Brain Art

While I was at the Wellcome Collection...

Annie Cattrell
SENSE, 2001-03

'This sequence of sculptures illustrates the activity patterns of the human brain as it responds to the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. Scans of a subject's brain using each of the senses were produced with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). These scans were then converted into three-dimensional physical structures of amber resin using a rapid-prototyping process'

The Mind is Powerful

How can something so physically small, perhaps even non-existent have so much power over something so large?

I decided to visit the Hunterian Museum in order to draw the brain, home of the mind and look at the physical aspects of what affects the way we think. These shapes or textures may inform my silhouette.
"I had not known before how usual and necessary a thing it is... to gaze straight at anybody to whom one is speaking and to gaze with no embarrassment... He is aware of just what he looks like: therefore you feel intensely that he is aware that you are aware, and that some unguarded glance of yours may cause him hurt. This, then, is the patient at whom you are afraid to gaze unflinchingly; not afraid for yourself but for him."
Ward Muir, The Happy Hospital, 1918  (On looking at patients with facial wounds)

I found this quote interesting because it related back to the idea of appearance and insecurity and many of us have felt this way before, perhaps not to the extreme of war wounds but slight noticable imperfections.


   The Souzou exhibition at the Wellcome Collection is a curation of 'Outsider Art from Japan' which has been produced by those who suffer from a mental illness and live in social welfare facilities across Japan. Outsider Art is a term used to describe work made by artists who have had no technical training but produce work for their own creative satisfaction without an audience or purpose in mind. In a way, the work within this exhibition was a result of 'art therapy' and therefore the work was very raw and natural. Each of the artists had a sense of identity within their work which was not forced but represented them entirely.

   Within many of the pieces there was an indication of repetition and obsession with many of the same shapes and patterns being drawn or created over and over again. The processes that many of the artists had chosen to use, such as hand embroidery, hand drawn patterns and ceramics had clearly been a result of a meditative, yet obsessive way of working. This routine would have produced therapeutic and calming effects aiding illnesses such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Ryoko Koda, Untitled (1990-2000). The symbol used in her drawings is taken from her name in Japanese

   I found the exhibit incredibly beautiful as the pieces had clearly been created for the sake of the artist and not the viewer. Each piece had been formed as a result of a pure desire to express the self creatively, to the extent that one artist had stitched entire tapestries by collecting others' discarded threads.

   I believe that the idea of art therapy could be relevant within my project and that it is possible to alleviate the battle between the mind and the body through art and design.

Satoshi Morita, Untitled
Shinichi Sawada, Untitled (2006-10)

Shota Katsube, Untitled (2011), an army of action figures made out of the twist ties used to fasten bin liners

THIN - "If it takes dying to get there, then so be it."

   In 2006, Laura Greenfield made a documentary following the lives of several women suffering from anorexia and bulimia. The film documented their efforts to regain control over their illness as in-patients at the Renfrew Centre in Florida and the internal battles they faced as a result of this self oppression.

   The film was heartbreaking to watch and it was terrifying to witness just how powerful the mind can be despite the constant fight with the body and the continued support from surrounding peers, family and medical professionals. One of the most poignant moments was when a 15 year old girl who has suffered from an eating disorder since early childhood, grabbed onto her skeletal frame and screamed 'I have a double chin. I'm fat. I want it off me!' and despite desperate efforts from her fellow patients declared that she wanted to die in order to reach her ideal weight.

Black outline - perception, red outline - reality
   Another shocking moment was when a patient named Alisa was asked to draw her silhouette on the wall and portrayed a figure around double her size. Despite the nurse drawing round her actual body on top of Alisa's impression of herself, which indicated just how small she really was, Alisa remarked 'I can see problem areas' and began to annotate areas of her body that she felt needed to be changed.
  One thing that was evident is that the majority of these disorders had grown from another problem, be it an addiction to drugs, depression or obsessive compulsive disorder. Although the illness centres around food and appearance, the true root of these eating disorders often come down to the need to control something in their lives.

"I USED TO HAVE A PERSONALITY" - through eating disorders, the patients lost themselves. Should my clothes show this loss or be an attempt to regain a sense of individulaity and life? Some of their methods - water between each mouthful to fill up, smoking, tiny bites, shifting food around on the plate, purging - vomiting, 'restriction', even using a stomach tube intended for feeding in reverse in order to remove food from the stomach

   The nature of this film was shocking but necessary - nothing was sugar coated. It was real life. The reinforcement that this is not a Hollywood movie comes at the end when you discover that the four girls the documentary focuses on, all relapse soon after exiting the centre. One even dies.

   So how will this documentary feed into my project? What did I gain?

   I think it was important for me to understand the mentality behind these disorders. To understand the emotions and feelings that accompany one and the underlying factors behind this self inflicted torture. The constant guilt, the shame, the fear, the need for control. The routines and the inability to see anything rationally. I think that the symptoms of an eating disorder patient and the methods for both staying thin and for recovery could also be interesting to explore within a creative setting.