Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Brain Art Awards 2012

Last month I entered one of my artworks in the 2012 Brain Art Awards and I was thrilled to be selected for a Special Mention. The theme this year was Life, Pleasures and the Brain, so the artwork I chose to submit was Addiction, based on Dr Adam Hamlin's work with rats and cocaine addiction.

I went along to the exhibition opening night, where I met a number of the other artists, including the major prize winner, Trent Woods. You can visit the virtual gallery showcasing all the finalists and their work here; or join the facebook group to see pics of the exhibition opening night and keep up with more BrainArt Project news.

Thanks to Silvia and Relmi Damiano and the team for all their hard work. It really paid off!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Horses for courses

My recent visit to Charles Sturt University coincided with an experiment being carried out by a PhD student, Briony. She is researching the effects of kisspeptin, a protein that affects hormone production and may be able to be used to better control the breeding cycles of mares. Its whimsical name comes from Hershey's Kisses, because it was first identified in Hershey, Pennsylvania, also the home of the chocolate.

The horses used in this experiment have to have blood taken for testing every few hours, to monitor the levels of hormones. They are implanted with a cannula to make this easier for the scientists and less stressful for the horses. Dr Adam Hamlin greets one of the subjects with a friendly pat in the picture at left.

Briony obviously loves horses and talks gently to them as she works with Adam to take a blood sample.
After spinning the sample to separate the red blood cells from the plasma, the plasma is drawn off and frozen for later testing.

Friday, October 19, 2012

National Life Sciences Hub

I visited Charles Sturt University and Dr Adam Hamlin a week before the opening of the new National Life Sciences Hub, a brand new building for biological science teaching and research in which Dr Hamlin's lab would soon be located.
The teaching labs are hi-tech and gleaming, ready for the first students to come in and scribble their names all over the furniture.
A seating area outside the teaching labs has fabulous views over the canola fields and paddocks north of Wagga Wagga.
Another wing of the building houses the research labs, which have all sorts of hi-tech gadgetry such as confocal microscopes, three separate power systems and a back-up generator for the minus-eighty degree freezer rooms.
Just around the corner from the Life Sciences Hub is the most important building on the campus, the winery, where one can taste and buy Charles Sturt University wine from the cellar door.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Xylene swirls

My recent visit to Dr Adam Hamlin at Charles Sturt University inspired me to create new artworks based on the research Dr Hamlin is currently doing into the neurological effects of rye grass toxins on livestock. The image of slide preparation that inspired this work can be found in this blog post. (You can also see it in the picture at left.)
In the earlier blog post, I mentioned that I was fascinated by the oil-slick rainbows that swirled in the fluid as the fatty cell walls and extraneous matter dissolved off the slides. To try to capture the effect of the light breaking up into all the colours of the spectrum, I really overexaggerated the colours in the image to make them vibrant and contrasty.
Then I mentally divided the image into bands or stripes to create a rhythm of colour and texture. The partially complete work is shown below. Some of the stitches I have used, such as the feather stitch with French knots and the rows of chain stitch, also echo the rye grass that is behind the project. I've worked this one on pale blue silk to represent the blue protective lab coats, and the gorgeous country landscape outside the lab windows, rather than on black as most of my other works have been.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Art and About launch

Last Thursday night was the official launch of the exhibition Within You, Without You: Cells, Blood and Neurons for Art & About 2012. We had a fantastic turn out, with about 60 people crowding into the gallery and spilling into the courtyard where they were entertained by chanteuse Phoebe. This performance was followed by talks by the artists and a video presentation by Dr Adam Hamlin on his Alzheimer's research. The pictures above show, clockwise from top left: Phoebe and Mark perform; some of the guests; Fiona Davies talks about her work; Dr Hamlin's presentation keeping the audience spellbound.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Within You Without You: Cells, Blood and Neurons

This post is a quick reminder for those of you in the Sydney area that the official launch of our Art and About project is on tonight from 6pm at 6-8 Scott Street, Pyrmont. Please come if you can for artist and scientist talks, live jazz music and drinks and nibbles.

