Made in Roath – Brain Art

Rather belatedly, here is an update of the Science imagery project I devised for the Made in Roath festival, which was shown in the ‘Sho’ gallery near Albany Road, Cardiff. The aim was to take scientific imagery out of its usual context. In the summer of 2011 I contacted Professor Derek jones of CUBRIC research centre at Cardiff University after he responded to a call out for psychologists wishing to collaborate with me.

Professor Jones had devised a method for mapping brain structures that had in many ways surpassed traditional anatomical dissection. These methods produced an array of quite beautiful visual images, some quite literal and others more abstract. After seeing these images I encouraged him to exhibit them out of a science context so that the images could be appreciated for the conceptual and aesthetic beauty, quite apart from their context within Scientific research.

It was important to me that these images were left as raw as possible. I wanted to ask  what the difference was between images that had been crafted through arts research and those that had been created through science research. Essentially what is the difference between conceptual art and scientific/statistical modelling. Of course the intentions are very different, for one the image is the prime concern and the only source of information transfer between viewer and artist. With the other, it is a small part of a much larger research programme, supported by presentations and reports. But, if you did not know which was which, could you tell the difference?

What does this say about ownership and authorship in contemporary art, the value of conceptual art and the role of the artist. Could art be created by mistake or as a side product to a totally different enterprise? The results suggested that maybe it could, although there is still an important role in the selection of images and the instigation of the project/exhibition…

This project has clarified the role of the artist as an originator and manipulator of context. Of course despite my intentions of leaving the data as raw. Professor Jones and his research assistant Silvia De Santis had to resist the temptation to doctor the images. Of course their selection of images and choice of crop brought into play a range of aesthetic choices. These choices would normally have been the territory of the artist, by avoiding these decisions and trusting them to the scientists, I hoped to avoid creating images that were in any way created as art. It may be however, that I have not quite succeeded with this, as the role of the artist was eagerly taken up by the scientists.

Hopefully, there is a lot more work to be done in this area, it may be possible to expand this idea into a funded exhibition blurring the work of artists and scientists. But it might be hard to find more scientists who are happy to have the context of the work so radically changed and even harder to find artists and art venues who are happy with the potential undermining of the role of the artist. Whatever happens this project has been very important in teaching me a number of important lessons about working with scientists and running projects with so many different bodies involved.

Many many thanks to Made in Roath, Sho Gallery, Professor Derek Jones and Silvia De Santis, Cardiff Psychology Department and Ali Roberts.

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About Phil Lambert

Visual artist based in Cardiff
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