Can artists display actual human brain tissue alongside their brain-related art? Or is this objectifying the brain? An exhibition in Britain has caused an uproar, with one politician calling brain art "disrespectful" and "unacceptable."
The Brainstorm exhibition is running right now at GV Art in London, and it consists of seven artists considering the human brain, alongside films of a neurological examination and an actual human brain from a multiple sclerosis patient. The different artworks showcase brains in different ways, some of which look like very realistic images of brain tissue and some of which are more fanciful. The gallery is one of the few places in Britain that's licensed to display human tissue, and the brain slices on display are displayed in accordance with a stringent set of rules.
Conservative MP David Amess is one of the most vocal critics of the exhibition:
It's one thing if this is done in a laboratory, but it's degrading to put body parts on display in a public place. In my personal opinion, this is a disrespectful way to treat the human body and is unacceptable.
Dr. David Dexter, scientific director of the Joint Multiple Sclerosis Society and Parkinson's UK Tissue Bank at Imperial College London, responds to Amess' concerns in an editorial in the Guardian:
Would we have had such a reactionary response to an art exhibition about the kidney and kidney disease? What is it about the brain that generates such an exaggerated reaction? Is it because the brain is the organ we use to think?...
Brain slices from previous neuropathological examinations are used in the human section of the display at GV Art. They are there not only to educate the public about what a brain looks like and how it can be affected by disease, but also to contextualise where some of the art work originated. Art has a significant role to play in science as a tool for communicating to the public what the scientist sees in the laboratory, in a form that can be understood by everyone...
You don't go about demystifying the brain by locking it away in a laboratory, but by appropriately involving it in widely accessible media like art. This exhibition is a bold step in the right direction.
Here are some of our favorite images from the exhibition. More at the link. [Guardian]
Headache by Helen Pynor (detail), C-type photograph on Duratran Photograph: GV Art
My Soul Glass by Katharine Dowson, laser etching of the artist's brain. Photograph: GV Art
Echo Pearl Delta by Andrew Carnie, Giclée Photograph: GV Art
Sections of brain and spinal cord at the Tissue Bank, Imperial College . Photograph: GV Art
Dr Federico Roncaroli (middle) with artists David Marron and Katharine Dowson at the Tissue Bank, Imperial College. Photograph: GV Art