Yesterday evening I was sitting on my back deck, looking up at the branches of the jacaranda trees lit by the setting sun. It struck me once again how much repetition there is in nature: this pattern of branching twigs could be like mammary glands in a mouse, or veins in the human body, or neurons reaching out to make connections in a brain.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Oh, Rats!

The title of this blog post is also the title of a recent podcast episode from Big Picture Science. I can highly recommend the episode, which looks at the reasons and ways in which we use laboratory rats to tell us more about ourselves.

The whole Kingdom of the Blind project began with rats, because Dr Adam Hamlin was feeding them beer (apparently they prefer Coopers to VB) and other drugs in his experiments on addiction and desire. When he showed me the beautiful fluorescent images he was making of the reactions in their brains, I was inspired to create embroidery artworks that both replicate the microsope images and explore the meaning of the research.

Dr Hamlin moved on to investigating Alzheimer's disease in mice, and currently he is using mice to learn more about how rye grass toxins affect livestock. I'm still working on embroideries that are based on his research and that of his colleagues.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Toxic Stress

Art and About Sydney is on from now until October 21st, and the Culture at Work contribution is well worth checking out. As well as my own work being on display, Fiona Davies has an installation of her Blood and Silk works and Sherryl Ryan's work on cancer cells covers the walls of a small studio. Visit Scott Street, Pyrmont, to see all three exhibitions.
As well as many of my old works, I've put two new ones on display and will be working to show at least two more during the month of Art and About. One new work is  Communications, based on the work of Associate Professor Frederic Meunier at the Queensland Brain Institute. Toxic Stress, left, is based on the microscope slides I saw in the lab at Charles Sturt University, with Dr Adam Hamlin.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

In the lab at CSU

In my previous post, I mentioned the lab work that Dr Adam Hamlin was doing on the day I visited him at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga. The pictures here are some I took on that day. Dr Hamlin was preparing microscope slides of mouse brain slices, from four mice that had been exposed to rye grass toxins (this isn't part of his Alzheimer's research, it's a new experiment). He showed me the brains stained to mark active neurons, showing stress caused by the reaction to the toxin. Before the slides were treated, there was a lot of "noise" visible under the microscope: squiggly lines of cell walls and other fatty deposits.
The cleaning process involved dipping the slides into a series of baths of ethanol, working up to 100% pure ethanol. The second task was dipping the slides in xylene, a strong solvent that dissolved all the fat and left only the stained neuronsbehind.
This part of the process was fascinating to watch; as the slides went into the liquid, you could actually see the fat dissolving and swirling around. I spent quite a bit of time experimenting with the f-stops and focus on my camera to get a good shot of this (fortunately Adam was doing the slides in batches, so I could have a couple of runs of trial and error). I was quite pleased to finally capture the swirling liquid (see the final two images in the series at right).
After I came home, I processed the best image using Photoshop to exaggerate the colours and lines as the basis for a new embroidery work. You can see the image below, and I'll be working on it at Accelerator Gallery during the exhibition that's part of Art and About over the next few weeks.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Art and about

Things are really gearing up for the Culture at Work contribution to the City of Sydney's Art and About month, which launches on Friday. Accelerator Gallery will be open from 11 am to 5 pm every day, with displays visibile from the street and rear courtyard in the evenings. Please come and check out work by Fiona Davies, Sherryl Ryan and me.

