Wednesday, November 16, 2011

One part inspiration

I encourage you to visit the gallery of images from Princeton University's annual Art of Science competition, 2011. You'll be amazed and fascinated to see what comes out of biology, physics and engineering labs.

Thanks to Eugenie Scott for bringing this to my attention.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Communications 6

This scattering of bicone AB green glass beads on silk organza is the overlay for the Communications artwork, which is now almost complete. Below is an image of the two layers together. Next step is to mount the piece ready for framing, then I can add it to the collection.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Communications 5

Finished metallic echo stitching on the Communications background. This mesh of intertwined lines of stitching represents the network of neural pathways in the brain, inspired by research at the Queensland Brain Institute.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Communications 4

Now that I'm happy with the coverage of the background of Communications, I'm using this orange metallic filament to echo the lines of stitching and add a bit of depth. Like many metallic threads, this one can be tricky to work with as it frays, splits and snags. Oh, what one must suffer for art's sake! More pics of the work soon.

By the way, the exhibition is still up in the Accelerator Gallery at Culture at Work for another week and a bit. The gallery is open by appointment, so call Culture at Work on 02 9518 8813 if you'd like to see it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

X-ray art

My friend and frequent inspiration Cherie came to visit the Kingdom of the Blind exhibition, and told me about an artist she'd recently discovered who works embroidery over X-rays. Of course I had to check it out (and you should too). Matthew Cox's idea is to take an internal image and apply a new surface to it. I love this way of looking at the idea of personality and identity.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Communications 3

Yesterday's work on Communications has almost brought it to the stage where I am happy with the network of stitching for the background. I've pencilled in a couple more lines, and I can still see a few gaps to be filled, but it's almost there. I should finish the embroidery today, and may have time to complete the overlay and thus the whole piece on Saturday--the last day I'll be in the gallery (from 2pm to 5pm).

The exhibition will still be up for a week after that, but the gallery will only be open by appointment. I'd love to show you my works, so please call Culture at Work if you'd like to come along next week.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Communications 2

As I'm sitting in the Accelerator gallery each day--in between chatting to visitors who trickle in--I am gradually adding more lines of stitching to the network that will form the background to the new Communication piece based on the work of Associate Professor Meunier at QBI. Here is the work in progress from yesterday. I am enjoying the colours and textures of both hand-dyed and solid colour cottons, lurex threads, silks and braids. The aim is to work up a dense network of lines across the work, then make an organza overlay with bright green beads, similar to the work Neurogenesis after ischemia.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


This is a new piece I've been working on while sitting in the gallery during opening hours this week. It's a privilege to meet everyone who has dropped in to see the show: I've had some really interesting conversations. One visitor shared some details of his father's Alzheimer's disease as he looked at my images of Apoptosis. Yesterday I met one of the victims of the Bali bombing who told me about how she had used art as therapy to help her through seven horrific operations on her leg (she showed me the scar). Please drop in if you can and share your experiences or just say hello!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Opening day, October 29th

Celebrating the exhibition opening...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hanging the exhibition 3

All set up: there's a small bench just inside the door where I can sit and work at my embroidery while the gallery is open, which means visitors can see the process that goes into making my artworks.
The banners are out, ready for the first visitors to arrive. I hope to see you at 6 Scott Street, Pyrmont, one day during the next week.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hanging the exhibition 2

Quite a bit of discussion was required before we could decide exactly where each of the 10 works were to be hung. I'm very lucky that Alexandra was prepared to consider my opinion and offer her own experience and advice on how the art should be displayed. The final result is very pleasing, although you'll have to come and see it for yourself to decide if you agree.

Getting the lighting right took a lot of patience, not to mention ladder-climbing!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hanging the exhibition 1

This week we've been hanging the Kingdom of the Blind exhibition in the Accelerator gallery space at Culture at Work. The exhibition opens on Saturday, October 29th and runs for a week. Here are some photographs of the behind-the-scenes work.
Gallery manager Alexandra Sideris, who scrubbed, spackled and painted the walls in preparation for the show.
One of the works in situ -- watch out for those reflections!
Alexandra and Culture at Work CEO Sherryl Ryan discuss the logistics.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Communications in the brain 2

This gorgeous image is from a study by Associate Professor Frederic Meunier of the Queensland Brain Institute on the way neurons communicate with each other in the brain. Associate Professer Meunier has graciously allowed me to use this image as the basis for a new piece of embroidery. I am already dreaming of the hand-dyed orange silks and luminous green beads that I will use as part of this work.

