As I have already mentioned in the Returning to my Blog post, the pandemic restrictions have changed the way I work completely.
My previously preferred interactive methodologies involving audience engagement and/or touch have been dropped for the foreseeable future. More physically distant digital technologies such as video have taken preference for the time being.
Consequently, inspired by the latest research on organoids being carried out by my scientific collaborator: A.Prof. Mirella Dottori, I am currently working on a video about our sense of touch entitled: Tactile.
This video explores different types of touch & the ways they affect us. It shows my apparently disembodied hands manipulating various items – both pleasant and unpleasant, in the hopes these visual images will evoke a sensory response in viewers.
I’m looking forward to completing this artwork soon and having the opportunity to show it.
I’m very pleased to report that my proposal for the exhibition during the 3Fest event has been accepted by the Ars Electronicacommittee in Linz. This will be the first time Ars Electronica has staged an event in Australia.
Scheduled to take place over 4 days in May 2020, a number of local stakeholders are-involved, including the Wollongong Council and the University of Wollongong School of Art.
The working title of my artwork is Sensory Interpretations, and it represents the outcome of my Synapse residency. Details of this residency have been posted on this blog and now is the time when I begin the creative work to recontextualise this ground breaking scientific data in the form of an interactive installation.
I am reminded of the kymograph once again, and its’ use to measure electronic stimuli before the introduction of computers:
It is exciting to develop my new installation, refining older concepts and incorporating recontextualised, recent scientific sensory data!
Whilst I am no longer posting this blog at weekly intervals this definitely does not mean that my laboratory experiences are over – far from it!! I recently spent time with Dr. Rocio Finol-Urdaneta exploring aspects of electrophysiology.
Looking down the microscope at the equipment set up to measure the spiking of the neurons in response to stimuli, I could see the pipette piercing a group of neurons. When the spiking occurred it was represented on the computer screen nearby – where the spiking levels and frequency were represented in graph form.
Throughout this residency I have been looking at neuronal pathways and message transmission through our bodies. Designated synaptic clefts allow these transmissions to pass from one dendrite to the next and this is known as the action potential process – I have posted a number of images and descriptions of this process, according to my understanding of it. However, unsurprisingly, I now find there is more to these complex neurological interactions – also involved are electronic components known as ion channels:
From 1939 to 1952, Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley published a series of seminal papers that successfully described how the flux of ions across membranes is responsible for the generation of the action potential: an action potential is the transient, rapid rise and fall of the membrane voltage ( Rasband, M. N. (2010) Ion Channels and Excitable Cells. Nature Education3(9):41)
Returning to some earlier research in more detail I have been investigating neuronal firing.
As has been previously discussed in earlier posts, neuronal firing is the name given to the changes that take to enable neurons to communicate with each other. This neuronal communication occurs via electrical impulses and neurotransmitters.
As you can see from the chart above, the activity of the cultured sensory neurons can be measured in a number of ways relating to the bursts of activity, spike rate and active channels.
Since its initiation in 1979, Ars Electronica, Linz, has developed as an innovative centre for arts and ideas, particularly media art. It has sought to connect these ideas with everyday life through science and research, art and technology. https://ars.electronica.art/about/en/
Imagine my surprise when I learned that Ars Electronica was coming to Wollongong in February 2020 in the form of the 3Festival https://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/5931285/art-and-tech-festival-ground-breaking-for-wollongong/
Whilst this new venture will maintain the essential aims of the Ars parent organisation, it will have new unique characteristics related to Wollongong and the various stakeholders who are supporting this exciting venture.
Importantly, from my point of view, the 3Festival will have an art/science component where I will have the opportunity to showcase the first artistic outcomes of this Synapse residency..
I have come to expect that, during my art/science collaborations, I will find myself out of my depth from time to time in a rarefied and highly specific discipline – thoughts here of Steven Wilson and the dilettante question: https://www.leoalmanac.org/industrial-research-artist-a-proposal-by-stephen-wilson/ – In the Dottori laboratory, as I observe experiments relating to the enormously complex sensory systems within the human body and the way that sensory stimuli are received and travel to and from the brain, I am entering terrain that is far beyond my own expertise.
As a result of this, I recently supplemented my conversations and observations about the creation of neuronal populations and the formation of functional networks by consulting a website aptly entitled: https://neuroscientificallychallenged.com/ On this site I took a look at these processes more generally and diagrammatically. The following is a brief outline of what I have abstracted:
The generic process that allows sensory stimuli to pass around our body is known as Synaptic Transmission. When neurons communicate they usually do so in a designated area known as a synapse. Although very close, the neurons do not actually touch each other, but are separated by the synaptic cleft that allows chemical messages to pass across from one neuron to the receptors of another neuron on the other side.
The neuron sending the chemical signal is known as the presynaptic neuron and the neuron that receives this message is known as the postsynapticneuron.
An Internet search for ‘senses’ reveals that the current biophysical benchmark consists of five senses: touch, smell, hearing, taste and sight. This basic group of five is sometimes extended to include balance, temperature and proprioception. However this traditional biophysical model has been challenged and extended and today there is really no absolute definition!
It is widely accepted that the earliest systematic consideration of the nature of the senses is found in Aristotle’s De Anima, Book II, ch. 7-11. This text might be described as a type of rumination on the constituent factors of the soul of various living entities in combination with an early concept of biology and, in the case of humans, intellect. Descartes subsequently challenged the notion of relying on personal senses to validate human perceptions, whilst successive thinkers have subsequently destabilised Descartes dualistic outlook, preferring to use the term ‘vital force’, rater than soul.
The notion of the ‘vital force’was central to my doctoral thesis research into concepts of ‘humanness’ and experimental links to the nineteenth century developments in galvanics. In particular, the development of electricity led to the invention of machines that could supposedly define the human body and all its component parts.
This week included something outside the Dottori lab when Mirella and I visited the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials (AIIM) at the Innovation Campus: https://www.uow.edu.au/research-and-innovation/our-research/research-institutes-and-facilities/australian-institute-for-innovative-materials/about-us/
This exciting opportunity all began with a chance meeting between myself and the Executive Director: Professor Will Price, which involved a conversation about the possibilities of incorporating 3D components into my future artworks. Will subsequently set up an exploratory visit to the 3D workshop with the Associate Dean of Research (AIIM), Professor Peter Innis.
Equipped with high end machines of various types this facility is arguably the most advanced of its kind in Australia.