Member of the Month
Interview by Kate Schwarting, Member Programs Manager
KS: Your work incorporates influences from a wide variety of scientific fields including cosmology and neuroscience. What led you to explore these in your art?
RK: An immense curiosity and the process of discovery act as catalysts for the development of my artwork. Early childhood memories of exploring the world through a microscope and telescope instilled a deep sense of awe and wonder, planting seeds that continue to influence and advance my art making practice. My artwork seeks “the truth” through observation. It is informed by wide-ranging research into cosmology, neuroscience, history, philosophy, and connecting common threads that flow across various scientific fields to capture and re-imagine what scientists see.
Invitations to lecture at Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) confirmed a deeply held belief: science and art pursue the same objective- researching a specific natural phenomenon and giving it a voice through our work. Each lecture has resulted in an invitation to take a deeper look at this connection, one that appears to be as universal as the human need to search for truth through exploration.
Research at CfA and at NIH has informed and inspired NeuroCantos, a multimedia collaboration with British poet Steven J. Fowler and sound artist Susan Alexjander. NeuroCantos a multi-media installation investigates the brain’s ability to perceive similar patterns of complexity at the micro and macro level. Exploring the dynamics and poetics of inner and outer space, NeuroCantos provides an exciting opportunity to continue to foster an ongoing, multidisciplinary dialogue that offers new and innovative ways to understand the relationship between astrophysics and neuroscience.
KS: What roles do materials, such as mylar, play throughout your work?
RK: Mylar provides the perfect material for the creation of my work. The material’s ability to be cut easily, its translucent nature, which can be left in its natural state or painted, provide a perfect substrate to capture the mystery and dynamics of the complexity systems that my work explores.
KS: How do you define the intersection of art and science and its significance?
RK: Art and science share much in common. Prior to the advent of the camera, natural philosophers used drawing and painting as a way of recording and sharing scientific observation. Also, both the fields of art and science engage in creativity and problem solving. Artists and scientists discover truths related to the notion of aesthetics and beauty, and utilize perception to make the invisible, visible.
KS: What process do you use to develop your projects, and what led you to include patients in the active process of making art to be included in your final piece during your Artist in Residency at the Carolinas Healthcare System?
RK: The development of each art project is unique, and usually involves a collaborative component. In the case of the Artist Residency with Carolinas Healthcare System my collaborating partners were traumatic and non-traumatic patients and caregivers at the Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, NC. The initial creative spark for the Constellation (Tree of Life) project, is the celebration of stars and “star stories” found in all cultures including the Australian Aborigine, who developed song maps or “Songlines,” using singing to navigate and describe locations on their nomadic journeys. The residency project is also inspired by the words of neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal: “As long as our brain is a mystery, the universe, the reflection of the structure of the brain, will also be a mystery.”
Similarities in the structure of the brain and the universe are seen in the branching/fractal layout of the installation, inspired by the Tree of Life logo of the Carolinas Healthcare System. Circular waveform sculptures have been created through a process called cymatics, which transforms sound waves into visual patterns. The recording of patient voices for the project was in collaboration with the Levine Children’s Hospital’s Seacrest Studios.
On each branch of the installation, the larger cymatic print is created by the patient’s voice, and the smaller ones reference the support of family and patient caregivers. Each sculpture grouping also includes a patient/caregiver collaborative painting. Created by the technique of blowing paint through a straw, the paintings represent the power of breath to communicate, and reference the song maps of the Aborigine. The installation is a symbol of the extraordinary patients and caregivers at the Levine Children’s Hospital and honors the bright light of their healing process that shines on all of us. The installation symbolizes the human spirit and its ability to connect and weave stories of healing and transformation, inspiring us all.
KS: Where can we see more of your work?
RK: A collection of my neuroscience inspired work is permanently installed at the Porter Neuroscience Research Center at National Institute of Health. One work titled: The Measure of All Things, has been inspired by the research of neuro-anatomist, Santiago Ramon y Cajal. The sculpture is installed across from a exhibition of actual Cajal research drawings on loan to NIH from Instituto Cajal in Madrid. You can find out more about my work on my website, rebeccakamen.com. There is a virtual walkthrough video of the Continuum Exhibition featuring the Portal and NeuroCantos installations can be found (Videography by William Dempsey). You can also view a short video on the Levine’s Children’s Hospital Project (Videography by: Ben Premeaux)