Illuminating The Self: an enlightening insight at the Hatton Gallery

Updated: Jan 10

Words can’t always express our thoughts and feelings alone, and only art will do, whether that be creating or observing, as it offers us a alternate look at the world. If we’re focussing on creating, then it can be used as a potent tool in unpicking things that we don’t fully understand. New exhibition Illuminating the Self at Hatton Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne is doing just that by responding to powerful new research from Newcastle University about epilepsy.

The world-class and valid 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 inspired hugely by the project, focussing on hidden aspects by studying the inner workings of the brain or 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, it is calming and hypnotic, and enables you to feel part of a sci-fi movie. There is no light apart from the art, so the room is dark. 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 are shown and then, at points, the CANDO device calming the situation: a visual representation of a beautiful and complex organ.

Sounding the Blue appears to be 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 show the brain being affected by external factors. The Constant Whir adds sounds to the room contributing to the fully immersive feel of the exhibition.

The second section offers Out of the Blue by Aldworth. People with Epilepsy are the subject, with many different nationalities contributing their sensitive, personal thoughts. As epilepsy 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 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.’ Candid and honest, they have achieved the aim of a clearer understanding for everyone. The UV light is significant, as a strong link to CANDO.

Although it could look simple on the surface, it simply is not. Out of the Blue has much to explore. The garments are attached to pulleys and motors, which move in patterns until they are fully aligned and then fall to the floor. Slowly, they then move back to how they were 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 successfully combined here. Not only have they brought epilepsy and the CANDO project to a different and wider audience, but they have also found a way to communicate whilst retaining artistic integrity. You leave with knowledge.

Article by Beverley Knight

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