Elmira Ayatizadeh 𝄅 Emily Bain 𝄅 Brianna Kormendy-Ramírez 𝄅 Airi Watanabe
yarn, fabric (voile), metal tubing, wire, thread
4½‘ x 7’
Stories and metaphors help us understand complex information. This is especially the case with science communication, wherein technical knowledge is distilled or adapted into metaphorical descriptions to ease understanding. Like for the astrocyte for example, a type of glia cell in the brain. The astrocyte was initially thought to perform only supportive functions in the brain, which at some point was grounds to describe it in reference to a feminine role, notably that of “nursemaid” (Upchurch and Fojtova, 2009). More recently, as astrocytes are discovered to play central functions in the brain, terms such as “architects” and “master” came to be used.
Unwoven represents the exploration of the assignment of gendered traits to something like a type of cell in the brain, as gendering of concepts alter their perceived value. With this in mind, woven materials and decorative arts were used to create this piece, which have also been devalued in their connection to femininity. Thus craft and astrocytes alike are seen through a gendered lens. Unwoven is constructed from a metal frame which suspends panels of fabric and yarn, all of which are woven to an astrocyte at the center of the piece. By weaving the astrocyte into the soft and delicate materials of the panels, the viewer is invited to consider the use of metaphor and narrative colours perception.
Elmira’s academic studies at Concordia have allowed them to gain valuable insight into design practice and have made them aware of the impact of my decisions on the world around them. They are fascinated by the universe of materials and (micro)organisms. These explorations allow them to make parallels with issues relating to humanity and the complexity of life, which is often their area of interest in creating art. Learning about other lifeforms has helped them develop unique design-making decisions that focus on the diversity of the Earth’s ecosystem. Their favorite medium in bringing my ideas to life is printmaking and graphic design.
Emily Bain is a Montréal based visual artist and student of design at Concordia University. Her practice includes drawing, painting, collage, sewing, and print design. Her practice often centres themes of mental health and social sustainability. She finds herself drawn to the sensorial and textural qualities of a piece, and thus prefers to work with traditional media. To her, art is a means to ground oneself in the present, the tangible, the real. Recently, she has been examining the role of interactivity in our perception of creative work. Recently, her practice has begun to explore this through bookbinding, furniture design, and kinetic sculpture.
Brianna Kormendy-Ramírez is a multidisciplinary artist and designer. She is currently completing her Bachelor’s of Design at Concordia University. Her creative practice began through the medium of oil painting and now include a wide range of mediums and techniques including digital illustration, sewing, photography and, most recently, biofabrication and textile dyeing. She draws inspiration from her Mexican/Slovak heritage and values of empathy, social justice, and environmental justice. She is also fascinated by slow design practices and ancient craft traditions in Mexican folk art.
Airi Watanabe is a PhD candidate in Neuroscience at McGill University in Montreal. She studies synapses - the places where brain cells meet - to investigate how memories are stored. She is interested in how memories are made and lost. She is a chronic hobbyist who experiments with different art forms from photography to paintings and, more recently, fibre art. Airi is also passionate about scientific outreach and equitable science, in particular making science accessible for everyone. She hopes to document the brain, and science, through meaningful art pieces that can be enjoyed by everyone.
Scientific ideas, especially those that deal with the microscopic, often require metaphors for description. For example, neurons “fire” signals, molecules “compete” and “bind” or “block” receptors. These metaphors can bring with them socially charged meanings.
Astrocytes are a type of glia cell, a group of non-neuronal cells that were initially regarded as the “glue” of the brain due to their seemingly passivity in comparison to the electrically active neurons. Descriptors used upon astrocytes evolved as their functional roles were discovered; from “packing material”, to “nursemaids”, to “wardens”, to eventually “architects” of the brain as pointed out by Upchurch and Fojtova1 in their paper “Women in the Brain: A History of Glial Cell Metaphors”. They additionally noted that as the perceived “value” of astrocytes increased, the descriptors applied to them shifted from feminine-associated to masculine-associated ones.
These metaphorical descriptors influence the general public’s understanding of the topic, but scientists are not immune to this effect. The words allude to the relative importance of the subject, thereby influencing efforts put into its study. To illustrate, in the last 5 years, for each paper published on astrocytes, there have been 9 more on neurons, based on searching for these keywords on the PubMed search engine. Thus, a feedback loop is created until the status quo is challenged.
 Upchurch, Meg, and Simona Fojtová. “Women in the Brain: A History of Glial Cell Metaphors.” NWSA Journal 21, no. 2 (2009): 1–20.