Getting ready for this exhibition, I took the opportunity to visit Dr Adam Hamlin in his new lab at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga. It's a pretty surprising university campus, out in the middle of the state, with kangaroos hopping across roads and pathways. Dr Hamlin's lab is currently located in the Dentistry building, an award-winning architectural design that looks like nothing less than a shearing shed in a bush paddock.
Of course, as soon as you step inside you're suddenly in a hi-tech world, with spacious teaching and research labs and lots of natural light flooding through glass windows. Adam's lab is at the end of a bridge that crosses over the lower level in a glass atrium, and we had to take all the usual precautions: gowning up, washing hands and wearing safe boots and glasses. On the day I visited, Adam was preparing microscope slides of thinly sliced mouse brains using 100% ethanol and something called xylene that is highly flammable and corrosive.
The view outside, however, is amazing.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dr Adam Hamlin's 15 minutes of fame

I spent a couple of days last week with Dr Adam Hamlin at his new home of Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, where he is continuing the Alzheimer's research he began at the Queensland Brain Institute, as well as looking into new fields of research for the future. (I'll post pictures and more information over the next few days.) On Friday, Dr Hamlin was interviewed for a story on the local television news about his Alzheimer's research breakthrough. Click on the picture to watch the video on the Prime 7 website.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I just thought I'd share with you the print that I made in today's Wednesday art workshop at Culture at Work. The classes are on each week at 10.30 am, and cover a range of techniques and subjects. (Visit the website to find out more.) This week's class was printmaking using foam sheets.

I drew the image freehand, based on a photograph that was in today's newspaper. I liked the industrial feel of the steel plates, bolts and spanner because it sits well with a new project I am working on, a series of craft projects in the steampunk style.

Steampunk is a combination of vintage nostalgia and futuristic vision, a way to celebrate the past while we move into an uncertain future. If you'd like to find out more about Steampunk Style, please visit my other blog.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Gaudi and technology

Sagrada Familia 01

If you're interested in the crossover between art and science, you might like to attend a Centre for Human Aspects of Science and Technology (CHAST) lecture entitled: "Antoni Gaudí's Sagrada Família and its role in assisting the art-science dialogue" by Professor Mark Burry, Director of the Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory, RMIT.
The lecture is to be held on Thursday, 24 May 2012, at 6pm in the Old Geology Lecture Theatre, University of Sydney. All welcome. Free admission, no bookings.
Here's part of the blurb from the website:
While the typical image of Gaudí's work is one that focuses on his artistic virtuosity, his handle on technology nevertheless placed him at the forefront of his profession at the time. His approach to geometry, especially in his later years, places him at the forefront of today's architectural practice. In many ways Gaudí was a reactionary preferring to restrict his building repertoire to traditional techniques, but his approach to design required him to innovate regardless. Mark Burry's talk will describe the translation of this design research into coherent building information and will demonstrate how the technological link between this project and its particular needs have actually contributed to cutting-edge design research for contemporary architecture almost nine decades on from Gaudí's death in 1926. It is the unexpected holism of Gaudí's oeuvre that helps support Mark Burry's view that great architecture helps bridge the gulf between art and science thus offering an essential dialogue between the two.
For more information about this and future CHAST events, including an upcoming lecture by Nobel Prize-winning astronomer Brian Schmidt, go to

Friday, March 23, 2012

On Sunday 20 May 2012, a great day has been planned for the celebration of the sixth annual Pyrmont Art Prize. This year the event will be held in Pirrama Park at the old Police Water site on the panoramic foreshore of Sydney Harbour, at the end of Harris Street, Pyrmont. This exciting venue has recently been converted for public use by the City of Sydney.
The day will feature over 300 new artworks on display for the prestigious PYRMONT ART PRIZE, with thousands of dollars in prizes to be won. Official guest speakers and prominent judges have been invited, and a People’s Choice Award will also be presented from the attending public.
Live music and unique performances are always a special feature of the Festival. This year the festival will include street theatre and local talented musicians who will perform all day on stage. This event presented in conjunction with the Pyrmont Festival’s Mudgee wine & food in Pirrama Park. Tickle your taste buds with unique gourmet cuisine and produce direct from Mudgee. Bring your picnic rug and choose from a diverse range of cuisines for lunch and try some of the 120 wines from 30 of Mudgee region's top winemakers.
All artists are invited to enter the art prize, whether they are well known or not and artists are invited to create an art piece for public display and sale. This popular art event has been well attended by the community in past years, and many beautiful, original artworks may be purchased on the day.
  • The theme of the art show is SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL. 
  • All artworks must be 12 x 12 inches in size and canvases can be picked up from TAP Gallery; 278 Palmer St, Darlinghurst.
  • The entry fee of $20/$15 concession includes a canvas (+ $5 for postage, if you want it sent to you)
  • You can supply your own canvas, however it must be 12 x 12 inches for display purposes and the entry fee is the same.
  • Judges Andrew Frost, art critic, writer and broadcaster, and Marlene Sarroff, visual artist and Factory 49 committee member, will judge and award the prizes on the day.
Pyrmont Art Prize
1st: $1,000 cash + free exhibition at the Tap Gallery valued at $680 + Alternative Media advertisement valued at $380
2nd: $500 cash
3rd: $250 cash
People’s Choice Prize
1st: $500 cash + free exhibition at Culture at Work valued at $500 + Alternative Media advertisement valued at $380
2nd: $300 cash
3rd: $200 cash

