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  • Nicole Avakyan

Synapse, or how we make accidental connections

By Andrée Lessard

Why do we often feel that we meet people by accident to realize afterwards that there is a connection, a logical reason for it? Well, the neuroscientist in me would say that it is mostly because of the way our brain works: by creating chemical and electrical connections between brain areas. The resulting network brings ideas together and creates links of thoughts. The philosopher in me is still questioning: but how come and why now?

I met Maria Ezcurra in a totally non-neuroscience related context. As part of a career transition from neuroscientist to science manager, I sought her advice in the hiring process for an Artist in residence as part of a new initiative from our research network for oral and bone health (RSBO). Maria oversees the Art Hive initiative at McGill’s Faculty of Education. This project aims to provide a space for anyone who wishes to recharge their mind through the process of creation. The location is wide & open, welcoming, peaceful… quite in line with Maria’s personality!

Next thing I know, she is launching an exhibition called “Synapse”. From the Greek word Sinapsis, synapse means conjunction (syn = “together” and haptein = "to fasten"). In the neuroscience field, synapse represents the precise location of interactions between neurons. Using nylon, she mingles the concept of neuronal transmission with her interests in sociology, culture, memory and gender standards. At her vernissage on January 31st, I couldn’t help asking how she became interested in the neuroscience field and what she knows about it: “Well, almost nothing!”, she laughs. “The project came to life by accident. I love working with nylon. It holds strength and fragility at the same time. To me, it represents resilience. It almost contains an organic component”.

Close-ups of Synapse by Maria Ezcurra. Credit: Andrée Lessard.

Nylon, I thought, a “female fabric”. Does your piece relate to the female brain? “Not exactly, nylon represents to me a form of self-induced restriction, not a violent one, more like a submission to social standards. Like wearing high heels for example”.

Maria continued: “I started to assemble the nylon pieces, to realize that they went together almost by themselves. The result was astonishingly coherent, meaningful. I made the installation thinking about intellectual, spiritual, emotional, physical, and spatial connections.”

Looking at the piece, I completely understand why she is saying this. I am in good company with Amy, a science educator, and Romeo, an artist. Talking about the piece, we noticed the dark and pale fabrics fitting together in harmony, the shades complementing the real pieces as if it was a virtual network. Then our discussion moved to the benefits of sociocultural diversity in our society, and the influence of social media on people. The whole creation looks like a network, a collective memory.

Close-ups of Synapse by Maria Ezcurra. Credit: Andrée Lessard.

I also noticed all these pyramidal shapes which look like the cortical pyramidal excitatory neurons drawn by Ramon y Cajal in early 20th century. Funny how Maria got that morphology right even though she never studied in that field…

That leads me back to that question: how come she created something so accurate by accident? Artists will never cease to amaze me!

“Synapse” will be exposed at the Maison de la culture Notre-Dame-De-Grâce until March 10th 2019.

Editing: Nicole Avakyan

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