For the past month, I have been reflecting on my project Mindshapes about neuroscience which concluded at the end of October. The project included months of research on the subject of neuroplasticity, a visit to the Wellcome Trust, interactions with Southampton University Neurosience Group (SONG), working with 3 different community groups and an interview with somebody who suffered and recovered from a stroke.
The aims of the project were to introduce neuroscience and neuroplasticity to a wider audience and to engage with neuroscience through art.
What were the highlights? Installing all the tree neurons together and connecting them, interviewing a survivor of stroke and making a piece that responds to her experiences, people touching and manipulating the artworks, the meditation sessions with the Guides and in the space, seeing the tension between the clean definite language of science and the flexible messiness of crochet.
What were the challenges? Money and engagement. I got some small amount of local funding but not the national grant. Not as many people engaged in workshops as I expected, particularly adults. I did not always feel supported by the key workers. It was a bit lonely at times as the only artist on the project.
What have people’s reactions to the project been? It was a project that provoked strong reactions. Awe, interest, attention but also fear and refusal to engage. Why? Because “your brain has let you down again and again”. It brought to the surface a lot of stories about the brain going wrong: MS, brain injury, memory loss, anxiety, of not being able to do things. I was confronted by the strong reality and contrast between my excitement of neuroscience and the personal stories. I was quite surprised because for me, it was an exciting story, neuroplasticity, being able to change the brain. I suppose, in the end, it was good to be able to offer a space where people could engage in discussions about the brain. I have since then been able to respond to further stories and start working on a sound/video piece about the brain being a cage.
What happens next? I would like to work on a more specific topic of neuroscience such as depression or dementia and do it in close long term collaboration with neuroscientists and with other artists. I would also like to engage with a wider audience.