Unfortunately, it won't be ready for my exhibition next week, but if you come to the gallery during opening hours you might get to see me working on it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Communications in the brain 1

Last week I attended the CHAST Templeton lecture by Joe leDoux, author of The Emotional Brain. He discussed his experiments on the fear response in rats, but I was struck by the way he explained the workings of the amygdala: when the amygdala receives scary sensory input it sends out signals to various parts of the brain that cause reflexes and other actions to kick in. There is lots of communication from the amygdala to the part of the brain that makes you react to fear, but there is barely any communication (in either direction) between the amygdala and the pre-frontal lobe, where conscious thinking takes place. Therefore, leDoux says, it's no wonder that it's so much easier for emotions to control our actions than it is for our reason to control our emotions.

That makes so much sense!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Exhibition: please come!

Last month I mentioned that there will be new Kingdom of the Blind exhibition at Culture at Work opening on October 29th and running for one week.
In case you can't read the invitation above, the exhibition is at 6 Scott Street, Pyrmont. The opening hours are Saturday 29th October and Sunday 30th October, 2 to 5pm; Monday 31st October to Thursday 3rd November, 4 to 7pm; and Saturday 5th November, 2 to 5pm. If you are planning to come to the opening on Saturday 29th, can you please let me know either by commenting below or on Facebook? Otherwise, you're welcome any time.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Nervous 01
I have discovered a site called Spoonflower, where anyone can upload designs for printed fabric. Each week there is a theme, and you can vote for your favourites. The designs that get the most votes are printed and the fabric can be purchased from the site. I did a search using the tag "brain" and it came up with pages of fabric choices, including the one above, called "Nervous" and designed by Chris. Cute!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Golden moments

Thanks to Jessica at Bioephemera, I recently found the work of the amazing artist Greg Dunn, whose paintings of neurons and other brain structures are beautifully juxtaposed with similar works showing tree branches, grasses and other natural forms. I have blogged before about the similarities of natural structures on the microscopic and macroscopic scales, and Greg's gorgeous golden paintings really demonstrate the similarities well.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The emotional brain

The annual Templeton lecture at the University of Sydney next week is entitled "The emotional brain". It's free and open to the public. If you've got a brain and you want to learn more about it, come along.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Experimenting on a human

So far, the images I've used to inspire my embroidered works have been of the brains of smaller mammals like rats and mice. While some of the images supplied by Dr Adam Hamlin and his colleagues have been of living creatures, most of the subjects have been, sadly, deceased. This is a common problem in neuroscience: you can't simply open up a skull and watch the brain at work in vivo. Magnetic resonance imaging is one way of looking at the details of a living brain, although the problem of keeping the subject still for long enough to get a decent amount of detail continues to limit the usefulness of the machines.

When a friend recently had an MRI for medical reasons, I jumped at the chance to perform my stitching experiment on a living brain, and a human brain at that. I am looking at this work as a cross between a very intimate portrait of my friend, and an investigation into understanding the science behind magnetic resonance imaging and what it can show us about the insides of our skulls.

Here's the work in progress.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

When brains go wrong...

Last weekend I attended several events at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. Among many interesting speakers was Jon Ronson, whose latest book is The Psychopath Test: an investigation into the world of abnormal psychology that started when he was asked to follow up a mysterious treatise that had been mailed to a neurologist in London. He was a funny and self-deprecating speaker, presenting himself as a modern-day Jerome K Jerome who, by the time he'd read a few chapters of the psychiatric manual, had diagnosed himself with a dozen mental ailments. He talked about the difficulty of diagnosis in cases of madness and mental illness; he (wisely, I think) steered clear of neurology and concentrated on psychology, which kept the subject approachable but left me wanting to run back to Lone Frank's Mindfield for more information.

I bought the book. The first chapter concludes with this illustration of the title of his Opera House talk: Psychopaths Make the World Go Round.
"Aren't you struck by how much action occurred simply because something went wrong with one man's brain? It's as if the rational world, your world, was a still pond and Petter's brain was a jagged rock thrown into it, creating odd ripples everywhere."
You can also see a clip of an interview with Jon Ronson by ABC television's Leigh Sales here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

News and newsletter

The latest newsletter from Culture at Work is out, and it contains an announcement of a new Kingdom of the Blind exhibition opening October 29, 2011.

