Spotlight on our Guerilla Scientists: Viren Swami
January 2, 2019 by Holly
From SuperCulture series at The Book Club, to the colourful fields of Shambala and the erotic evenings of Queer Attraction Lab, 2018 was a busy year for Viren Swami. We chatted to him about his most memorable experiences as a Guerilla Scientist.
GS: How did you first get involved with Guerilla Science?
Viren: I’ve known Guerilla Science for almost a decade now, first getting involved with them for a show back in 2011. After that, I always wanted to collaborate again and we finally did in 2017 for Secret Garden Party! Since then I’ve been doing lots of different things, we’ve done stuff on conspiracy theories, we’ve done Attraction Lab and have just finished Queer Attraction Lab. It’s been fun every single time.
GS: Is there a particular experience that has stood out for you?
Viren: Taking Attraction Lab to Shambala was eye opening. It was a different type of audience than I’m used to. I don’t usually go to music festivals, so it was a new and exciting setting for me.
GS: Any funny anecdotes or fond memories from your experiences?
Viren: We do these events because we want to change people’s lives for the better based on science. One memory that stands out was the launch of Queer Attraction Lab. After the event I was chatting to two guests who had come separately and, based on the event, had decided that they’d like to go home together! That was a proud moment for me, we’d used science to actually bring people together and that’s what Attraction Lab is all about.
GS: What have you learned from interacting with new audiences in unexpected places?
Viren: No audience is the same. Every audience is different and every audience member brings something different to the event. The best thing about Guerilla Science productions is that they’re totally participatory, the audience are doing science and learning as they’re entertained. Essentially, they are becoming scientists at the events!
GS: Have these interactions influenced your research at all?
Viren: Absolutely. One of the things I love about these events is that they teach me new things as well. There is this perception that scientists come along, speak to the audience, go home and that’s it. But it’s a two-way process, I am learning from the audience, just as they’re learning from me.
I’ve been doing attraction research for a long time now and one of the things that strikes me is how heteronormative a lot of this research is. Essentially it takes an individual heterosexual perspective on attraction and tries to apply it to every community that exists. This renders people’s lived experiences invisible, telling them that they can only be understood from a heterosexual perspective, which is ridiculous! People’s lived experiences are important and meaningful in their own right. I think science, and psychology in particular, still has a long way to go to try and understand people’s attraction to other people from their own perspective, rather than a heterosexual experience.
I’ve learnt a lot doing Queer Attraction Lab. I’ve learnt to push by own prejudices, stereotypes and assumptions about what other people’s lived experiences are, and that is informing my own research now. It’s a wonderful example of how going to new audiences can feed back into science.