“Heaven is close enough to touch”: 2016 Research as Art winners

Fourteen stunning images, and the fascinating stories behind them – such as how to recognise one baboon from another, and the shady world of virtual drug deals – have today been revealed as the winners of the 2016 Research as Art competition.

The overall winner is Dr Heather Hunter Crawley from the College of Arts and Humanities.  Her entry, “Mirror of Heaven”, is a haunting picture of a glittering silver religious plate from 6th century Syria, with an account of how she has recreated through her research the spellbinding impact this object would have had at the time:

“the silver emits a divine light, perhaps the presence of God himself.  For a moment, heaven is close enough to touch”.

See all the winning entries here

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Picture:“Mirror of Heaven:  Byzantine Silverware in Use”. The Greek inscription is a prayer from those who donated the object to the church: “For the repose of the soul of Sergia, daughter of John, and of Theodosios, and for the salvation of Megalos and Nonnous and their children”. 

Overall winner Dr Heather Hunter Crawley described the image in her winning entry:

"Syria. The 6th century. The Eucharist is being celebrated in a village church. As worshippers take bread from the paten an image is revealed. Heavenly apostles mirror their action, moving under the flickering candles. The silver emits a divine light, perhaps the presence of God himself. For a moment, heaven is close enough to touch.

I took this photograph while examining the Riha treasure at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC. Museum displays can be sterile, so to capture this object’s visual effects in use I employed LED candles. This close-up captures the purity of the light the paten emits, and the eerie quality of the figures, as if watching you.

My research explores the important value and meaning of religious artefacts in use, and how ritual engages human nature across cultures. While its heritage is fractured by war, asking these questions of Byzantine Syria becomes ever more pressing."

Professor Gail Cardew of the Royal Institution, one of the judges, said:

"What I like about this competition is the unexpected; the insights into the past and the hidden stories that are made real. 

In this photograph Heather brings to life a religious ritual which took place centuries ago; at a time in history and place most of us can barely imagine.  Through her words and her image we can ‘feel’ some part of that long forgotten ritual; it helps us appreciate those historic researchers whom upon we rely, in order to bring forgotten stories to light and connect us with the past."

About Research as Art

The competition offers an outlet for researchers’ creativity, and celebrates the diversity, beauty, and impact of research at Swansea University – a top 30 research university.

Research as Art is the only competition of its kind, open to researchers from all subjects, and with an emphasis on telling the research story, as well as composing a striking image.

82 entries were received from researchers in many different subjects, with titles such as:

  • Electrochemical jungle
  • Mondrian meets marine biodiversity
  • The art of beautiful failure

See all the winning entries here 

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Picture:  From anonymity to personality:  Gaelle Fehlmann, College of Science.  The baboons she studied "went from anonymity to unique characters that I named and was able to appreciate".  Winner of the award for Connection with the Natural World

A distinguished judging panel of senior figures from the Royal Institution, NewScientist, and Nature, selected a total of fourteen winners. 

Along with the overall winner, there were judges’ awards in four categories relating to engagement – connection with society, with people, with the natural world and with places – and 9 highly-commended entries.

Judging panel:

Research as Art is organised by Swansea University Research Forum

Competition founder and Director Dr Richard Johnston, Associate Professor in materials science and engineering at Swansea University, said:  

“Research as Art is an opportunity for researchers to reveal their personal story, their humanity, their inspiration, and emotion.  It can also be a way of presenting their research process, and what it means to be a researcher; fostering dialogue, and dissolving barriers between universities and the wider world.”

Overall winner Dr Heather Hunter Crawley said:

“Religious feeling is one of those things we have in common across time and cultures. As a historian, it is exciting to find these links which illuminate the past and connect us to the experiences of ordinary people, like the church-goers who used this plate.

It is great that people's interest may be sparked by looking at this image. My research explores the experience and use of religious art and artefacts in the 3rd-6th centuries AD, especially in Syria.

This region played a key role in what was a pivotal era of cultural change across Europe and Asia, and attention to its complex heritage is currently needed now more than ever before.”

Find out more about Research as Art

See all the winning entries here