By Jasmine Kuylenstierna
This slightly claustrophobic gallery space at the Friedman Brain Institute of Mount Sinai sets the tone for an intimate experience. And it is really something humanly intimate that's portrayed here: our seat of intelligence, interpreter of senses, initiator of body movement and controller of behavior – our brain – is the focus, and what a vulnerable focus it is. Depictions of tumors and aneurysms are just as beautiful and mind bogglingly complex as prints of healthy tissue, even though the former also tell stories of immense sadness and deception caused by an organ that we are all at the complete mercy of.
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The creators behind the prints represent various disciplines such as pharmacology, medical illustration, neurology, neurosurgery, and psychiatry. Clearly, there are many aspects to the brain worth exploring, many messages to decode and color code, and many different kinds of researchers interested in doing so. For this reason, the inclusion of images depicting brains from other species worked well alongside human brain images, showing the breadth and value of cross-species neuroscience research.
The variety of visualization techniques used to create the exhibition artworks are themselves promising developments that are surely as useful to scientific research and advancement as they are important for bringing new findings and data to a lay general public. While the brain has fundamental general interest to us conscious humans, this exhibition draws you in deeper by showcasing aspects and parts of the brain that are usually hidden. Many of the artworks have accompanying labels with brief descriptions of the significance of each project. This sparked my interest in learning more about the research behind each visual representation created by technological advances, competing for my attention with the fascinatingly intricate artworks.
These artworks reveal much about us - about how our brains can make us or break us. In many ways, the artworks paint a dark picture because they demonstrate just how dependent we are on the functionality of our brains. They also serve as a reminder that oftentimes, it is not up to us to decide what happens inside our heads. We are vulnerable, and that makes us human. Still, there is figuratively and also quite literally some light in these dark prints; color-coded points of light against mostly black backgrounds, floating through space, leading the way. These prints would certainly make for stunning boudoir portraits befitting any space where they can be admired and studied closely, intimate portrayals of us all as they are.
Upon leaving the exhibition I was pleased to learn that proceeds from the sale of prints will serve as a donation to the Friedman Brain Institute’s “Diversity in Neuroscience” initiative, which works to increase representation of women and minority groups in the field. This exhibition makes more voices and talented researchers heard, and seen, as each image communicates a rich story and immense amounts of data. Most of all, this exhibition showcases a lot of promise for ongoing research as well as educational opportunities for members of the public to learn through visually communicated endeavors.
"The Art of the Brain" is on view at the Friedman Brain Institute at Mount Sinai through March 30th 2017. For more information, visit http://icahn.mssm.edu/research/friedman/events/brain-awareness-week.
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