Updated: Feb 1, 2021
Words can’t always deliver our thoughts and feelings alone, and only art will suffice, whether that be creating or observing, offering an alternate look at subjects in the world. If we focus on creating, then it can be used as a potent tool in unpicking things that we can not comprehend. Exhibition Illuminating the Self at Hatton Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne is doing just that by responding to powerful research from Newcastle University about epilepsy. The world-class CANDO project is developing an alternative treatment for epilepsy by using a light implant in the brain to help prevent seizures. Artists Andrew Carnie and Susan Aldworth have been moved greatly by the project, focussing on hidden aspects by studying the inner workings of the brain and addressing the feelings of people with the condition.
As you enter Blue Matter by Carnie, the first thing that strikes you is the cosmic atmosphere; its calming and hypnotic air enables you to feel part of a sci-fi movement. There is no light apart from the work, so the room is is in matte blackness. Running along one wall is a film showing viewers an imagined landscape of the brain, with tree-like visuals of swaying branches and roots. Seizures take place and then, at points, the CANDO device calming the situation: a visual representation of a complex organ.
Sounding the Blue commences as two white mounds on the floor. When you walk past, they begin to slowly expand and inflate; their veins glow electric blue. The public acts as a trigger in this interactive way to demonstrate the brain being affected by external factors, and The Constant Whir adds sounds to the space contributing to the all encompassing and immersive feel of the room.
The other section illustrates Out of the Blue by Aldworth. Humans with Epilepsy are the subject, with many different nationalities contributing sensitive, personal thoughts. As the condition affects 1 in 100 people, their words were sewed onto 100 pieces of Victorian underwear, by 100 embroiderers, using UV threads. The undergarments represent how epilepsy can often be hidden in many ways under the cloth of everyday life.
From UV light, the thread glows brightly, representing that things are present when they can't be seen. One-piece states, ‘Epilepsy doesn’t mean much to me, it’s a part of me now. Something I have to live with and something that I’ll never probably understand.’ With an honestly, they have reached the aim of enabling understanding. The UV light adds significance, as a strong link to CANDO.
Although it could look simple on the surface, any complexity is explained clearly through action. The garments are attached to pulleys and motors, which move in patterns until they are fully aligned and then fall to the floor. Almost ghostly, they drift back to how their position at the beginning. Again, this is a visual representation of a seizure, making the audience able to digest and fathom what happens to the person experiencing it. Science and art are hand in hand here. Not only have they brought epilepsy and the CANDO project to a wider audience, but they have also found a way to communicate while holding artistic integrity. You leave with empathetic knowledge.
Article by Beverley Knight