Friday, April 30, 2010

Apropos apoptosis

This is the finished triptych of works based around the death of cholinergic cells in the forebrain.


The chaotic stitching of the dying cells was the last to be completed, just in time for the showing of the work at our Tuesday Talk on May 4th.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Art, Think & Play


This coming Saturday, May 1, 2010, I'll be participating in the weekly Art, Think & Play workshops at Culture at Work. If you're in Sydney and you have children who might be interested in making art about brain cells, bring them along! Call 9518 8813 to book.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

More brain art

A picture in this morning's newspaper alerted me to the installation of a giant neuron on the lawn outside the Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay. The artwork by Roxy Paine is to be part of Sydney's 2010 Biennale, opening on May 12th.

If you're passing the MCA at Circular Quay, you won't be able to miss the giant stainless steel brain cell. I'll post a picture as soon as I get a chance to go myself.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Alien brain


I took this picture of the thread tails on the back of the almost-completed artwork of axonal connections in a mouse brain. Eerie! Do you see an alien staring at you, or perhaps a tribal ceremonial mask? Think of it as a Rorschach test and explore your psyche.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Our beautiful sun


This gorgeous ultraviolet image of the sun was NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day on Friday last week. I think it will make a wonderful subject for a future science embroidery artwork. I'm already dreaming about the delicious blue–green silk threads I'll need.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Saturday, April 24, 2010


This week's progress on the chaotic work representing apoptosis of cholinergic cells in the forebrain. The blank spaces will eventually be filled, although I really like the way the unstitched areas stand out like land masses on a globe. It's given me inspiration for a future work on another subject....

Friday, April 23, 2010

Temporary frames




Since I don't have time to have any of the works properly framed before showing them on May 4th, I've come up with the above solution to the problem of how to display the works. Inexpensive wooden embroidery hoops make great temporary frames for the round works, which are approximately 15cm (six inches) diameter. Placing the screw mechanism at the top gives a great place to hang them on hooks or using fishing line.

For the problematic double-layered work shown here, I've placed the opaque fluoro stitching work in a hoop, then laid the sheer organza beaded layer upside down in another hoop (so the inner hoop is on top rather than underneath). I've used temporary adhesive to glue the edges of the organza fabric to the outside of the hoop, and that's why there's currently a third hoop around the outside, to hold the fabric in place while the glue takes (I hope!).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Using your brain

Do brain-training games really work? Ed Yong, at Not Exactly Rocket Science, reports on a recent British study that says not. Or not necessarily. His assertions require brainwork to understand, and there is some dispute in the comments about the interpretation of the data as well.

Grow a few neuronal connections by reading it for yourself, and adding your two cents worth to the comments too, if you are so inclined.

A pretty picture

This morning the city was covered by a blanket of fog creeping in from the harbour, and my polarised sunglasses turned the shrouded sun into a lovely bright disk in the sky. This is how it looked in Scott Street, Pyrmont, at about 8am.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Works in progress

With the date of our public talk and showing of my work fast approaching (have you put May 4th in your diary?), I am starting to feel the pressure to complete some more of my pieces. Yesterday household responsibilities kept me out of the studio, so I thought I'd show you the progress I've made so far on the series of works based on images showing apoptosis (cell death) in the forebrain in Alzheimer's disease. (Click on the links below to see the original images from Dr Adam Hamlin that these embroideries are based on.)

This work is a depiction of healthy cells with their even distribution and strong connections. Notice how the small running stitches, even though they travel across the work in random directions, are in nice orderly lines, and the French knots are neatly connected by the long, straight stitches. This work represents complexity and order.

In this partially stitched work, I've tried to represent the chaos of the dying cells: when it's finished, the randomly scattered seed stitch will fill the spaces around the disconnected French knots and straight stitches.

The final image features a few lonely neurons in a sea of emptiness, so I kept the stitching to a small strip across an otherwise bare piece of fabric. This work is a requiem to brain function, although it allows some hope by the fact that the remaining cells are connected and orderly once again.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thinking machines

Despite beginning with the Cogito of Descartes, an article in today's Sydney Morning Herald about a Thinking Machine does not herald the rise of autonomous robot armies. It does, however, raise some interesting questions about the nature of thought, the mind and art.

