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Art + Neuroscience + Society


DCART 499 // DART 631

Fall 2020 - Exhibition

Convergence: Arts+Neuroscience+Society interdisciplinary course invites students to creatively explore the intersection of arts, neuroscience, and society, and how these domains shape the understandings of ourselves and others. Concordia University Fine Arts students, as well as, graduated students of the RI-MUHC Brain Repair and Integrative Neuroscience Program (BRaIN) & the Integrated Program in Neuroscience (IPN) from McGill University create self-directed, collaborative projects which converge artistic and scientific research.

This exhibition represents the artistic response to a combination of neuroscience and art lectures developed during the first semester of the course during the Fall of 2020.

Bettina Forget & Cristian Zaelzer

Select a name to explore or topic to explore

Amanda Brown

Amanda Brown

Poster Girls

Amanda Brown - Brenda Milner - Beardsley
Amanda Brown - Rita Levi Montalcini - Ro
Amanda Brown - Bianca Marlin Jones - Muc
Amanda Brown commentary

This piece, which I’ve titled “Poster Girls” portrays three significant female neuroscientists: Bianca Marlon Jones, Rita Levi-Montalcini, and Brenda Milner, in the style of three different famous art nouveau poster artists (Alphonse Mucha, Alfred Roller, and Aubrey Beardsley). We discussed the history of poster creation as an art-form that was used to convey information/generate curiosity about something for the masses (whether in commercial or event advertising or for social and artistic movements). In one of the science lectures, we also discussed re-contextualizing the history of science to include the contributions of women in STEM. Putting a focus on women’s history (particularly in science) is something I am passionate about, for the purposes of positive representation for girls aspiring to lives in STEM, and correcting misconceptions about the scientific establishment as a man’s sphere. The poster is well suited as a medium to introduce people to important women in neuroscience, and I wanted to give tribute to its aesthetic from its “golden era” to show the ongoing potential and potency of the art-form (much like how stylized Google doodles still serve to draw people into finding out about figures they didn’t know previously).

The “posters” were created digitally using a Wacom tablet the “Corel Painter Essentials 6” illustrator. Three specific pieces were used for direct homage in this series: Mucha’s F. Champenois Imprimeur-Éditeur, Roller’s Poster for the 14th Secession Exhibit, and Beardsley’s The Climax. By melding traditional poster aesthetics and iconography and digital techniques, the original spirit of the form is maintained, while showing how it can be adapted for mass dissemination in the contemporary world.

Aspects of each scientist’s work are embedded in each piece (as is a general brain motif in each one). Bianca Marlin-Jones- who studies transgenerational epigenetics and trauma- works on animal models (shown by mice occupying the circular border), and has done pioneering research in oxytocin in maternal response (the branch forms at the top corners evoke the chemical structure of oxytocin). Rita Levi-Montalcini won the Nobel Prize for her role in discovering nerve growth factor. She did microscopy work with cell cultures (shown on the poster) with the cultures with their radiating nerve growth demonstrated in the background. And finally, Brenda Milner is a pioneer of the field of neuropsychology and has done much of her work at Mcgill (hence the psychology symbol and Fleur de Lys in the foreground), and studies hemisphere interaction and cognitive neuroscience as it pertains to memory language, and perception. Much of this work was done with the subject “H.M” who had parts of his hippocampus surgically removed (who is represented on the poster).

Andre Noack

Andre Noack


Andre Noack commentary

My work focuses on the neuroscience of emotions in the context of videos and music. I am fascinated by the collision of visuals and sound and how it adds to the meaning. In movies and documentaries, music is used to generate feelings and emotions combined with the moving images to enhance the transported message. However, in my approach, I aim to break the relation between pictures and music by producing two completely different associations between videos and sound. Emotions can sometimes not be controlled but influenced. The context of the work should impact the work’s relationship with the viewers’ emotions.

