Illuminating the Self

Illuminating the Self

Show Video

One of the wonderful things and  one of the curses of being an   artist is that you can't stop noticing things. Every day I'm feeding it. My brain. All of  these billions of neurons, all the synapses   are working away on this problem that I have  of coming up with some piece of work in a year   and a half that cements my experience of being  exposed to this project and its technologies. You get led by your sensibility  and that's what's exciting. It's a really interesting thing isn't it? I'm  relying on something that I have no control of   to come up with the solutions. But  know that from past experience it will.

It's going to take a lot of work, a  lot of people, a lot of experimenting.   I'm not even sure I can pull it off. (laughs) The CANDO project came out of an  attempt to try to develop a new   treatment for epilepsy. A combined gene  therapy and brain implant that would allow   suppression of seizure activity in that part  of the brain without damaging its function.

The technology is based on making brain  cells respond to light. Now normally   obviously brain cells don't respond to light  but we can use a gene therapy. We can make   those brain cells express an opsin which  is the same protein that's in your eye.   And now we can get them to respond to light.  So we need to engineer a brain implant   that will deliver light stimulation. And the  principle is that as the brain activity becomes   abnormal, as you begin to start to go into a  seizure, the device is recording that activity,   the light will come on and that will  serve to silence the neuronal population   and hopefully suppress the seizure before  it goes into a full seizure for the patient.

Andrew and Susan have spent some time embedded  with the project having conversations with   researchers and clinicians in the team   and really the artwork is their own  response to the conversations they've had   and the information that they've found. And  it's been very interesting for us to see the   ways that they've taken those scientific  themes and developed them into something   that whilst well sort of relating to that has  really taken the work in in new directions.  We're incredibly early on. I mean we've, you  know, my view with, the practical work has  

started in terms of research. You know almost  it's like not just exploring the optogenetics.   It's exploring another topic where something,  some word or some idea or some process   might think "Oh that overlaps.  What if I mix those two things up?" This is at St Thomas's hospital watching an  epileptic patient having a EEG scan and then,   when I was watching the EEGs they began to go a  bit rogue. And this was when the sort of peaks of   the epilepsy were beginning to happen. So this  is what I would call sort of money in the bank   because I don't know how I'm going to use any of  this. I don't know if I will use any of it but I   can feel a rhythm. Maybe this will feed into the  soundtrack for my work. I don't know. I can just,  

there's something about this that feels very real. It's really interesting, I have lovely days where   I'm, or maybe a couple of hours, where just  the blank piece of paper and your brain and   your thinking, you just spill things out. And  I like to work loosely because then I can have   all sorts of sheets kind of around me, kind of  working things. This was kind of just drawing  

the kind of light maybe going into some hole or  lacuna in the, in the brain and lighting it up. These are photographs from  George Armstrong's collection   of electrical activity and they  are just unbelievably beautiful. You know for a printmaker it's like being  given a pot of gold. Look at that! So I   think about epilepsy maybe this is a sort of  visualization of epilepsy. I will think about   how I can translate and transform but I want  it to have a scientific authenticity on some   level. And also I have to have a human story.  So I don't know where I'm going with it all.  

All I know is that these are marvellous bits  of research and that I'm very excited by them.  Yeah, collections of things of  stencils and ways of working.   Things of putting things together. Some of them  I'm going to repaint onto. This is a piece from   another project. This is, you can see here that  there's nodes. This is the lymphatic system.   I was working with a lymphatic system on  a piece. But maybe for this I'd have to  

work for the nervous system or the, and the  connections in the brain in some kind of way.  I'm starting to organize a very complicated  installation which is going to involve 100   people embroidering and 100 people with epilepsy  giving their testimonies about their condition and   how they live with it. This is my list of clothes  where how many items of each sort of clothing. So   I've got 40 petticoats. This is my ingredients.  20 night dresses, eight pairs of big knickers,   five skirts, eleven shirts and blouses, two  pairs of trousers and one apron. I wanted   this correlation between the testimonies from 100  people and 100 pieces of clothing and then I would   find 100 artists to embroider onto the clothing.  So it has the touch of lots of different people.