I've just sent four new works to the framers, inspired by Dr Adam Hamlin's gorgeous images of rodent brains and research into the birth and death of neurons, as well as some of his earlier work on addiction and dreaming. Another new work, inspired by a QBI bookmark featuring an image of cell birth by DanaKai Bradford, is also included in the show.

The works will be for sale, and I'm hoping to have a book of photographs of the works available too. Keep your eyes on the blog or subscribe to the newsletter for more information closer to the opening date.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sea creatures

From the New Yorker magazine.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Watching Europa

I'm pretty busy with another project at the moment but staying in touch with Culture at Work via the newsletter. Fiona Davies's work with silk fibre and red dye is amazing, as was the interesting presentation she made with Dr Peter Domachuk, whose work with silk biomedical implants is definitely something to watch in the future.

In the meantime, I can't resist sharing a new combination of art and science with you. Last year I discovered the ethereally haunting music of Peter Miller's Perpetual Ocean project, including a series of six one-hour compositions called Strangeness + Charm.

Peter has just started up a new project called Scribbletronics, and his first artwork in progress is the amazing Watching Europa. It's an imaginary exploration of the possibility of life in the oceans on Saturn's water-covered moon. Here's a thousand words to describe it:

Wow! (Okay, a thousand and one words.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011


At the recent Artist and Scientist talk at Culture at Work, I met Beth Josey. She's a friend of a friend, a scientist who works in heart research and an artist. Her latest exhibition, at Hardware Gallery in Marrickville, Sydney, is great.

Stark black and white linocut prints of normally colourful subjects such as Easter lilies and redback spiders explore the counterintuitive relationship between beauty and toxicity. Really worth checking out.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Brain Art Unconference

Starting in two days is the first annual brain art exhibition and unconference in Sydney. Featured artist Julie Doye and other young artists will be exhibiting their brain art, while the unconference includes sessions on thinking, feeling, creating, loving and living with your brain.

Visit the website for more details, or visit the exhibition at Global Gallery, 5 Comber Street, Paddington.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How evolution (doesn't) work

Last night my son and I were discussing the fact that, in general, women seem to sleep more lightly than men and speculating that this might be an evolutionary development because women need to wake during the night to care for a baby. Max wondered whether that will change in the future, now that men – in some cases – take more responsibility for night-time child care (although biologically they still can't do all of it).

This led to a discussion about evolution, and how adaptations aren't necessarily the best possible way of dealing with a situation, but only the most successful way of surviving. And here's a case in point:

An article in Scientific American reports that researchers have found a protein in the brains of mice that inhibits long-term memory formation. This protein is also, apparently, found in humans. The researchers knocked out the gene for the protein in some mice and found that the knockout mice were smarter than their normal peers. (Sound familiar?) Note that the researchers are not sure about any possible negative side effects of knocking out this protein yet, so Charlie is still working in the bakery for now.

This raises a question: why would we evolve to produce a protein in our brain that makes us dumber? The answer is that evolution happens more or less at random, not with any intention to design the best possible human being. Of course, being smarter would be better for our survival, but being as smart as we are has worked well enough to be successful. Until now.

Algernon and Charlie's (fictional) experience notwithstanding, my next question is, where do I sign up to knock out my dumbing-down genes? As I get older, I need all the help with my memory that I can get.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Music in your genes

Here's an interesting combination of art and science: gene2music. Hear the rhythm of the gene sequence for Huntington's disease, or the song that allows E. coli to break through a bacterial membrane. Sheet music is also provided.

For those with a little musical knowledge, you can read a description of how it's done.

Thanks to Leslie Cannold for drawing my attention to this.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Floods at University of Queensland

The map below from shows the St Lucia campus of UQ, Brisbane, at the height of the recent floods. The Queensland Brain Institute is, fortunately, on higher ground than some of the recreation areas and older buildings on campus (you can spot the QBI just above the green sports field at the centre bottom of the map). Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the floods in Brisbane, and I encourage you to make a donation to the Premier's Disaster Relief Appeal if you want to show your support.

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