Music is a medium that helps me to manage my emotions on many levels. Certain types of music intensify my happiness; some enhance my sadness. Sometimes the same music works differently or not at all. I am also intrigued by music in movies since it intensifies senses and fills them with emotions on a different and higher level. How can I modify and convert associations to music and trigger other emotions to specific music types combined with moving images? How are we experiencing and managing emotions? Intrigued by these questions, I began to wonder about creating the opposite visual to a particular track. My vision is to generate consciousness of different emotions in different situations triggered by music and video. The audience investigates their perception with acoustic signals and visual influences to explore the unconsciousness of emotions and feelings.

My project “Contra.Sense” is a multi-media installation in the form of different abstract videos that embody various sentiments. In contrast, the music played in these videos does not enhance the visuals. The work takes on various forms intended to draw the viewer into the subconsciousness of emotions. I aim to create a collision of feelings. The videos will be made out of everyday situations. The visualizations will be interpreted abstractly and alienated so that their ordinary associations disappear in such a way that the audience can focus on the images’ visual quality. Viewers might have the possibility to guess what the video is showing.

“Contra.Sense” is aiming to test the perception of moving images. Everybody has emotions, and those have a substantial impact on everybody’s life and are triggered by different, unusual, or multiple factors. By exploring the abstract world of the unknown in combination with sound, every individual will investigate their own emotions, discover an extra dimension in feelings and generate different responses in the form of an emotion or feeling.

I am frequently looking for roads to the unexpected. An ironic twist to images and music, or other things one might expect. Or the combination of all of them. Provoking the audience towards new and perhaps unexplored territories.

Antoine Bellemare Pepin

Antoine Bellemare Peppin

The everlasting noise of sensations

Antoine Bellemare Peppin - Eggshift-min.
Antoine Bellemare Peppin - Le spiritisme
Antoine Bellemare Peppin - A clown dream
Antoine Bellemare Peppin - African voodo
Antoine Bellemare commentary

By measuring properties of the objective world with sensors, humans take samples of the reality and try to reconstruct it in the virtual. However, all sensors have a signal to noise ratio, which means that what the sensor gives you as an output should be regarded as a mixture of signal (objective measure) and noise (uncertainty and randomness). ‘’Information overload leads to pattern recognition’’ as Marshall McLuhan said. This simple and powerful quote provides an appropriate introduction to the concept of pareidolia, which corresponds to the integration of ambiguous stimuli into meaningful representations. Pareidolia is a perceptual mechanism that allows for coping with sensory uncertainty and has been suggested to lead to creative outcomes. New forms could emerge from pareidolic perception, and that is a way for the brain to integrate wider perspectives about the world.

In the present artwork, I explored the transformation of the EEG signal into pareidolia-prone material and subsequently fed my creative process with the pareidolic representations that were experienced. To do so, I used both the technique of datamoshing, consisting of using file conversion as a generator of artifacts in the data and scaling variation, a new methodological approach that uncovers fractal properties of an image by blending differences of its (sub)versions into one. This method enables to explore creatively the fractal naturalism of EEG signal in a visually oriented way. Starting with noisy stimulation, this method is thought to constitute a means of uncovering pareidolic structures from biological data.

To acquire complex visual noise from the EEG signal, I used datamoshing techniques by transforming it into a waveform, and then subsequently into an image by using a RAW format. I then used the scaling variation method, which goes as follow:

  1. Choose a subpart of the initial image where a predominant aesthetic is perceived.

  2. Upsample this subpart of the image so it becomes constituted of the same number of pixels as the original image.

  3. Play with the light curve, leading to accentuating contrasts and form appearances.

  4. Redo steps 1 to 3 until interesting forms emerge.

  5. Take the image output of step 4 and add the initial image (or images from subsequent steps) with an appropriate fusion mode.

  6. Redo steps 1 to 5 until you reach the desired complexity and emergent structures.


My observations led me to think that this process follows life emergence mechanisms. The first iteration generated an image that looked like organic cells, which are at the very basis of life. In the second iteration, more complex structures emerged, which led to animal-like and plant-like pareidolic perception. When repeating the method again, landscapes and autonomous worlds seems to emerge, going in the same evolving complexity described before.

