation that they encounter e.g. in the public space, in virtual spaces or in their school environment. During this phase, researchers who are also experienced in sexual education are working with a school class. If interested, students can then opt to partake in one of the five research studios where they intensely work on a selected research question together with researchers, artists, sexual educators and teachers in training. The students participate in the research studios during their classroom projects or their elective subjects.

Objectives of Imagining Desires

Imagining Desires investigates on the one hand, which pictures with sexual connotation students and teachers in training notice during their everyday life, and asks on the other hand, which pictures are being used how and why in the sexual education of students.

Imagining Desires examines collected pictures from everyday life as well as from sexual education in regard to their representation of desire, lust, intimacy and the human body and questions their visual strategies of acceptance and production of differentiation.

Imagining Desires develops educational materials for children and teenagers, for sexual education and art education, for schools and teacher education. The aim is to enable processes of learning about sexuality as well as critical visual literacy and to foster artistic-creative and linguistic expression.

Quotes from the Imagining Desires field of research

Dr. Eva Mersits, principal of Hernalser Gymnasium Geblergasse / Vienna:

“As a school with a major emphasis on artistic subjects and project work in the classroom, the GRG 17 considers the participation in an art and sexual education research project an important contribution to school as well as subject development. The contribution also holds true for the enhancement of teachers’ as well as students’ sexual education and violence-prevention competences. Imagining Desires incorporates crucial topics and questions that are of major interest for our teaching staff as well as our students.”

Linnea, student of Hernalser Gymnasium Geblergasse, 14 years:

“For me, this project is important, because it is not about learning the medical facts of sexuality, but to be able to research and question the representations and effects myself.”

Univ.-Prof. Elisabeth Sattler, project leader:

“Discussions about sexuality and appropriate images for children and teenagers currently focus largely on issues such as sexting or pornography. Against the background of controversially debated questions of sex education in schools, the project Imagining Desires seeks to provide research and education about the scientific, pedagogical and peer-cultural discussion around sexuality and images – to analyze it, to differentiate and to inspire others.”