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Talking Brains: The unfamiliar grey matter(s)

When I gave a paper recently at InSEA Europe at Aalto University in Finland I thought it might be wise to start the session with explaining a few contextual aspects of my recent work. So:

Where did this interest for the brain come from?

We have all got one! Yet, we very rarely consider what it actually does for us on a second by second, and day to day basis in our existence. Scientist are still uncovering the full extent of its potential, as it works to store more than any computer and creates connections that the average teenager on social media would be impressed by. This single greyish organ sits inside our head at the top of our anatomy, constantly working and controlling every aspect of our body, our breathing, our heart rate, our desires and our memories. Quite simply ‘It shapes our thoughts, beliefs, hopes, dreams, and imaginations. It is the brain’s ability to perform all these functions that makes us human.’ (Society for Neuroscience, 2018) However, we rarely give the brain much thought, we rarely give much consideration to our relationship to our own brain. It’s difficult to sense your brain, its inside us and hopefully we don’t get to see it that often! It’s hard to feel it actually working, unlike the gut, the heart & lungs, I can feel these in action, I have a sense of them and think in collaboration with them. The brain is more difficult to feel, yet it controls our very being.

There are many myths about the brain – certainly in teaching, some of these are quite outdated ideas indeed, particularly about the brain and learning (perhaps 20+ years behind present day understanding that exist in neuroscience) but that is perhaps for another day – the left and right are not working separately contrary to the well used notion.

Our encounters with the world shape our brains in a two way process. The brain cells which form our individual experience, our memories, or selves, and collectively our cultures develop or die according to the ways they respond – or not – to outside stimuli. In turn we predict our view of the world accordingly to the experiences we have acquired. So I’m interested in how flexible our thinking is.

I have also used 'artful enquiry' as a way of getting to know myself better – I’m dyslexic and hard wired slightly different to others but more recently I have suffered with depression and I have been thinking about the effect this has had on my outlook and my way of being – the effect the brain can have on the body. I’m thinking about the interplay between structures of objects in the world out there and the structures in our minds which have evolved to perceive and understand them. I’m thinking in my art practice about the intuitive imagination and conceptual understanding and how I continually readjust my views of the world.

Understanding the inside and outside – a kind of Kantian interplay between outward form and inner constructions of it. I suppose to know the world better, to know my self better and how to make or be creative with this knowing. The sense-experience may be a way of articulating this?

So the photographs above are self portraits, they are the inside of my head from three positions (Sagittall, Coronal and Transverse). They are usually juxta-positioned next to normal photographic representations, and in a simple way, what you normally see, with what you can’t see.

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