“Brainbow Hippocampus”

Words by Greg Dunn

Brainbow Hippocampus, © Greg Dunn 2014

Brainbow Hippocampus is a neonaturalist work of art, a category defined as drawing upon humankind’s advancing understanding of the natural world. Neonaturalism introduces these ideas and concepts into fine art to broaden the definition of art based on the natural world.

Concept in Brainbow Hippocampus

The foundational concept behind Brainbow Hippocampus and all our neuroscience themed art is an observation that the universe naturally organises itself into familiar forms that can be found at all scales. Vistas of the microscopic world closely resemble those of the visible world because nature is composed of fractals, shapes that exist without size dependence. Trees, neurons, lighting bolts, cracks in ice and glass, the orientations of galactic superclusters- all are examples of these treelike fractal forms. To cement our declaration that nature produces these forms and will assemble into them naturally, we draw upon principles of abstract expressionism and sumi-e to spatter ink on the page using the breath to paint the neurons themselves. The delicate treelike shapes that naturally emerge provide another example of nature’s fractalized organisation and communicate to the viewer that the processes that create the shape of neuron or a tree are fundamentally similar and are found everywhere in nature. That the viewer is initially unclear as to whether they are looking at something abstract or deeply and logically rooted in nature is a foundational goal of our work.

We chose the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in learning and memory, as the expression for this concept for several reasons. Firstly, the hippocampus’ highly organised structure provides a logic to the composition that is compelling to those who know nothing of the microscopic structure of the brain and who would initially see it as a work of abstract art. We employ interesting aesthetics to encourage the viewer to ask questions about the deeper concepts behind the art, in this case the nature of fractal forms, the microscopic world of the brain, and phenomena invisible to our naked eye. Secondly, the hippocampus contains an interesting array of neural shapes that take full advantage of the ink blowing technique. Finally, the density of neurons of the hippocampus is very well suited to our microetching technique.

Art Technique: Reflective Microetching (technique invented by Dr. Greg Dunn and Dr. Brian Edwards)

Contact: Greg Dunn/www.gregadunn.com/@GDunnArt

Greg Dunn is an artist who received his PhD in neuroscience from the University of Pennsylvania in 2011. While a graduate student, Dunn’s artistic experiments demonstrated that the qualities of neural forms fit seamlessly into the aesthetic principles of minimalist Asian art and sumi-e scroll and gold leaf painting. Dunn is now a full time artist in Philadelphia, where he works to incorporate his knowledge of neuroscience, physics, and biology into the artistic process through both imagery and technique. Together with Dr. Brian Edwards, a collaborating artist and electrical engineer at Penn, Greg invented a revolutionary technique called reflective microetching that allows dynamic control of imagery and color in reflective gold surfaces. This work has led to the awarding of a grant from the National Science Foundation to produce an enormous 8’ x 12’ microetching of the human brain, the most complex and detailed artistic piece on the brain that will exist in the world. Dunn and Edwards worked on this massive project with the help of neuroscience and fine art students. It was completed in Spring 2016, and will hang permanently in the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.