Saturday, 15 February 2020

Illuminating the Self - Susan Aldworth and Andrew Carnie - Hatton Gallery and Vane Gallery

Illuminating The Self began in 2017 when artists Susan Aldworth and Andrew Carnie were invited to make an artistic response to the research being conducted at Newcastle University, namely the CANDO (Controlling Abnormal Network Dynamics using Optogenetics) Project. 

In the brain, nerve cells generate rhythmic activity or ‘brain waves’. In many neurological diseases these rhythms are disrupted, producing abnormal patterns of activity. In epilepsy, abnormal activity can often be localised to a small ‘focus’, which then spreads causing a seizure. Epilepsy affects 600,000 people in the UK and uncontrolled seizures have devastating effects on patients’ lives. Nearly a third of cases fail to respond to conventional drug treatments and may require surgical removal of the focus. However, surgery may not be suitable for all patients due to irreversible damage to necessary brain functions.

This CANDO project proposes an alternative treatment using a small implant to modulate abnormal activity and so prevent seizure development. The implant provides precisely timed stimulation by continuously monitoring brain waves via implanted electrodes and modifying them via implanted light sources. This requires that some cells within the focus are genetically altered using a safe virus to make them sensitive to light. The goal of this project is to create a successful first-in-human trial in epilepsy patients.

The exhibition is the artists' response to spending time studying the complex computer modelling that tests thousands of different scenarios, observing the animal experiments that are essential ahead of any human trials, and lengthy discussions with legal experts about the ethical implications of this kind of technology and what it might mean for all of us.

"The question of how we construct our sense of self and how it might be changed by the integration of biotechnology within the body has been central to discussions for Illuminating the Self. The artworks in the exhibition navigate the scientific and technological aspects of the project alongside the intensely human experience of epilepsy."

"For Andrew carnie this has meant focussing on the inner workings of the brain, how they are disrupted during a seizure and how gene therapy and the CANDO implant might modulate this disruption. Susan Aldworth has responded to the inner feelings and experiences of those living with epilepsy."

"The exhibitions of Illuminating the Self attempt to give us insight into cutting edge and complex neuroscience, and convey a sense of pioneering research on the brink of breakthrough. They also aim to increase our understanding of what epilepsy is and what it means to live with the condition. Their main concern however remains to encourage visitors to ask their own questions - about the science, the technology, the art and about themselves."

Lucy Jenkins, Curator of Illuminating the Self

Hatton Gallery
18th January - 9th May

Vane Gallery
16th January - 29th February

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