Brains in a Dish

Brains in a Dish – a major art-science project responding to cutting edge dementia research

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

Brains in a Dish  aims to deepen public understandings of the brain and to find novel new ways to highlight the impacts dementias can have on brain function on a molecular level. Opening up cutting edge research to multiple new public audiences, they also aim articulate some of the powerful ethical questions raised by the use of human tissue engineering techniques.

Over 12 months of their residency, Charlie Murphy and Philip Ball were astonished to witness their skin cells grown and transformed  into functioning braincell cultures by Professor Selina Wray and Dr Christopher Lovejoy as part of their dementia research project at UCL’s Institute of Neurology (supported by ARUK).

Inspired and disturbed by the powerful  cellular transformations and dissolving of biological boundaries made possible with gene editing and stemcell technologies, Charlie and Philip’s learnt first hand about Selina’s research investigating vital differences between brain cell’s growth and degeneration and the dramatic personal implications that these differences can have for wellbeing, cognitive function and life expectancy.

Charlie’s glass sculptures, projection installations,  video works and participatory events respond to the incredible cellular alchemy she’s witnessed, as a small sample of her skin was transformed into functioning neurons. Philip Ball’s many articles and books inspired by this experience have illuminated myriad important insights into the powerful new tools of science and how these are fundamentally changing our understandings of biology.

Charlie uses scientific glassmaking techniques, lab tools and found materials to develop her own interpretations of cellular structures, genesis and connection, her work aims to open up and visualise  complex, abstract science to bring  astonishing and powerful human dimensions back into full view

Animating  the optical , refractive and infinitely maleable qualities of glass with light and colour, she is developing her own playful interpretations of the   microscopic imagery and brain cell activities she’s observed down the microscope. Abstract cellular forms , movements and processes of the lab are enlarged, reformed and melted into new chimeric animation in direct response to some of the profound metaphysical, ethical and personal questions emerging from bioengineering technologies.

Presentations of Brains project work  include Barnsley Museum’s Cooper Gallery (22-23), Royal Institute , Bloomsbury Festival , West Yorkshire Playhouse’s ‘Every third Minute’ Festival Normal?Festival of the Brain (11th – 13th May) 2018, Creative Reactions London ‘Dimensions of Dementia’ (2017),

Charlie &  Selina Wray’s  ‘Neuronal Discos’  have been presented at Cooper Gallery (Barnsley) ,    Royal Festival Hall for (B)old Festival (May 2018) and  Normal? Festival of the Brain Folkestone (2017)

Full project details are at