Cardiff is home to one of the country’s most prestigious neuroscience institutes, the Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Center (CUBRIC) a powerhouse of brilliant minds and cutting edge technology that aims to bring together world-leading expertise in brain mapping with the very latest in brain imaging and brain stimulation.
Their goal is to “understand brain and behaviour in health and disease through advanced imaging and cognitive methods” – but they also extend their work beyond the walls of the lab and into the realm of the studio.
CUBRIC commissioned three artists, of which I was one, to create “artsci” works that celebrate and reflect the research and images they produce. Through various mediums, each artist produced works inspired by the work of brilliant researchers, who collaborated with every artist to help them appreciate and communicate specific scientific concepts.
My work, a project we titled NEW SIGNALS, is finally complete. I would like to thank all the collaborators I had the pleasure to work with:
- Dr Leandro Beltrachini, Brain Imaging Group, School of Physics and Astronomy
- Professor Kevin Murphy Wellcome Trust Career Development Fellow,
- Dr Emma Tallantyre, Clinical Senior Lecturerin the Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neuroscience in the School of Medicine
- Alex Goodall of the Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust
I also had awe-inspiring exchanges with Fabrizio Fasano, Collaboration Scientist at Siemens Healthineers, advice from CUBRIC Ying Lin, Wellcome Trust Strategic Award WTSA and CUBRIC Project Manager and feedback and encouragement from the Director Professor Derek Jones of CUBRIC
These are the results of two years of research, collaboration and inspiration completed last year May 2018...
150cm x 180cm
Acrylic on Canvas
Collaborators: Dr. Leandro Beltrachini and Dr. Kevin Murphy
Professor Matt Griffin, Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy, recommended Dr Beltrachini and Dr Murphy to work with me for my NEW SIGNALS project. “It is interesting, the possibility of immortalising the alliance between Physics and CUBRIC in an artistic way,” commented Dr Griffin. As I had been commissioned recently by the School of Physics and Astronomy for 'Infinite LIGO Dreams' it was natural to carry on the connection.
Dr Beltrachini, Professor Murphy and I decided to create an artwork combining images from electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG), magnetic resonance imaging (MRi) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTi) to celebrate their research. We also discussed epilepsy; Dr Beltrachini explained how he creates simulations that can more accurately predict where an epileptic seizure will start in the brain. These discussions with Professor Murphy and Dr Beltrachini inspired me to incorporate images of blood vessels, tractography, eigenstates and EEG into the artsci work.
Lightbox with transparent digital Artsci work
594mm x 841mm
Collaborators: Dr Emma Tallantyre and Alex Goodall
Working with collaborators Dr Emma Tallantyre and Alex Goodall, an intern from Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust, we decided to create an 'artsci' work that expressed the forms and structures derived from the DTi and tractography images produced by the 3T MRi Connectome scanner. All these images are produced as a range of views – axial, sagittal and coronal - of so-called “Regions of Interest” (ROIs) in the brain. Emma, Alex and I chose each image with the aim of giving our audience insight into the beauty of tractography.
Emma suggested we use images of the corticospinal region, which in the brain branches into the corona radiata, internal capsule, fornix, and corpus callosum. I suggested we also use images of the cingulum and tallantyre, which I found to be aesthetically pleasing. In the end, we decided to merge images of the fornix and cingulum together. Aided by Goodall’s expertise with the programme ExploreDTi , we created three sets of stunning tractography maps.
36 inches by 24 inches
Oil on canvas
At the beginning of my work on NEW SIGNALS, I was invited to visit CUBRIC as the building neared completion to attend the arrival of a 40 ton 7 Tesla MRi Magnet being craned into the new building in the summer of 2016. This became the first of several artworks for, NEW SIGNALS. Cardiff University produced a video documenting that day, featuring sketches and paintings I produced afterwards.
100cm by 70cm
Acrylic on canvas
Braintree is an integration of everything my collaborators had shared with me over two years, and an outpouring of all my experiences through the medium of paint. It was completed towards the end of this project and for me it is a visual conclusion to how I have absorbed their research and integrated their ideas into my own work – and how I understand how we experience our existence.
In 2012 Professor Derek Jones team at Cardiff University’s Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC) offered to scan my brain. Following the scan I had my first look at Diffusion Tensor imaging (DTi). In bright spectral colours, neuroscience seems to give use the blueprints we need to draw the architecture of the mind. I was hooked.
