[-empyre-] neuroaesthetics

trish adams trishadams84 at gmail.com
Fri Sep 12 16:33:49 EST 2008

Hi Everyone,
cAt the beginning of my collaborative project at the Department of
Anatomy, School of Biomedical Sciences, The University of Queensland I
was still very unsure about my place in the hard sciences, I was of
course aware that Stephen Wilson suggests that 'scientists and
technology researchers who have devoted their entire professional
lives to educating themselves about topics being investigated might be
sceptical… (can) artists learn enough to engage in research at a
non-dilettante level?' ( Wilson, S. 1996, Art as Research,
http://www.sfsu.edu/~swilson/papers/artist.researcher.html , p. 3). It
was fortunate that my collaborator in this instance embraced extended
patterns of "knowing" and that he had a window of opportunity to move
outside the onerous constraints of grants & funding timelines to
explore different methodologies with me. He didn't see the
collaboration between us as anything like as quotidian as 'research at
a non-dilettante level' and felt that it could only really be
considered as "research" at a much more esoteric level. For him
research with other scientists was usually extremely focused and
conducted within tight parameters; it was not about possibilities so
much as progressively excluding as many possibilities as possible,
whereas we both felt we were setting out to do something quite
"other", something more open-ended. In addition to this I also came
across a quote that opened the door for me in my aesthetic
interpretation of scientific image data and my personal struggles to
accept that it was OK to appreciate the visual/human impact of
scientific digital image data and use a sensual reading of the
scientific experience in my artworks:

'(i)t is precisely the baroque's subversion of the dominant visual
order of scientific reason that makes it so attractive in our
postmodern age…in its disparagement of lucid clarity and essential
form, baroque vision celebrated instead the confusing interplay of
form and chaos, surface and depth, transparency and obscurity'.
(Buci-Glucksmann in Jay,M. 1993, Downcast Eyes: the Denigration of
Vision in Twentieth Century French Thought, Berkley: University of
California Press. p.47).

 Amongst others, Brian has mentioned tendencies towards the
'instrumentalisation & objectification of human beings' & Anna has
been drawing attention to the human being on the receiving end of
medical procedures so there seem to be attempts to reconcile processes
and medical image data with the systems that underpin them and the
human subjects. As an artist I am really in a privileged position
moving as I do between disciplines and methodologies. This is not to
say that scientists have not also done this & i wonder if anyone else
in Australia saw the recent 4 part ABC series about medical
self-experimentation? I researched the subject myself a while back but
realise now that i only scratched the surface by describing Victorian
Neurologist: Sir Henry Head (for quick reference: Enerson, O.D. (2001)
Sir Henry Head, www.whonamedit.com/doctor.cfm/705.html ) & Australian
Nobel Laureate: Barry Marshall (for quick reference:

Continuing on with the theme of "knowing", as i mentioned in my
introductory post, I became increasingly curious about the way that
something so tiny as cells appear to "know" what to do - my particular
case in point was the cardiac cells that I observed reaching out to
find each other, linking (inter-digitating) and synchronising their
beating. For a novice in the field like myself the words of Frijof
Capra were significant:

'(T)he brain is not necessary for mind to exist. A bacterium, or a
plant, has no brain but has a mind. The simplest organisms are capable
of perception and thus of cognition. They do not see, but nevertheless
perceive changes in their environment – differences between light and
shadow, hot and cold, higher and lower concentrations of some chemical
etc' (Capra, F. 1996, The Web of Life, London, Harper Collins,  p

Returning to my present situation I went back to the 'bee house'
yesterday to see the bees - who appeared to be cleaning their feeding
trays rather than feeding from them - a response that was mystifying
the observer present at that time! I continue to marvel how creatures
with such small brains appear to be capable of such intricacies.
Certainly bees must be a prime example of individual components
functioning in synchrony to create a cohesive whole & I could "wax"
lyrical about them if I let myself... Bees are also an example of
cultural/environmental behavioural differences and adaptivity. One
small current example: it appears that the research group have been
unable to make the Queensland bees angry; even some courageous
researcher banging on their hives hasn't set them off! So, in order to
carry out this particular range of experiments the group have had to
order a hive of aggressive bees from Canberra!

Direct observations of bee behaviours with a view to reinterpreting
them for use in open-systems relating to interactivity are central to
the collaborative "mellifera" project that I am working on with Sydney
based arts & new media researcher Andrew Burrell. We are exploring the
convergent spaces of biology & artifice. Andrew has already created
the project site in Second Life(SL) and we will use our  artistic
interpretations of scientific neuroscience research the expanded
Internet, real-time 3d platforms + interactive installations -
providing a platform for adopting posthuman technologies and modes of
sensory delivery. It seems to me that this is what Michele is
referring to when she speaks of the possibilities of 'moving towards
exploring more open-like systems to engage with audiences' ??

Cheers Trish
Dr. Trish Adams Artist-in-Residence Visual & Sensory Neuroscience
Group, http://www.qbi.uq.edu.au/?page=52793 Queensland Brain Institute
The University of Queensland. http:mellifera.cc http:www.wavewriter.net

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