Enquiries: Tap Art Gallery -- Lesley Dimmick: 02 9361 0440

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Brain coral

I've just noticed that there's an interesting exhibition on at Sydney University's Macleay Museum: Coral: Art Science Life.

Works by four artists explore the beauty and fragility of coral reefs, while four scientists report on their studies in reef ecology. Students from schools in Torres Strait share their experience of living on a reef. Sounds fascinating!

I'll let you know more when I've seen it, or you can tell us what you think after your visit. The exhibition is free, and open weekdays from 10am to 4.30pm or the first Saturday of the month, until August 2012. Click on the link above for more information.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Knitting for your brain

When medical student Alana Noritake designed this cute "brain hat", she probably didn't realise that she was offering more than just a method of keeping your head warm.

It's well known that learning a new skill is a beneficial brain exercise, but this study from the Mayo Clinic specifically mentions crafting, along with reading and socialising, as having a positive effect on the development of mild cognitive impairment as you age.

So buy Alana's pattern from the link above and help her pay her way through college; then get knitting, and you'll be doing two (or three) good things at once!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Growing a brain

It was exciting to read this story in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning, about scientists who can convince cast-off skin cells to turn into brain cells. I'm not exactly clear on whether they have grown actual human neurons in the lab from this process, or just the progenitor cells that might turn into neurons later, but the overall positive message seems to be that it may, in future, be possible to transplant stem cells from the patients own tissue into failing brains and thus counteract the degenerative processes of Alzheimer's and age. The full paper is published in Nature Neuroscience, although you need a subscription to read more than the précis.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Neuroscience of art appreciation

It's an old question: What is art? What is "good" art? Do you love the art because it appeals to you or just because it's in an art gallery? It's not just about beauty, because some of the world's most famous artworks are quite ugly or horrific.

There's also the question of "real" art versus "fakes". Is the art of any less value if the brush was wielded by one of Rembrandt's students rather than the master himself? Does knowing whether a work is authentic add to your appreciation?

The new ABC Radio National show, Books & Arts Daily, recently ran an interview with Professor Martin Kemp about his research with neuroscientists into how the brain responds to "authentic" and "fake" art. Listen here. Fascinating!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Just a drop in the ocean

Click on this link to see some of Hans Maier's amazing new photographs of water droplets. The forms and colours he captures are beautiful and often resemble other shapes that are found in nature. It's another example of the way organic forms are repeated at all scales throughout the universe, from the microscopic to the telescopic and larger.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


When author Suzanne Lee met Dr David Hepworth—a biologist and materials scientist—in 2003, their conversation led to an amazing concept in fashion: one that emerges fully-formed from a vat of liquid.

The raw material for BioCouture is bacteria that spin microfibrils of pure cellulose during fermentation. The resulting layer can be harvested and dried then molded on a 3D form or cut and sewn like normal fabric.

As well as presenting the beginnings of an eco-friendly alternative to synthetic fabric manufacture, the garments Suzanne creates show once again how science and art can intermingle. View the Biocouture blog here.