I feel that the freedom of artistic expression allows us to give form to cognition, using the smallest vibration and most detailed structures within us as source material. In this vein, I think of the words of Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944):
It is never literally true that any form is meaningless and ‘says nothing’. Every form in the world says something. But its message often fails to reach us, and even if it does, full understanding is often withheld from us. And, properly speaking, form is the outward expression of this inner meaning.
- The language of Form and Colour : Concerning the Spiritual in Art
Upon seeing a diffusion tensor imaging (DTi) scan of my brain for the first time (represented in “Saggital Self Portrait”), I wondered about the relationship between the real structures within the brain, and the pure abstract expressions that Kandinsky is concerned with. In his painting 'Picture With White Border', I personally can see a sagittal view of the brain, with many structures recognisable within.
Is there a relationship between 'Picture With White Border' and my painting 'Sagittal Self Portrait 2013'?
Did he mirror his mind on canvas? As he put it, ‘Is form an outward expression of inner meaning?’
NEW SIGNALS does not attempt to answer these existential questions. But these existential ideas form part of my journey and creative process.
I chose Zoe Cormier, an author and science writer , to be the face to represent MINDSCAPE.
Cormier has a minor form of epilepsy, and Dr Leandro Beltrachini’s research at CUBRIC involves creating mathematical models to improve the medical care of epilepsy. I therefore took the view that Cormier would be an interesting person to speak to about how her seizures colour her experiences of the world.
I travelled from Cardiff to London to gain insights into her perspective. You can see my sketches of her on the NEW SIGNALS image page and here.
These are visual expressions of how she describes her seizures: “It feels as though the connection between myself and my personality is severed. I can’t remember having ever been happy or imagine being happy ever again.” I incorporated the visual data provided by Dr Leandro Beltrachini and Dr Kevin Murphy with Zoe’s perspective in mind. The outcome: MINDSCAPE, a multi-layered landscape of the mind that depicts EEG recordings, tractography maps, MRi machines, and the structure of blood vessels.
My collaborators and I decided to celebrate tractography – a method of mapping the nerve cell tracts in the brain by measuring the movement of water molecules as they travel along neurons - with my CUBRIC collaborator, Clinical Senior Lecturer in the Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neuroscience at Cardiff University Dr Emma Tallantrye.
We arranged to extract tractography data from the 3T MRi Connectome using the 'ExploreDTi' programme, which processes the data gathered in tractography. We enlisted the help of Alex Goodall, an intern with the local NHS trust who was working with CUBRIC to improve his technical skills with ‘ExploreDTi’.
Working closely with Goodall, Dr Tallantrye and I collected a variety of different views of each of the tractography maps using the ExploreDTi programme. This allowed us to turn the nerve cell tracts into spaghetti-like tubes using toggled lighting effects, giving shadows and highlights to each tract, creating texture and life. The map became soaked in hues of red, green, blue and a whole rainbow of colours in between, each colour relating to one direction in the three-dimensional space 3-D space traversed by water molecules. Here are a selection of the stunning Regions of Interest (ROIs) we created together.
We decided to use a Lightbox to display the art – the same device used in hospitals to illuminate X-rays and MRi scans. We printed the artwork onto transparent film using state-of-the-art processing at Wave Design to Print Ltd to ensure the depth of hues, tones and gradients. These are so fine, that no trace of ink can be seen, even under a magnifying glass.
An enormous amount of research, ideas and time go into every project I am involved with - and NEW SIGNALS is no exception.
The whole journey has been so challenging and so stimulating, I will probably still be discussing it in years to come. It is another chapter in my journey merging art and science.
Thankfully, the NEW SIGNALS story is not over yet: all the artsci works will eventually be placed on permanent display at the CUBRIC centre in Cardiff. Plus, over the next few years a touring exhibtion of all the works commissioned from myself and other artists will be toured around the UK before they then take their final resting place at CUBRIC.
For now I would to give special acknowledgements to...
Director Professor Derek Jones for inviting me to participate in the project, and for all the conversations and encouragement he gave me I had over the years since 2012.
Project Manager Ying Lin Wellcome Trust Strategic Award WTSA for all the advice, patiences, understanding and recommendations.
Editor Zoe Cormier, for making sense of my words, sharing her experiences and allowing me to make her a part of MINDSCAPE.