I started working with luminescent paints.   Then I thought, well how do you light them?  How do you operate? And I went on Amazon and bought a UV black light to make it  work. And I don't know if you can see this.   It flashes every so often. That's what I like.  You know you go on Amazon, you buy something  

and then you see oh it's affected by sound. Maybe  the light comes on and you see the image when you   hum and continuously have to hum one particular  note. Ooh I quite like that. You see it's like   that, that kind of thing. That might be, that  might be really interesting. So for one work it's,   it's only there if you are making a  noise in a gallery where you'd normally   be respectful and maybe have to be quiet. That's  yeah, that's something. Yeah, kind of like that. I've just had an idea that I want to see if it  will work but I have to get all the elements   together to see if it's possible. The kinetic  element of the sculpture will be not only  

the movement but also when the lights come on it  will be a transformative piece of work. It will go   from being 100 pieces of clothing with embroidery  on them to 100 ghostly pieces of clothing.   I don't know if it's going to work  or not. Something will come of it,   something beautiful will come of it because  the ingredients are so good. I mean you can't,  

you can't, I can't make this go wrong but it  might not be what I think it's going to be.  It's about having an idea or having an object  or producing an object in the world that's like   a thinking point or almost it's like a way of  describing 'I am thinking about this topic in this   kind of way and will you as an audience join me  in this conversation?' And what, and being kind of   open to that significance and finding that thing.  But it's a very, it's a very difficult thing and   I find it extraordinary I have the audacity  to think that I as an individual can do that.   But that's what I've done for 30 years I suppose.  Put, pitched things into the world's ideas.  The ideas of what is being done at the  forefront of science are really ideas   that do cut to the heart of questions  that artists have for a long time   been very interested in. What's going  on in the brain? What is this sort of   first person perspective on the world that is  produced by effectively the coordinated activity   of large numbers of brain cells inside your  skull? So hopefully this will provide a space   for many more interesting and illuminating  conversations to come out of this project. 

Having an artistic insight into a  project and taking an artistic view   can actually be really informative. As  scientists you tend to be very involved   in the science and all the technical details  and you can sometimes forget the bigger picture. I've set up and started on a four projector  video piece that reflects the ideas and the   things that I've kind of embodied. So what I've  been trying to do is make a response. In a way a   kind of embodied response to the things that I've  seen and heard and then making something visual. 

Time is pushing on really and after all of the  kind of research phase, it's, it's really, I   need to kind of make work. I mean traditionally a  lot of the video pieces that I've made can take a   year to produce and now I've kind of got maybe six  months to make one. I've been buying a whole sets   of kind of things that do active things. Sensors  and things that kind of make lights of different  

formats. Some of them will fall by the way. They  they won't work as pieces and that's fine. As   long as I can get three or four things come out  of it that operate. I'll be, I'll be pleased. These are first and second year BA students at  the Royal School of Needlework who are as part   of their course embroidering the testimonies of  people with epilepsy onto pieces of Victorian   underwear. I wanted the testimonies to be sewn  because I felt they would have a very individual   personal quality. And I wanted them to be sewn on  underwear because underwear is hidden underneath   your clothing. Or its night dresses that are  worn in bed when you're not seen by other people.   And epilepsy is something that is a lot of stigma.  It's very hidden. So the idea that these words,  

these testimonies are being brought out into the  light is very important. I want each garment to be   a unique artwork really, and a unique testimony.  Both by the embroiderer, by the person who wrote   it and on the piece of fabric that's been  worn by someone over many years. They have a   history. They have a soul. And it's about them  all being together. I want them to look human.

Hopefully I've got over a big milestone which was  basically kind of getting the first and second   edit of the video out. The videos are constructed  from a series of images that are then converted   into kind of a black and white outline image.  There's scenes of landscapes. The landscape of the   brain and an external landscape. A landscape, a  kind of bucolic, a beautiful landscape that's then   kind of slightly damaged or something happens  and then there's a kind of correction.   There should be this one large video in the  Hatton Gallery shown continuously in a loop and   some kind of sculptures in the background might be  set off by sensors. The notion is that people in   the gallery will not know where the sensors are  and not be able to work with them because the   sensors are going to go dormant for quite a while.  So they might go dormant for five or ten minutes. 

We also have some weather balloons that I've  been drawing on. Again that they will be in a   sort of state of stasis, of settleness,  that will then be disrupted by a fan going   on and one of them blowing up, going off,  and then settling back to kind of normal.  When the fan goes off, I really like the  kind of silence of it and then the drifting   is so like the video and this,  this sense of slow dissolve   that that's maybe more of what I should be talking  about in the work. This kind of coming back to   normal. This hiatus of an epileptic attack almost  happening and then it all coming back to normal.   Yeah I suppose the most enjoyable bit  is when you see a quality in the work   that has a kind of magic about it. You've kind  of realized something and often it's a kind of  

thing that you don't know quite will work and then  it does something that you didn't quite expect. What I first think of is never what it ends up  as. So it changes in the making. And for me the   making process is the real creative stuff. Every  object that I use has to have this sort of meaning   and resonance. I care incredibly about the look of  something, the way it works, the ingredients, what  

I've made it on. And so if any of those elements  aren't right I would be very unhappy to show it. I'm ironing some rather beautiful  Victorian night dresses,   under clothes and christening robes. This  is a Victorian all-in-one with bloomers   and the rather special thing about this is, yes  they are bloomers, but they are crotchless. So,   um, these are the fascinating insights you get  into people's intimate lives in Victorian times.