I decided to build from the pareidolic percept to add a figurative level to artwork, forcing somehow its contagion. This method, conjugated with online signal processing techniques, could constitute a basis for a project of pareidolic-generative landscapes, based on biotic signals, and controlled by the user in real-time to navigate into objective representations of his own mental world.

Ashley Asunción-Morales

Ashley Asunción-Morales

When Ron met Astro, Mike, and Oli

Ashley Asuncion-Morales - When Ron Met A
Ashley Asuncion-Morales commentary

From a young age, I spent most of the time in my head, struggling to put my feelings and thoughts into words. Now, embracing my introversion, I am compelled by dualities and multiple identities, cognitive and behavioural patterns, and perspectives and perceptions. With this, I aspire to depict interconnectedness between our inner and outer worlds. I try to explore the different limitations and capacities relating to conscious and subconscious expression through direct mark making, fluid painting, structured papier-machée, malleable clay building, and textual symbolism. My artistic journey builds on self-discovery and the search for connection and understanding. Although the path may not be linear, I believe it is important to recognize ourselves as ever-changing beings, connected to one another in space, and the importance to take one step at a time.


From the many interesting lectures on neuroscience, I was drawn to the neuroscience of emotions but always fell back to the introduction of the field. The building blocks of the brain and small yet powerful fundamental connections happening inside us amazed me. I chose to capture the structure of a neuron with glial cells. With my interests in information-processing and the ambiguous space in between, I was drawn to depict the importance of the neuroglial’ functions.


Using a black canvas, I drew and used coloured felt thread to draw the outlines of the cells. I used clear glue, not only to facilitate the process of adhesion but to represent how glial cells have the purpose of a ‘glue’ in the neuronal networks. I also used a needle to stitch through the canvas as a recognition of their designed connections (neurotransmitter and neuroreceptors) and their function of ‘keeping us together’.


The astrocytes, responsible for the proper transference of messages, repairing neuronal tissue, and regulating ionic concentration, are in orange-yellow. The microglia, removing damaged neurons and infections, is in red, and the oligodendrocytes, supporting the axons, are in green. Both function as defence mechanisms for eternal factors that can interfere with the body’s healthy functioning. The Schwann cells were not included as they are not part of the central nervous system, but the peripheral one.


To conclude, the black canvas not only helped us to see the colours vividly but can also represent the grey matter in our brain and the dark galaxy is embodied in each of us. As much as I appreciate the miniature and magical electrical information and messaging process from neuron to neuron, I wanted to shed light on the less-talked-about, non-electrical cells. Perhaps I made a personal connection to my ‘timid, stay in the shadow, and observe’ self, but I became interested in how we all have a purpose. I also connected neuroglia to the importance of a positive and supportive social environment for our well-being. Gaining perspective on our hidden autonomic inner functions, I am inspired to reflect on what I can control and how I choose to nourish my inner and external environment. 

Audrey Jiang

Audrey Jiang

Tribute to K. Nomura

There seems to be no agent more effective than another person in bringing a world for oneself alive or, by a glance, a gesture, or a remark, shrivelling up the reality in which one is lodged.


— Erving Goffman, Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction.



I’ve always been thinking about the way absence works in any narratives.


This story is to find the relics of a relationship by becoming the other. Imagine the way he looked at me, and the way I looked in his eyes. The experiences in the two parallel narratives are the collage of my own experiences, though randomly connected. Some of them in the Setouchi region, a group of islands in western Japan, one of them on the train from Chicago to New York, with the subway station announcement and Chinese song 夜来⾹ in a cafe in Tokyo. The most vivid ones are in the cassette of my camcorder, unfortunately, I do not have access to them at the moment.

I intended to tell the story two ways. The words mumbling by my actress, Bao, was almost the same, and the plot for both of the clips is, she asked “me” for a lighter, and she talked about an experience she had with “me”, then she spotted the flower “I” bought. What I want to explore is the relationship between dream and memory, fiction and reality, the self and the other, and how we can do this by presenting images without words, or simply through playfulness. The lines are in Chinese, as I’d wished we speak the same language.