Scientists Dr Leandro Beltrachini of the Brain Imaging Group in the School of Physics and Astronomy, and Dr Kevin Murphy, Wellcome Trust Career Development Fellow. I want to thank them both for our conversations and for explaining their research.
Researchers Dr Emma Tallantyre, Clinical Senior Lecturer in the Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neuroscience at the School of Medicine, and Alex Goodall of the Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust. I am thankful to both for their enthusiasm, for sharing their research, and for creating beautiful tractography images.
Scientist Fabrizio Fasano, Collaboration Scientist at Siemens Healthineers and CUBRIC. I want to thank him for sharing his research and conversations.
And to The PROVIDI Lab, headed by Alexander Leemans, which focuses on processing, analyzing, and visualizing diffusion MRI data for investigating microstructural and architectural characteristics of tissue organization. I have not yet had the pleasure to meet Alexander yet, but I would like to thank him for giving me permission to integrate PROVIDI Lab images into NEW SIGNALS.
I have been creating pieces in the genre known as “artsci” since 2012, when I first met Professor Derek Jones, Director of the Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Center (CUBRIC) at a local art exhibition where his team present their visual data – images of the brain – as art.
This inspired me to bring scientific ideas to life through my painting and illustrations. For the past six years I have been commissioned to create and exhibit a range of artsci pieces that explore subjects ranging from neuroscience to magnetism and astronomy. I find the beauty in the data irresistible.
Memory Sketches of Conversations at CUBRIC in 2012...
For all of my commissions, I have worked closely with scientists to understand their research and incorporate their ideas into my work. These collaborations have had a profound influence on my perspectives of how we experience our existence.
I have been lucky enough to have a glimpse of the potential of the research at CUBRIC. Inspired by their incredible images of the brain, with every new piece of knowledge I gain from my collaborators, I find myself meditating on the composition of thoughts themselves. Such as the “spin echo” of a hydrogen atom’s proton as it vibrates inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRi) machine. Or how through “tractography” we can map the nerve cell tracts in the brain by measuring the movement of water molecules as they travel along neurons, pushed by magnetic fields. In a way, it feels like we can see the shape of our minds, and I find it incredible and very inspiring.
A selection of visual data from CUBRIC...
Provide by Alex Leemans of
PROcessing & VIsualization in Diffusion Imaging (PROVIDI) Lab
Research in the macro scale and the micro scale into the anatomy of the brain lies on spectrum so vast, it seems the deeper one delves into the structure of the mind, the further down the axons we fly into a profusion of probabilities. It blows my mind.
The colours seen in diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans and tractography images are not just pretty to look at: each hue represents one direction in the three-dimensional space in which echoing protons flip with magnetic pulses. With each pulse, they move along, through, in and out of axons, white matter, grey matter and the vortices of the brain. I find these to be incredibly beautiful in their own right. I have create many artsci work regarding DTi.
Selection of macro diffussion tensor artsci works in pen and ink and oil on canvas:
One portion of my work on New Signals for CUBRIC involved collaborating with Dr Leandro Beltrachini and Professor Kevin Murphy of the Brain Imaging Group in the School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University. Over several months starting in January 2017, I met with them to discuss their ideas and research, which I assimilated into my work.
Leandro explained to me how he works with electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors, magnetoencephalography (MEG) scanners, and the university’s new 3T connectome scanner to map the microstructures of the brain. With these he develops “numerical models for representing physical processes in arbitrary domains and conditions” – a complex way to describe something known as the “forward problem” .
Kevin is uses the aging process as a model to understand altered vasculature – how veins and arteries change, and how that affects an entire organ. He is developing neuroimaging tools we can use to assess the health of the cerebrovascular system – the veins, capillaries and arteries within the brain. In January 2017 he explained to me how his work on brain blood vessels and their relationship to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.
I also collaborated with Dr Emma Tallantyre, Clinical Senior Lecturer in the Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neuroscience at Cardiff University, whom I was introduced to by CUBRIC’s Project Manager Ying Lin of the Wellcome Trust. Emma can be seen in this video:
Emma can be seen in this video at 2:44 discussing a scan with a volunteer in July 2017. In this video, we can see some of the first highly detailed scans from the new 3T microstructure scanner. It was very inspiring to witness. We were also joined by Alex Goodall, an intern from the NHS Trust, who was there to improve his technical skills with the ‘ExploreDTi’ programme, which processes the data gathered in tractography.