(hammering noises) I rushed out of the studio   and I've locked the keys in the studio. It's  changed over to being a performance artist. This is not my studio. I've got this  list of other artist studios. I just   break in and use them for  the day when they're away.  Well I'm just setting up the big projection  piece Blue Matter. It'll be a bit longer  

in the gallery but it gives an approximation. I wanted something that suggested a forest and I   kind of always, kind of applying myself to kind of  local things as well. And I was thinking of what I   see in the forest. So I wanted this notion of the  neurons picture to become this arbor. This place,   this forest, in a way. It was a lot of work and  now I've seen it a few times I can't see it anew.   I kind of think in general it's good and I  think when the other pieces are on in the space   and bring the space together,  particularly the laser piece.  So these are all the, uh, well the  three modified lasers that go inside.

So the lasers will go on and off with  the sensor and they'll all come on.  Three, two, one. I think, I think it's   quite interesting how the laser brings  the whole space into play. You know,  

all of the walls and it will go round the columns  and everything. And then there'll be the other two   tubes with different things happening in  them as well. It could be that the pieces   is projected through it in part. I'm just not  sure yet. I think it's a matter of kind of um, you know working it all out.

I've got all the embroidery done. Got the team  together. Got Alan over there working on the   electronics. Will built this frame and made all  the spools for the clothing to hang off and now   it's a matter of putting it all together. Making  sure it works, getting the choreography going.  Each row has five sets of clothing on,  so 10 pulleys, and each row has a motor.   The motors bring it to life in a very particular  way. A slow motor has a very sad sound to it, a   very deep sound, and a faster one begins to sound  like a, must feel like the motion of breathing in   and out. And that's what I want the main rhythm of  it to be. I suppose it's three, three breaths in,  

three breaths out so that the audience when  they're watching it will somehow breathe with   the installation and feel more sort of connected  to it. As a still piece it will be beautiful to   look at but then suddenly they'll start hearing  the noise of the motors and the sort of movement   of the clothes start up and I think, and the  lights will come on and off at that time too. So I   think it will suddenly build up to a crescendo and  then the idea is it to synchronize and have a sort   of seizure and then it will just stop. These sort  of projects, although it's technically my work and  

my idea, only come together through a huge amount  of collaboration. Everybody who comes to work on   the project gets sort of drawn into it and gets  to talk about epilepsy. You know I think that's   one of the things that even amongst the group  is that you know we've discovered we've all got   family members or we know somebody with epilepsy  and it brings you very, very close to the subject. There's a lot of things that come into play  in making a show. There's the ideas and the  

making work and there's the content of it and  then the space in which it's going to go in,   and what does that bring to the pieces of work? I'm showing in this room which is prints and   Andrew's showing his installation  in the dark room next to us.  I'm going to tailor the works to the  space really and it's fantastic that,   you know, been offered this chance at  Vane to show and to do it in this way.  I wanted to work in cyanotype, one because I like  to learn a new technique but mainly because I   wanted to reflect the project which was about blue  light and it was about light changing something. I  

spent a long time with three people with epilepsy.  I'm not a portrait painter, I didn't want to just   either photograph them or paint them, but I wanted  to try and capture something of the problems of   living with epilepsy within the portraits. In 2015 Andrew and I were commissioned   outside of this project to make  some joint work about optogenetics.  It was a kind of exciting collaboration  where I brought some ideas to the situation   and she brought some ideas and playing with  the ideas about the intrusion, the taking in   of the opsin into the cells via a virus, via  a viral vector, and then how that would be   stimulated by shutting down particular cells. They represent, I think, both of our   methods of working in a peculiar way. I mean,  I think you could look at them and see them as  

Andrew's but not quite, and you can look at them  and see them as my work but not quite. And I think   the success came through the collaboration. At Vane the principles and what it's about   are kind of all the same. They're about the  optogenetics project. This way of potentially   altering and controlling epilepsy through  light and affecting neurons in the brain   and calming them down basically. A lot of the  work is interactive and that's been the main   part of it about the notion of works being  sensed and then switching on and switching   off or things happening. A lot of the work  has been and come out of, that kind of,  

the experience of having been, you know, being  embodied in the research for three years. The work is site-specific in  the sense that the gallery space   is incredibly important. It's the most  complicated installation I've ever done   and it's the most exciting piece of work I've ever  done. It's like a sea of brain activity. It's big,   it's dynamic and slightly religious really, sort  of awe-inspiring. The clothes are embroidered so   they have a long narrative going down the front  and this one has beautiful threads hanging down.  