Performance artist Stelarc sees his creation as an extension of the human:

"We seamlessly float between functioning as physical bodies and also functioning using technology," he said. "We're accessing information in the human body with a multiplicity of machines and the body is increasingly functioning via wireless and the internet. We're functioning beyond the boundaries of our skin and the space we inhabit."

Taking the next step from this machine that can respond to our questions, recent developments in information technology have suggested that the future may offer the chance to have direct internet access in your head without the need for a mechanical interface such as a computer. When we can download the entirety of human knowledge in our brains, will we know everything?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Brain atlas

While the images at brainmaps.org of frozen, stained and sliced brains are just interesting shapes and textures to the non-neuroscientists among us, it's fun to compare the brains of various creatures, from Mus musculus, as seen in Dr Adam Hamlin's slides on the right, to Ornithorhynchus anatinus (aka the platypus).

Or perhaps you'd like to compare the human brain to that of a goldfish.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

More podcast recommendations

Last week I was sitting in the Culture at Work studio, making French knots and listening, as usual, to my favourite science podcasts on my iPod. The Skeptic Zone is an Australian podcast promoting science and reason, and its host, Richard Saunders, asked people to let him know what they like to do while they are listening to the podcast. I think making embroidered brains while I listen is a pretty unique activity!

Dr Adam Hamlin was interviewed on The Skeptic Zone podcast in December last year. You can hear the interview in episode 60 here.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Embroidery and science


A few years ago when I did my moon map embroidery, I started a flickr group called Embroidery and Science. I haven't looked at the group images for a while, so when I did a quick search on the word "brain" I was pleased to see that there are a few examples that fit the bill (including some of my own images). One contributor, Arlee, is a textile artist from Canada who has had an exhibition called The Artist's Body. That's her brain image above, and you can see more of her past and current work on her blog.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Science & Art


Come and hear about the science behind the art.

Life of the mind

The Sydney Writer's Festival is on in May, and there are two events that might interest local readers of this blog: Brain Wave and Mindfield. Both feature Danish neurobiologist Lone Frank, author of the book Mindfield, which has just been added to my reading list.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Double trouble III

This is the double-layered work featuring fluorescent threads that I have been working on. You may remember that I described an image shown to me at QBI by Lavinia, Dr Adam Hamlin's PhD student who is researching neurogenesis after ischemia in mice. The new cells were marked with a green fluorescent protein, while other structures were marked with a pink fluorescent marker and imaged separately. When the two images were laid over each other, the relationship between the new brain cells and the brain activity became clear.


The stitching of this piece is now complete, although the framing of both layers for display is a problem my brain is still working on. The beads are stitched onto the organza layer with invisible thread, although it's not completely invisible in the close-up image below:

Steampunk brain art


Lisa Black is a sculptor from New Zealand whose quirky artworks feature skulls, bones and stuffed animals combined with steampunk-style mechanical inserts. It's an interesting comment on how the body is like a machine (and how it's not).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A matter of scale

Here is a microscope image of cells in the forebrain that regular readers of this blog have seen before:


And here is an image of a simulation of the large-scale structure of the universe from the Millennium Run, in which a supercomputer tracked billions of virtual particles as they interacted, to see how galaxy clusters and superclusters form:

Monday, April 12, 2010

An Alzheimer's love story

On Saturday morning I read a lovely article in the Good Weekend magazine, about the author of a new book revealing how Alzheimer's disease impacted her family. Vivienne Ulman's memoir about her father's devotion to her mother as she battled the disease promises to show the ups and downs of the disease's progress and apparently pulls no punches. I haven't read the book, but I was interested and impressed by the human stories revealed in "The Two of Us" interview.

I also watched a documentary about the emotional brain, and was struck by something that was said by the wife of a stroke victim – who had lost his ability to process and express emotions: "You have to hold a funeral for the person you married," she explained, "and learn to love the person you brought home from hospital."

