Getting A-Head in Art

An arresting new interactive exhibition exploring the boundaries between art and science, and powered by Apollo technology, opens on Tuesday 24th February at the National Science Learning Centre, York.

MRI Brain Scan

Me, Myself and MRI uses photography, video, sound and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) data to create complete portraits of a series of individuals. By interacting with the exhibition you can explore many of the facets of the individuals portrayed. This exciting multi-media exhibition has been created by York-based arts partnership Geodesic Arts, working in unique collaboration with Archbishop Holgate’s School York and York Neuroimaging Centre, and is funded by the Wellcome Trust and Arts Council England. It will tour to regional venues in 2009.

The culmination of a year long project, this exhibition uses photography, sound and video as well as contemporary neuroimaging technology. The subjects were chosen by Year 9 pupils from Archbishop Holgate’s School who decided to concentrate on capturing a comprehensive look at some of the very different people who make up society.

Tajinder, one of the subjects in the exhibition

The final six subjects were a nurse, a chaplain, a playwright, a kick-boxing champion, a TV journalist and a scientist. They sat for photographic portraits and took part in video and audio interviews, as well as undertaking an MRI brain scan.

The resulting data and footage has been transformed into a series of digital portraits that provide a unique representation of each of the subjects, giving a more detailed insight into what makes them all individual. MRI scans as well as being essential diagnostic tools also produce beautiful images and highlight features that are unique to each individual.

The project team has been working with Year 9 pupils from Archbishop Holgate’s School since the beginning of last year. James Evans, Head of Science, explains why the school got involved. “It is an exciting, collaborative project that has engaged the pupils, teachers and outside agencies. It is an opportunity to celebrate the exciting developments in science, explore the ethical issues raised and marry them with the creativity and expression of art.”  He believes that the project has made a lasting impression on the pupils. “To experience the ‘wow’ factor of science with inspirational people, to make links with many facets of the curriculum, to be engaged by science and express through art, ICT and media is priceless.

As well as learning about creative digital technology, the pupils have been exploring the development of contemporary neuroimaging techniques such as MRI and MEG and the science behind them. Staff at York Neuroimaging Centre have been acting as scientific advisors to the project, explaining how modern-day techniques have developed, investigating ethical issues surrounding these techniques and carrying out MRI scans on the people selected to take part in the project. This is a chance to experience contemporary science firsthand, as Elliot Crowe, a Year 9 pupil points out. “I thought it would be something new and exciting to try. It’s not very often you get an opportunity to do something like this.

The pupils have also found out about the development of portraiture as an art form and the links between science and the arts as they worked with an art historian to discover how art and science together can help us make sense of the world around us. As Francesca Smith, a pupil taking part in the work says, “I like this project – it’s different because we’re doing art and science together.”

This innovative project will enable young people to develop an understanding of the science behind MRI scans,” explains Clare Matterson, Wellcome Trust Director of Medicine, Society and History. “By engaging in a creative and accessible way with science and technology, they will explore ideas about the individual and self from scientific and cultural perspectives.

Work on the project started in January 2008 and the final exhibition will launch at the National Science Learning Centre on the 24th February before touring to Impressions Gallery, Bradford in April 2009. The project forms part of the year-round community and education programme of SightSonic, York’s International Festival of Digital Arts.