Cassandra Charlebois-Poirier

Cassandra Charlebois-Poirier

Can you see me?

Cassandra Charlebois-Poirier - Artwork1.
Cassandra Charlebois-Poirier - Artwork2.
Cassandra Charlebois-Poirier - Artwork3.
Cassandra Charlebois-Poirier commentary

Throughout this semester, the concept that I found the most difficult to understand was the vision section. I remembered some basic knowledge from my high school years but quickly realized that nothing made sense to me. One theme that stood out to me the most was visual agnosia. The idea of suddenly not being able to differentiate objects, people, smells, etc, seemed completely absurd to me. We grow up learning every day to assimilate information and encode new things and add them to our ‘I know what that is’ folder. I cannot even remember the time when I learned new words that are basic household words. This is why I wanted to explore the theme of agnosia for my artistic response in this class.

Agnosia is a neurological condition in which people who are affected cannot differentiate or identify objects, persons, sounds, shapes or even smells. This disease does not necessarily affect all spheres of one's life, therefore, the person is unlikely to be having memory loss or attention problems. While doing more research on the subject of agnosia I further looked into the different types of agnosia and their sub-categories. A discovered prosopagnosia is the inability to recognize familiar faces by only their face and not their hair or body shape.


Creating a series of artwork was the best choice because of the abundant choice of interpretations. I wanted my three designs to represent visual agnosia in more than one way by keeping a similar portrait shape in all three. I have very inspired my surrealist art because it captures the materiality that is the key aspect of visual agnosia. In this way, I wanted to portray visual agnosia in a surrealist way while still making it obvious what it was showcasing.


I explored in a different way a medium that I was already in common with oil pastels. Using this medium provides bright colours and a lot of texture to the visuals. After doing my research and experimenting with different mediums beforehand such as collage, I started creating my first canvas. I drew the body first without any head, and then the head on a separate paper. Days later, I drew my second body. I chose to make the head a tennis ball to represent visual agnosia with objects. Hence, the first portrait has green fuzzy hair and a round face which could look like a tennis ball. My last iteration was based mostly on the incapacity to see facial features specifically. I then compiled all those individual drawings and created digital montages, mixing both oil pastel and digital painting.

Dana Ryashy

Dana Ryashy

Visual Agnosia: A Simulation

Dana Ryashy commentary

By using computer vision tools, this interactive web experience is a metaphorical representation of visual agnosia. The purpose was not only to involve the sense of sight in the interaction but also to symbolize how the sense of touch allows individuals with this condition to better comprehend what is around them.

Please visit the following website for the full experience:

Emery Vanderburgh

Emery Vanderburgh

Our world is made up of a contrast of light and dark

Emery Vanderburgh - Color.JPG
Emery Vanderburgh - Black White.jpg
Emery Vanderburgh commentary

The world is made up of a contrast of light and dark are digital works that imagine the process of visual stimulus generating an image in the back of the cortex. Both pieces represent the Striate Cortex sending that visual information to the back of the brain. I used abstract art to tell this story because of abstract art’s reliance on formal art rules like balance, negative space, the colour choice to convey a message despite not representing the subject literally. I found that the process of cells constructing an image in the brain uses those formal art rules to make sense of our visual environment. The coloured work represents someone squinting into the light during a sunny day and the black and white piece represents what we see in the dark.


I primarily used a lot of variations of red and green to show that this person's Opsins are working! Though humans can see more texture in daylight, I kept the details of this work relatively soft and fluid because I imagined the image being created while someone was staring directly into the sun. I intentionally left the center part over-exposed and included circular shapes to reference seeing spots if you're staring at a light too long.

Black and White:

I focused on the eye's range of detection in the dark where it relies on different grades of luminance to interpret something. I made the linework soft to show the low-resolution aspects of looking in the dark. I also used varying lines and shapes to reference the moment that visual stimulus enters the cortex in all its different orientations of lines and shapes. As a visual artist, I found it rather poetic that humans so naturally perceive a contrast of light and dark to create a projected image, something I’ve studied in art but never put much thought into the ways my brain fills in the blanks for me.

