The Grey Space
How can sciences and photography harmonize to build a unique piece of insight into our own body, and create an extraordinary piece of art all at once?
Yas Crawford, a photographic artist from Wales, (find more about her in our article Cognition IX or her website) defines The Grey Space as ‘working between disciplines’ and ‘highlighting areas that are hidden or difficult to communicate’. The union of disciplines can be anything from technology and arts to mathematics and philosophy, which allows the birth of a unique collaboration in the exploration of the ambiguous. An example Yas shared in our interview was the collaboration of musicians with biological scientists in the journey of understanding how the human brain works. Studies concerning patients with brain injuries have shown that while the brain is localized in terms of different functions (for instance, the amygdala regulates our emotions and the posterior hippocampus is involved in cognitive and spatial processing), there isn’t a brain structure localized specifically for music. Instead, music results in the interaction of many areas of the brain at once (1). Another study conducted with the collaboration between musicians and scientists have shown that musicians tend to be more alert and aware of their surroundings when compared to non-musicians, which, according to Simon Landry from the University of Montreal, is applicable knowledge in terms of reaction times to stimuli; “As people get older, for example, we know their reaction times get slower. So if we know that playing a musical instrument increases reaction times, then maybe playing an instrument will be helpful for them.”(2). Therefore it is impossible to ignore how helpful and enlightening collaborations within ‘the grey space’ are.
Similarly, Yas has the aim “to visually inform what is hard to understand scientifically” while working in ‘the grey space’. She was diagnosed with an illness called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or chronic fatigue syndrome, which was the reason she had to partially break away from her corporate life. This has allowed her to discover her deep passion for photography which she has carried throughout her life without realization. With the combination of her passion for photography and sciences, she achieved to depict the interoception or the heightened senses of the bodily functions that ME results in (See Figure 1 & 2).
With her use of flashing colors or tree branches forming the structure of the brain she aims to depict the lack of control over the bocy she and the patients of ME experience. Almost all illnesses result in fatigue, brain fog or nausea, but very few have these effects lengthened However, for patients with ME, the vision, the sound and almost any stimulus one would call ordinary feels painful. The complexity of the illness is successfully portrayed in her works.
The ‘ interoception’, or ‘the eighth sense’ is a sensation hard to describe, which makes the illness unique and ambiguous. Yas’s work in ‘the grey space’ therefore provides some insight into what the patients experience through her symbolism and through the collaboration of art and science. Science, which is complex and, most of the time, hard to understand is made accessible to everyone with the visualisation that art provides. These collaborations between disciplines, or working in the ‘grey space’, as Yas shares, “allows creativity and shows that dichotomy between scientists who are very process-driven and artists who are very creative and more open in the way that they engage information”. This also strips disciplines such as sciences from their reductionist nature, allowing a deeper understanding by everyone.
1 — Weinberger, Norman M. “Music and the Brain.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 1 Sept. 2006, www.scientificamerican.com/article/music-and-the-brain-2006-09/.
2 — Landry, Simon P., and François Champoux. “Musicians React Faster and Are Better Multisensory Integrators.” Brain and Cognition, vol. 111, 2017, pp. 156–162., doi:10.1016/j.bandc.2016.12.001.