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  • Writer's pictureClaire Honda

Two Sides of the Same Process: Reflections on Art and Science by Eden Redman

Eden Redman is enrolled in the Convergence course for the 2023-2024 academic year. He is a Master’s student in McGill’s Integrated Program in Neuroscience and also has an artistic practice, having previously obtained a BA in Fine Arts and design. His full biography can be found at the bottom of this page. I interviewed him on February 29, 2024, to hear about his experience of the course and his perspective on art-science.



How did you first get interested in mixing art and science?


I think my art interests and science interests very much emerged at the exact same time, and so right from the start they were integrated in my mind. I was reading biology textbooks right around the time I started painting, when I was 9 or 10. I think the inquisitive nature of art—if your approach is to use art as a means to investigate and represent different concepts in the real world—can take on a similar flavor as scientific investigation.


Interesting, so you always felt like there was a connection there?


Yeah, at least for me—I have the conviction that if you're doing art right, there should be some parallels to science.


And so now you've pursued the “science” path in the meantime through a master’s of neuroscience?


Yeah, I would say it's a bit of an oscillation between doing deep dives into art and science. I started with a BSc in psychology where I did computational neuroscience research, and then I did a BA in Fine Arts and design, but throughout that I've kind of meandered, bringing art into the science and then science into the art.


Why did you choose to take the Convergence course?


I had heard first-hand from other people that it was worth it, and I thought it was a good opportunity to force myself to get better at communicating scientific concepts and finding those touch points of interest that you can build off of when conversing with more strictly “artsy” people. The course also provided an opportunity to revitalize my artistic practice to some degree and to dive more into tech-based art. Already, most of what I was exploring in my art was very much grounded in either science or in exploring ethical implications of where science is and where it’s going. There wasn't much in the artistic practices of people around me that was converging on that.


What does your artistic practice look like?


I did around 4 main bodies of work throughout my undergraduate degrees. I was working in a wet lab with mice at the time, so I did one body of watercolour and acrylic painting related to surgery and looking at the self with respect to cybernetic systems. Part of that was wanting to communicate how cool neuroscience is to people who just have no concept of those things, so looking at how different visual and conceptual illusions relate to one another and where the self fits into that—kind of “self as hallucination”. I also did a body of oil painting looking at self with respect to psychosis. And then I did some more digital work, such as virtual reality, eye-tracking, bio-signals, and trying to prompt people to question the origins of their consciousness and how distinct aspects of their consciousness can be tied to particular regions of the brain. I was trying to basically ask “what implications does contemporary neuroscience have on how we understand self?”.


See the end of this blog post for examples of Eden’s work.


Sounds thought-provoking. Is there something particularly interesting that you’ve taken away from the Convergence course so far?


I find the activities to be helpful at stimulating thought and exploration of practices at the intersection of the two domains.


What would be an example of one of those activities?


One activity involved exploring metaphors as a way to communicate a scientific concept. It was very useful for trying to communicate scientific concepts that aren't immediately intuitive. For example, my group was looking at the area surrounding Chernobyl, and as you move towards Ground Zero you get a graded increase in melanin because it's a protective factor against ionizing radiation. I saw that gradient as a very rich landscape for metaphors—for example, you could map the gradient onto the politics of the region and how that’s graded with respect to the different political entities. On the whole, that practice of applying metaphor to basic science concepts was useful for me.


Have you thought about applying a metaphor to your current research?


Yes, we were primed to do a similar thing with the main project—in the second term we are working with a set group of people on a project that involves elements of our own research—and so I took a bit of a bigger context, zooming out and comparing and contrasting the human brain and its constituent parts with humanity and its constituent parts; setting both the brain and humanity as systems that share a lot of parallel dynamics, and what does stroke look like within the system of a brain versus what would be the analogous stroke within the system of humanity? It's a little bit meta…


Interesting. Does that change how you view your research?


I think it gives me a little more conviction that it's challenging for a good reason, since it's not easy to be making connections between those two spaces…I mean, we exist entirely within systems that converge on stable states, and to vary from that and try to change our systems of being, it's inherently challenging. But yeah, I do think that that conceptual space opened up quite a bit of interest for me, and not just strictly related to my own research.


What kinds of challenges have you encountered when working at the intersection of art and science?


