Brains in a Dish – An artists response

Cerebral section, 2018, coloured borosilicate glass

Brains in a Dish – growing the stuff of thought..

(see also www.brainsinadish.org )

Over the course of their Wellcome Hub residency, artist Charlie Murphy, science writer Philip Ball, BBC medical correspondent Fergus Walsh and clinical neurologist Professor Nick Fox have been directly participating in a pioneering molecular research project led by Dr Selina Wray at UCL’s Institute of Neurology which investigates how the brain works and how different dementias function on a cellular level.

Envisaged as a novel strategy to open up and share a diversity of perspectives on this groundbreakingarea of research with wider public audiences, this project aims to find new ways to deepen public understandings of the brain, the impacts dementias can have on brain function on a molecular level and articulate some of the powerful ethical questions and implications raised by rapid advances in these human tissue engineering techniques.

Charlie is developing new glass sculptures, projection installations,  video works and participatory events which respond to the incredible transformation of a small sample of her skin into functioning neurons-  ‘in vitro’ and as three dimensional ‘organoids’. See www.brainsinadish.org 

Above shows a selection of studies for neurons’ 2016-18, created with hand drawn borosilicate glass. Charlie is also developing a series of videos (skin to mind (chapters 1-3)) which  invite you on the journey of her cells  to discover the vital differences between growth and degeneration and consider the dramatic personal implications that these differences can have for wellbeing, cognitive function and life expectancy.

Creating an ongoing series of visual responses to her cell cultures, Charlie interpretations of their intricate morphologies use scientific glassmaking techniques, lab tools and found materials to bring tactile, visceral and personal dimensions to what often appear very abstract and remote scientific phenomena.

Her ‘LOMU cell line’ projection installations combine hand drawn and coloured borosilicate sculptural elements with found materials – utilising their optical and refractive qualities to present playful interpretations of the microscopic imagery she observes as her skin cells are gradually being grown into 2 and 3d cultures by Dr Selina Wray and Phd researcher Christopher Lovejoy in their dementia research lab at UCL’s Institute of Neurology.

Charlie’s response to the ‘Brains in a Dish’  brings a diverse range of perspectives to this important area of dementia research and aims to raise some of the profound metaphysical, ethical, legal and personal questions which accompany the use and implications of these cell technologies.

Inspired by their dialogues with lab staff and members of Rare Dementia Support groups, the Brains team are developing a wide range of responses and collaborations to inform and encourage debate on the profound metaphysical, ethical, legal and personal questions raised by this rapidly expanding field .

Following a successfull series of events, publications and presentations developed during their residency for festival, gallery, museum and literary contexts (supported by their Wellcome Hub award) , the Brains team now plan to expand and upscale their activities to engage larger audiences in this work both nationally and internationally.

Recent presentations of this work in progress include  the Royal Institute and at UCL’s Hub space  at  Bloomsbury Festival , West Yorkshire Playhouse’s ‘Every third Minute’ Festival Normal?Festival of the Brain (11th – 13th May) 2018, Creative Reactions London 2017 event  ‘Dimensions of Dementia’

Charlie & Dr Selina Wray’s  ‘Neuronal Disco’  has been presented at South Bank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall as part of their (B)old Festival in May  2018  and at Normal?Festival of the Brain 2017..please see this page for more details