So on the front a whole story and on the  back just one word and this one says bruised.   They're very powerful the one words because I  think sometimes you can say so much in one word.  We've had the most amazing installation team  here at Hatton who have worked flat out to make   it work. I'm moved and overwhelmed by the fact  that although it, you know, I've got my name to   it. It's my work. But the honest truth is that I'm  dependent on a lot of other very talented people  

to bring it together for which I'm enormously  grateful. I've been thinking about what I want   the audience to take away from it and I think  that art unlike medicine can't cure people.   It can open up people's minds to things.  So there's two things I want from the   installation. One is for people maybe  to have a better understanding of the  

experience of living with epilepsy. But also I  want the artwork, it's so monumental and it's   so dramatic, that I want them to be, have a sense  of awe about it really and maybe through that   reaction to the artwork to then come to think  about what the artwork's about and to think about   your brain really and how important it is  to you and what an awesome object that is.  Here at the Hatton we seem to be doing very  well. Technicians are on the job, the screens   are finalized and the projection just to finalize  today. Quite a lot of the pieces I've not had up  

fully or they've been partially up and now it's  like putting them up properly. So in terms of,   you know, how I envisage the show and how it's  come out, I remember now in the early drawings   I had these, these big images of trees and I'd  forgotten about them. But the trees have still   come back into the work and I think it's quite  strange how it's come back to how I envisaged it.

Blue Matter's a large scale video piece projected  onto two layers of black voile and a white screen   at the background. So it has this kind of strange  and eerie spatial effect of kind of falling into   a kind of world of being mesmerized. Where I  live in Winchester and in the surrounding areas   there's a lot of mistletoe and I kind of thought  they were analogous to this kind of epileptic   centre, this focal epilepsy in the brain and they  reminded me of a kind of, something going awry.  

Scientists in a way never have a way of getting  in our brains. We haven't fully conquered that and   one of the ways that we do have of envisaging  the brain or what we're like or how we think   and how we associate things is through artistic  practice. We can make pictures of that that we   see. That we might understand and I think that's  kind of a really interesting aspect of the work.   In the space nobody knows quite where the  sensors are that switch things on and off.  

So there's a sense of, kind of, mystery about,  kind of understanding that relationship to the   sensor that will be in people's brains. Of  not really understanding what goes on and   when it goes on because the algorithm is  set by a group of scientists outside them.   I'm kind of interested in that whole  kind of dilemma or point of interest.  I think when I presented my ideas  to the scientists and they all went   yeah fantastic go ahead with it, I hadn't  really thought it through if I'm honest.   And it's only in these latter stages that I  realize quite what I've taken on. And that's   why without this fantastic collaboration I've had  with everybody it would never be what it is now. 

It represents in a way the science  because the clothing is moving,   it becomes more synchronized. The whole thing  starts to move and then the blue light comes   on and everything is settled and it kind of is  supposed to represent the sort of build-up of   activity in the brain and the onset of a seizure  that is then controlled by the light coming on.  I think Andrew's work is particularly relevant  and interesting to this project because he's   interested in notions of hybridity about  what happens to the self when we think of   biological and medical processes that  perhaps add or remove parts of the body,   play around with what we normally consider to be  the boundaries of the self. I also particularly   like the interactive nature of his artworks  and that really reflects the idea that the   CANDO implant that we're developing is in a way  communicating in both directions with the brain,   sensing patterns of activity in the brain and  then delivering light back to the brain to   change that to what we often call a closed loop  interaction between the brain and the implant.  This is probably the first time that I've  brought the human experience together with   the science in a very poetic and a  very intellectual way. So I'm hoping   that that integrity will show through the work. It's really allowed me the way it's worked to be  

very playful. That playing with stuff, that's what  the Wellcome funding for this and the engagement   money has really allowed. Time and effort into  that. And of course, really appreciated the time   and effort of the scientists to give up their  time for us to be in their labs and to talk   to them and to work with them. It's just amazing  really. It's been a real focus, a very good focus.  It's very complementary to have Susan's work  with the kind of more of the personal experience   from the point of view of patients and then  Andrew's work which is kind of looking more   at the technology and the implications  of that technology. And so I think they  

complement each other very nicely and I think  they're very, very impressive pieces of work. you

2021-02-25 18:42

Show Video

Other news