Perceptions of the Mysterious
Wire, stained glass paint, reclaimed door
For the theme Babel Tower: Culture and Prejudice
Perceptions of the Mysterious is a project that fuses neuroscience, philosophy and literature. Set in the framework of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Perceptions delves into the theme of identity in different contexts – in relation to oneself, to others, and to different worlds – using the human brain as a system for exploration.
At the core of human identity is memory. How much of how we define ourselves relies on what we remember, be it childhood and adolescent memories, old habits, what we had for breakfast yesterday? When human beings acquire mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, does that person stop “being” himself? Do amnesia patients who later regain their memories reclaim their identity, despite possibly acquiring a new one in the time they lost their memories? When a person “descends into madness,” is he losing himself?
Neurons are the building blocks of the brain. Ex vivo, they can be grown as single cells or in clusters. The growth of neurons depends not just on their genome, but also on the environment to which they are exposed, including the other cells around them. This makes the brain an ideal system to explore the thematic concept of identity, as well as the questions that arise from them.
Alice in Wonderland was chosen as the setting because it embodies a person encountering a completely different universe. Wonderland is home to an abundance of insane creatures; it is a demented world, filled with characters that defy “normal” behavior.
Initially, these ideas were explored using pen and ink drawings of the brain. I was inspired by the drawings of Santiago Ramon y Cajal, the Father of Neuroscience, who in addition to being a medical doctor, used his skill in illustration to further his field. In the final installation, I used glass paint, acetate, and wire. Glass paint mimics immunofluorescence staining that is used to observe brain sections and cells under the microscope, and also achieves the effect of “otherworldliness.” It also makes the neurons look as though they are melting. Looking at the installation from the outside, it looks markedly distinct from the world. But as the viewer enters the installation, the effect of the glass paint manifests itself on his body, thus making him a part of that world.