This is your brain on art.
BY: Various participating artists of the Brain Project
INSTALLATION: June 2016
Why leave it to neuroscientists to capture and interpret the complexities of the human brain? That seems to be the spirit in which the Brain Project, a large-scale art installation mounted by Baycrest Health Services, was conceived.
A hundred brain sculptures designed by artists are scattered all over the city as part of a collective effort to provoke discussion on brain health and aging, and to engage younger generations.
“It’s become apparent that most people have had somebody in their lives who has been touched by [dementia or Alzheimer’s] in some ways,” says Clara Halpern, one of the project curators. “It’s really wonderful the way everyone has contributed so generously to the project, to see how much time and thought they put into their contributions.”
Artists only had to follow bare-minimum instructions: work within the specified dimensions (two feet by 1.5 feet) or with a prefabricated template. The brain’s surface was theirs to mine and decode.
There’s a spectacular range of representations, made with unconventional materials: a brain studded with tiny mirror fragments in mosaic form, a networked brain fittingly depicted as a 3D-printed digital rendering, one constructed with Lego blocks, another melded from rusty hammer heads. Each has been layered with the artist’s’ personal interpretation or connection to mental health issues.
Halpern’s personal favourite? Miyoshi Kondo’s “Synaptic Seedlings,” plucked from fruit seeds—such as avocado, cantaloupe, cherry, and olive pits—by the artist and her community, just outside of Wolfville, N.S.
“Where we live is a compromise between town and country,” says Kondo. “We have five acres of land, which is enough for us to roam and inch towards subsistence farming.”
The seeds were collected over the course of several months, on what Kondo said was the off chance her proposal would be selected by the project curators.
“There were some really creative approaches to materials,” says Halpern, who helped sift and select through proposals. “That was something I was really struck by.”
Word quickly spread among family, friends, and at her children’s school that she was saving pits for “Synaptic Seedlings.” Kondo was also forced to get creative with her collecting to cover the brain’s surface. She ate plenty of “discount cantaloupe,” reached out to friends who run a cafe, and approached a sushi restaurant about saving avocado pits.
“I don’t think he really understood what I was doing, but the sushi chef kindly saved all his avocado pits for two nights, which amounts to about half of the pits on my brain,” she says. “…The search for seeds opened up an unexpected component of community involvement and contribution to the project.”
There’s a logic to where the brains are strategically placed; most are concentrated in high-traffic areas like Nathan Phillips Square to maximize the visual impact, while others, like “Synaptic Seedlings,” are found in serene pockets of the city like the Evergreen Brickworks and respond to their environment.
Widely dispersed, the brains are encased in plexiglass and will be around for months to come, or until the end of August, before the winning designs are auctioned off.