In the course, it seemed like some of the art students came in with a preconception of what science is, and they would sometimes compartmentalize truths about science and hold those equal to emotional truths. It was interesting to have the opportunity to engage with them while also trying to develop shared vocabulary and understand where they're coming from. The best moments I've found in the course are when you can wade through an initial negative appraisal of what you're talking about, and where you can find the words to describe a scientific concept. More broadly, for good and bad, I think that the art-science world is a microcosm of the polarization that is increasingly emerging throughout Western society as a whole, because art and science are two very different systems of thought—but within myself they are two sides of the same process, which is the perspective that I’d hope to see more of society move towards eventually.


Where do you see yourself in the future as an art-scientist?


I mean, I'd like to get to a point where I can have a studio practice. It's kind of hard to manage when you're a grad student in neuro research, just with work-life balance, but I'm a little bit torn because I'm not really a fan of art that’s too mainstream, but I do like it insofar as it can spark conversations and innovations that just otherwise wouldn't happen. So I think no matter what I do, I think I’ll try to keep doing community-building in this space. I wouldn't be opposed to trying to create a similar group back in Alberta, because that’s where my roots are.


That’s great. Do you have any advice for students wanting to combine artistic and scientific practices?


I think an overlooked aspect of it is getting a certain amount of proficiency—not necessarily expertise, but proficiency—in a medium that is non-digital. That might just be my low-tech origins, but I think having something physical and being able to manipulate it in the real world, physically, should be within your repertoire. If you’re a scientist and you don't know how to effectively use any medium, then you're restricted in what you can pull out of your brain and visualize. That said, if you're on the art side and you want to be true to the scientific concepts that you're trying to communicate, you can understand things to a certain degree in allegory and abstraction, but you should be able to read graphs related to the concept that you're talking about. So be rigorous, both in the methodology of art and science, and that should be the basis of art-science works.




Examples of Eden’s artwork:

Surreal Processor

Watercolour and acrylic on textured double weight somerset 22⅛" by 24½"

Exploring the false dichotomy of mind and body, here they are treated as equal parts of an integrated and reciprocal system. Witnessing the spectrum of unconscious elements to which we are each ingrained, I probe at how they spontaneously interact with conscious elements. Exploring the inherent difficulty in merely defining the point at which the unconscious gives rise to the conscious, I question whether consciousness itself is illusory.



Liquid Mountains

Watercolour and pigment liner on double weight somerset 22¼" by 29¾"

The dark cellar void invokes a preoccupation with intangible existential matters. The consistent outlining of spontaneously formed shapes comments on the human need to categorize everything in an indifferent universe.



Reality as a Collective Hallucination

Watercolour and pigment liner on textured double weight somerset 22⅜" by 30"

A disembodied brain-form acts as a focal point of negative space amongst a chaotic and mildly disturbing scene. Tentacles probe the brain, appearing simultaneously both a source of sustenance in a turbulent backdrop and a constraint to freedom. The disconnection of the brain form from the body suggests an unawareness of just how far removed from reality we may be. Suggesting reality is merely the collective appraisal of the majority.




Biography:


Born in Edmonton, Alberta in 1996, Eden Redman has lived in both rural Saskatchewan and urban Alberta for nearly a decade each. With the loss of two immediate family members marking his beginnings, his fascination with the experiences of his friends and remaining family continues to grow and inform his practice. Their subsequent challenges with mental health would inspire a lifetime of seeking to further understand the human mind. A practicing attentional neuroscience researcher, Eden describes his artistic process as “an investigation into self along a transection of the forefront of scientific knowledge and that of art-based philosophical inquiry”.

With his artistic works having been described as “vaguely diagrammatic”, Eden gravitates towards painting in semi-abstract and abstract styles, working with ink, watercolour, acrylic, and oil. Recurring themes of tension, ranging from entropy versus complexity, to balance versus imbalance, evoke a methodical, almost formulaic presentation to each work. In exploring the characteristics of mental illness, Eden comes into contact with the ideas of autonomy, free will, and the malleability of experience and perception.


Eden seeks to bridge the gap between the typically disparate artistic and scientific communities in his artwork and beyond, while using his passion for crafting and driving impactful initiatives. As the Executive Director of NeurAlbertaTech and Director of Edmonton Strategy for NeuroNexus (2020) Eden has emerged as a leader in the realm of applied neurotechnology innovation across Western Canada, fostering cross-disciplinary collaboration across Alberta and beyond.

 

Personal Site - https://www.edenredman.me 





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