Neuroscience Meets Visual Art and Sound
Friday, 6 July 2012
Where: Devereux Pub, The Devereux, 20 Devereux Court, Temple, London WC2R 3JJ
We had the pleasure of welcoming a trio of collaborators for our cross-disciplinary pub discussion in July 2012.
In 2010 neuroscientist Hugo Spiers, sound designer Tom Simmons and artist Michaela Nettell developed an audio-visual installation to explore ways in which networks of brain cells recall memories.
When a memory is created activity patterns in the neurons become inscribed in their connections, leaving a trace known as an engram. It is thought that during recall this trace is restored and the original activity pattern re-established. This process is known as 'pattern completion' and is believed to occur in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. During the pattern completion process the initial activity of the brain cells is incoherent, but via repeated reactivation the activity pattern is pieced together until the original pattern is complete. Sometimes this process fails, leaving us unable to bring elements of the past to mind.
The installation applied this process to the recollection of place, using sound recordings and photographic sequences captured in forests as catalysts for the staging of associative memories and perceptions. Images and sound recordings of the forest were fragmented, shuffled and projected into constellations of suspended glass spheres, their arrangement determined by an auto-associative algorithm based on the processes that are thought to underlie pattern completion. Gaps left in the images and sounds were used to trigger new journeys of the mind; using spaces between spheres to suggest new patterns to be completed and new memories and associations formed.
For this salon, Hugo, Tom and Michaela introduced the scientific and creative ideas behind the work, the processes explored through their collaboration, and the ways in which the installation has fuelled their subsequent practice and research. Focusing on the conceptual and sensual aspects of the installation they discussed why recordings of pathways and forests were important, and how the materiality of the installation relates to the ephemeral and fleeting nature of memory. They also expanded on the neuropsychology of Pattern Completion, bringing this up-to-date with reference to recent research.
About the Speakers:
Hugo Spiers is a neuroscientist and lecturer at University College London. His research is concerned with how we use our brain to remember the past, navigate space, and imagine the future. He has collaborated with a number of artists. www.ucl.ac.uk/spierslab
Tom Simmons is a Senior Lecturer and Research Coordinator at Norwich University College of the Arts. His work focuses on ways in which we perceive and experience sounds and animated moving images through creative practice and text. www.tom-simmons.net
Michaela Nettell creates videos and installations that explore the potential of projection techniques to affect relations of space, optics and memory. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and screened at festivals throughout Europe and the US. www.michaela-nettell.com
Image from Pattern Completion Courtesy of - Hugo Spiers, Tom Simmons and Michaela Nettell, 2010