To conclude, now that I have a basic scientific understanding of the intricate and sophisticated processes of our brain’s projections of the world around us, I’ve become even more enamoured by how mysterious, strange and magical life is.

Felix Beaudry

Felix Beaudry

The object of our curiosity

Felix Beaudry commentary

The replica is often of low value to our eyes. We get much more excited about new projects. But the reproduction of an experiment or a work of art is one of the best ways to learn. Even a failure to reproduce the effect can yield unexpected results. For this project, I worked on a quote from Goethe’s Theory of Colors.

The desire of knowledge is first stimulated in us when remarkable phenomena attract our attention. In order that this attention, be continued it is necessary that we should feel some interest in exercising it, and thus by degrees we become better acquainted with the object of our curiosity.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

I followed Goethe's approach and I tried to reproduce Newton’s experiments with light passing through a prism. This led me to failure at first. But it motivated me to investigate further. What kind of things could I see by looking through this prism? I made my own prism with acetate and some clever folding. It worked! It split the light, but the problem was in reality the light source. I needed a collimated light source. This led me to experiment with many types of lenses and mirrors bought at the dollar store. One of these was a clear Christmas ornament that I filled up with water to make a ball lens. Looking through the ball was like looking at a snow globe with my apartment inside, but everything was upside-down. It reminded me of an experiment I saw on the web that used a prism mounted on a pair of goggles to flip the image. The image projected on your retina is upside-down and it is the brain that flips it back up. In the video, the science communicator was trying to learn to ride a bike with the goggles on. It only took 10 days. This video presents my take on this experiment. In my design, I use ball lenses instead of prisms to flip the image. Combined with biconvex lenses to enlarge and focus the image, the resulting visual effect is quite nice to look at. Our brains as the capacity to adapt to drastic changes in sensory inputs. Over time one can learn to navigate an upside-down world. Experiencing it for yourself feels strange and confusing at first but ultimately leads to a more visceral understanding of how the brain works.

Indigo Danielson

Indigo Danielson

Hmmm Hmm

Indigo Danielson commentary

This piece explores a condition called prosopagnosia - the inability to recognize faces clearly. Two distinct people may look the same while seeing a single person may seem as though you are meeting them anew. As someone who does not know what this might feel like, I started my exploration in the abstraction of different faces. Although this piece is a single drawing, two faces can be distinguished. Are these characters one and the same?

Leila Gillespie-Cloutier

Leila Gillespie-Cloutier


Leila Gillespie-Cloutier POSTER 2-02.jpg
Leila Gillespie-Cloutier POSTER 1-04.jpg
Leila Gillespie-Cloutier commentary

In this graphic design work, I represented the binocular visual field. To represent this concept, I chose to play with shapes and colours. This illustration reflects the way our brain processes images. Through the optic nerve, the visual information gathered on the retina is sent to the left and the right visual hemifield. The primary visual cortex processed this visual information. This allows us to have a 3D vision. For this artistic response, I created a film projection poster that includes abstract graphic elements inspired by the binocular visual field.

Manami Izawa

Manami Izawa

Flow of Emotions

Manami Izawa commentary

The video is called Flow of Emotions, which is an artistic representation of Bodily Maps of Emotions. This is an article written by Lauri Nummenmaa and their research team members. According to them, subjective emotional feelings are related to the somatosensory system. Their topographical self-report method research results indicate that those emotion-related sensations have a higher consistency across cultures. Moreover, the head area had increased bodily sensations, such as facial musculature activation and higher skin temperature. The chest area has also shown a fast heartbeat or heavy breathing. While active bodily sensations of happiness were observed all over the body, sadness decreased limb activity.

