“I tied myself in knots over it. And it was almost as if the tying of knots and the urge to untangle them was a secret way of… a secret way to… to avoid making my confession.” Nicola Barker, In The Approaches
Since I have started my project Detangling The Knots , I see neuroscience (and knots and tangles) everywhere. Even when I am reading fiction that has nothing to do with neuroscience. I have chosen to intersect the tangles observed in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients with the knots and tangles of my art practice in crochet but I find that tangles are used a lot in fiction to describe thought processes.
After 3 months of very intense residency and before we go into the next phase of the project, I am ready to press pause and start detangling the knots of new unprocessed knowledge in my brain. What happened during the residency? I had originally planned to work with 1 or 2 neuroscientists at the University of Southampton but I ended up spending time with 12 different neuroscientists which really shows the amount of support we have had! Together with my artist partner Susan Merrick, we made sound recordings of our conversations, took photos and video recording of lab processes, asked lots of questions. The scientists were really good at explaining concepts to us, often using drawings. They all used different techniques like putting electric current and chemicals through neurons, using fruit flies and stem cells. Grasping the details of the techniques was completely mind-blowing and always humbling. Susan and I were often exhausted after a day in the lab but hugely enriched and excited. What the research approaches all have in common is they are all looking at neuron degenerations.
What has emerged from the residency? What did the scientists get out of it so far? They have commented on how much they have enjoyed the project . They are looking forward to getting involved in our engagement opportunities later on and in seeing how we as artists will respond to the research. Some of them have started sharing photos of their labs in a similar way we have done as artists.
As an artist, two key concepts have been identified. The first one is manipulation: the idea of touching cells, of changing them, of using hands to manipulate equipment. As a wool artist, I use my hands to make crochet pieces, the pieces are designed to be touched, to be stretched. The question that is relevant both for the neuroscience labs and for my own art laboratory is how far can you manipulate/ stretch things?
The second concept is care/passion: looking at the often repetitive and lenghty lab processes as care processes, looking after the living organisms such as flies and cells, feeding them, emptying the waste, the intensity of it, the labour of it, the personal cost and implication. In my own practice, wool comes with very caring references. It is the material of blankets, of warmth and of comfort. How much care do you put into things so that they thrive? How far can you take care before it becomes something else? I will be taking care and manipulation with me into the workshops with dementia patients and look at their relevance in that context.
Other burning questions at the end of the residency were: What angle/perspective am I going to take as an artist in relation to the huge amount of data collected?
How do I honour/respond to the research while preserving my distance as an artist?
How do I embrace the chaos/the tangles of new knowledge in my brain?
How do I start manipulating the data?