The human capacity to go on loving, when all hope is gone, is amazing. There is comfort in thinking that, as researchers like Adam learn more about how the brain works in these situations, there will be more to offer in terms of prevention or cure of such devastating losses.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

More brain art

My friend Ian recently sent me this image of one of his paintings, Beelzebub:


Beelzebub is painted in heavy impasto on a 3 x 4 foot craftwood panel, (c) Ian Saxby 2009.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Carpet brain III

I am really enjoying the stitching of this piece.









The repetitive rhythm of making the knots, combined with the delicious colours, is quite invigorating.





Don't you just want to eat the little sweeties?







Thursday, April 8, 2010

Double trouble II

I have bought some black organza for the transparent layer of this work in progress. Having marked out the circular shape, I painted around the outside of the circle with clear nail varnish to prevent fraying when I trim it to shape. I am still not sure how to construct the piece so that the organza layer is removable: perhaps I will mount it on a wire ring like this embroidery hoop and stitch it to the main piece at a single point on the edge of the circle.

With the public lecture and exhibition on May 4th creeping up quickly, I really need to decide how I am going to display all of the works I have made. I don't think sticking them to the wall with adhesive tape is going to cut the mustard!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Works in progress

This week I worked on three different embroideries-in-progress, including the one below, based on the images of cholinergic cells in the forebrain. This is one of those works that I imagine will go on indefinitely until I run out of time or thread.

To improve learning and memory while I stitch, I listen to science podcasts on my iPod, which you can see in the background of the photo at left. Look out for more recommendations for good listening in future blog posts, or tell me about some podcasts you like so that I can listen to them while I stitch.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mandelbrot set

This isn't really on topic, but it's lots of fun: check out David Joyce's Mandelbrot set explorer and have some fun making pretty fractals on your computer screen.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Double trouble

I had stopped working on this fluorescent embroidery because I didn't like working with the rayon threads and couldn't really see where it was going as an artwork.

When I was at the Queensland Brain Institute, Dr Adam Hamlin's PhD student, Lavinia, showed me some images she had made of cell birth and growth in the dentate gyrus of a mouse that had had a stroke (ischemia). She had tagged the newborn neurons with a green fluorescent marker and other structures nearby with a pink fluorescent marker, then taken two images, one showing the green fluorescence and one showing the pink fluorescence. When the two images were overlaid, it was easy to see the relationship between the newborn neurons and other activity in the brain.

With this in mind, I went back to my fluorescent embroidery. Once I've finished the knotted loop stitch, I plan to add an overlay of tulle or sheer organza with hot pink seed beads scattered all over it. I'm trying to figure out how I can make the overlay removable when I display the work: perhaps some kind of a double frame will be the answer.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Ego Tunnel

Here's another podcast to add to your listening list: Ginger Campbell's Brain Science podcast. The March 9th episode features an interview with Thomas Metzinger, a philosopher with an interest in the philosophy of mind, about his new book The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self, which I've just added to my reading list.

Ginger Campbell is a doctor in general practice, not a neuroscience specialist, but her medical background and friendly bedside manner makes her podcast informative and entertaining.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Carpet brain II

This is the first day's work on my mouse brain embroidery based on the December 2010 image from the Queensland Brain Institute's calendar. I'm working the French knots in different sizes: some with four, three or two strands of cotton and with varying numbers of wraps from two to five. The larger structures were stitched first in padded satin stitch. Next, I started laying down the main lines and blocks of French knots. Some of the knots are worked in a single colour, but I'm finding that mixing strands of two colours is producing a variegated look that matches the colours of the original image more closely.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Change your mind

An interesting article in today's Sydney Morning Herald about brain plasticity, neurogenesis after stroke and the existence (or not) of the immutable "self".

Museum of Fabric Brain Art

I'm not the only one making textile art about brains. Visit the Museum of Fabric Brain Art's website to see what some other textile artists have created. The website warns that the images are not to be used for research purposes:
While our artists make every effort to insure accuracy, we cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of using fabric brain art as a guide for functional magnetic resonance imaging, trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, neurosurgery, or single-neuron recording.

Thanks to Curator Bill Harbaugh and Artist Marjorie Taylor for permission to reproduce the image.