The video consists of four scenarios. The first scene shows the flow of active and passive bodily sensations. Since I associated the active sensation with hot water, I conducted a scientific experiment of hot and cold water movement. Due to the water density, hot water stays on top of the cold water. The second scene reflects the intensity of the head and the upper body activity. As blue and red water starts getting mixed, the performer experiences an intense feeling. In order to let the audience think of their own feelings and engage in the video, the type of emotion is not indicated in the video. After that, the camera moves to lower body activity. Although the performer is trying to be more active, there is less sensation in the legs and feet. The video ends with a purple bubble, which is made of baking soda and purple vinegar. As an artist, I would like to mention that not all feelings can be described scientifically. The purple bubble is a depiction of the complexity of human emotions, which can be translated into different colours and body temperature depending on the personal stories of each audience. The ambient music was chosen to create a mood of deep thinking so that the audience would feel like they are experiencing the flow of emotions physically. The colourful water and vinegar were coloured by using food colour.

Michael Watts

Michael Watts


Michael Watts commentary

Photophobia (light sensitivity) is a neurological issue involving communication between the eye and the brain and is a common symptom resulting from a traumatic brain injury (TBI). It is this occurrence that is the subject of my artistic response to The Visual System talk presented in class. I have chosen to respond to this specific aspect of vision because my original interest was how we experience light and dark in our daily lives. I had begun collecting video footage depicting the same scene during light and dark times of the day, placing the footage side by side to show what we see from the presence or absence of light. I even built a 3D prism model showing the refraction of light, but this seemed too literal. This led me to use a quartz crystal as a filter to capture video footage and the refraction of light. The result was interesting, I was only missing a reason for all of this. During my creative research, I began to experience symptoms of light sensitivity. These symptoms seem to creep up on me on occasion and are due to several concussions that I have had in the past. This then motivated me to channel my personal experience as the thread for my artistic response and focus solely on photophobia.

Several mediums are being used in this abstract multimedia artwork. The sound creation was made using Moog Audio noise blast with a soundwave oscillator which I manipulated to match the rendered video and give the effect of harsh, penetrating light. I have chosen to use 3D animation to symbolically represent the brain and it’s a reaction to the overwhelming reception of information that is not being filtered properly by the thalamus. 3D is a medium that has a level of plasticity that can best illustrate the internal chaos and anxiety of the photophobia symptom. The colours of red and blue projected onto the object symbolize the right and left-brain hemispheres. I have also used a video of rippling water from an empty peanut butter jar that I was cleaning. The cymatics-like vibrations in the water play the role of particles colliding to create visible light that we sense, or electromagnetic wavelengths. Their shift in brightness, form, and visibility is how I personally feel the intense, blurring, and nauseating symptom of light sensitivity. The ending is a disappearance into darkness, as darkness is one of the suggested therapies for concussion symptoms. It is also often heard that the depressive symptoms of TBIs have people feeling like they are living “in the dark”.

Sabine Rannio

Sabine Rannio

Plasticity Fest

Sabine Rannio - Plasticity Fest #1.png
Sabine Rannio - Plasticity Fest #3.png
Sabine Rannio - Plasticity Fest #2.png
Sabine Rannio commentary

My research focuses on synaptic plasticity, i.e. the change in neuronal connectivity over time. Synaptic plasticity is crucial for neurodevelopment, learning and memory, but also shapes neuropathologies such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. My project aims to establish the location-specific role of NMDA receptors, a glutamate-gated ion-channel receptor and a key structure in synaptic plasticity. I use in vitro patch-clamp electrophysiology that allows me to directly record neuronal activity in mouse visual cortex brain slices and I will demonstrate how NMDA receptors expressed at different sites within the synapse regulate synaptic plasticity on a short-term and long-term scale. Further, I visualize the neurons I recorded with 2-photon microscopy.

As I work in the visual cortex and microscopy, I decided on a visual medium. I opted for a digital design, as all my research heavily relies on the digitization of analog signals such as synaptic currents. Synaptic plasticity involves many different molecular events, making it very complex. Similarly, at festivals, there are many different acts and activities, so I decided to design festival posters. Graphic design requires a certain level of organization/composition, a bit like the highly organized, layered neocortex. As most festivals have multiple posters, I created three designs, with some unique and some overlapping elements, depicting how different synapses are unique, but share similarities.

The colour palette is based on the Red Hot lookup table in the imaging software Fiji we use in the lab. Moreover, diving into colour theory, red and yellow are very exciting, positive colours, representing two aspects: 1) glutamate, the main excitatory neurotransmitter in the nervous system; 2) depolarization as a result of NMDA receptor activation, which renders the membrane potential more positive. This spreads electrical excitation across the network. The texture of the background resembles neurotransmitter release into the synaptic cleft, spreading from a release site in the centre and it is grainy, representing individual neurotransmitter molecules.

I decided to work with a static medium, as in the end, all our results are presented in figures in a journal, which is also static. However, I made sure to incorporate the Greek letter delta, to symbolize change. I also put the logo, which includes a network-like mesh shaped like a brain, symbolizing connectivity, at an angle for dynamicity. The two pyramidal neurons framing poster #3 represent the pre-and postsynaptic site, as ultimately, I am trying to figure out how pre- vs. postsynaptic NMDA receptors contribute to synaptic plasticity.

For the font, I included some Gestalt principles, again focusing on visuals. Short-term plasticity is crucial for information processing, e.g. the brain closes the gaps between the different parts of each letter. The other fonts are easily recognizable band fonts, relating to learning and memory, which requires long-term plasticity. NMDA is the main focus of my project, making it the main ‘act’. Further, AC/DC refers to electricity and thus relates to my main technique: electrophysiology. Band names were chosen and altered based on phonetics, word structure and/or band characteristics. 

Tallan Black

Tallan Black

Bellow the Surface

Tallan Black - Bellow the Surface.jpg
Tallan Black commentary

Before returning to graduate school, I spent time fostering my skills as an exercise physiologist specializing in brain injury rehabilitation. I used my knowledge of the body to target persistent cognitive and neurological symptoms that frequently contribute to the psychological symptomology caused by the decreased quality of life following a traumatic event. This was just the tip of the iceberg, as learning new therapeutic strategies satisfied one part of my brain, but another part was looking to delve deeper into the neuroscience behind what makes each injury phenotype unique.

Months after I left BC to start my master’s degree in Saskatchewan, one of my good friends was thrown from a vehicle after a head-on collision at a cumulative velocity of 200 km/h. The fact that he survived was a miracle, but no one could begin to imagine the uphill battle in the initial months to years following the injury. Brain injury changes a person. Between the widespread neuronal death and remoulding that occur, you can compare the personal changes involved in traumatic brain injury to the destruction and reconstruction following a natural disaster.

My research contributes to the search for a therapeutic agent that offloads some of the acute pathophysiological burdens following traumatic brain injury. Due to my rehabilitative experience, molecular and behavioural investigation, and personal investment, I wanted to illustrate the complex, taxing and largely unseen psychological burden that plagues those throughout the recovery process. Much like the knowledge base of the ocean, the knowledge base for TBI is still in its infancy. What we currently know involves the orchestration between the immune system, the central nervous system, and the circulatory system in conjunction with the intricate architecture of the brain.

The stark black and white depiction of the TBI sufferer is used to depict the colourless reality of those with TBI and the psychiatric symptoms such as depression, anxiety and memory loss that dull one’s experience of life following trauma. The hints of colour demonstrate the glimpses of clarity, understanding, and progress that litter the path to recovery. The murky water illustrates the unknown depths below the surface and demonstrates how so much of the injury, cognitive and physical, is unseen to the naked eye. By drawing inspiration from the neuronal depictions of Santiago Ramon y Cajal, I used doodle-like creativity to intertwine the ideas of oceanic creatures such as deadly jellyfish and their unique nervous systems with the unseen molecular entities that dictate the delicate dance of survival. The female figure represents the lack of sex-disaggregated research in STEM. The visual of her floating gives rise to the fleeting acceptance that comes with those suffering from TBI, as floating is the easiest way to conserve energy and keep one’s head above water for long periods of time. This drawing visualizes the invisibility of brain injury. Depending on the injury type, severity, and symptomology, most patients are left with few objectives scares to give an indication of the battle they are waging in their heads below the surface.

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