The Art of Neuroscience

These paintings on aluminium panels are drawn from the forms of biochemistry and sensory science.
27 March, 2017
Where do art, science and technology meet? At SciArt Center, a virtual platform and pop-up arts events organization for artists who base their work in and on science.
Geology, microbiology, mathematics and genetics are just a few of the disciplines in which visual artists of all kinds have immersed themselves.

One such artist is Julia Buntaine, who explores the majestic sweep and structure of neuroscience. She is the director of SciArt Center and editor-in-chief of SciArt Magazine, and is based in New York City. There, she creates sculptures, prints and installations based on how the brain works – often using aluminium in the range of materials. For example, a 2016 exhibit used aluminium strips for mounting old-fashioned brain slides from the lab that captured what she calls "parts of minds past."
"Windows into the mind." Images: Julia Buntaine
"Unlike articles and raw data, scientific ideas in the form of art inherently demand subjective judgment and interpretation, and my goal as a science-based artist is to provide my viewer an alternative way to understand the wonders of biology we have discovered in ourselves," Buntaine says.
"Thoughts." Images: Julia Buntaine
"Thoughts" is a series of digital prints that look at the shape of groups of neurons. "Neighborhoods" matches an image of the frontal cortex of the brain with a map of the East Village in her beloved New York. "Raw Feels" is an exploration of how the color red feels to the human brain, in a gallery installation that's complete with objects, color, lighting, sound – the whole multimedia experience of brain activity.
"For Pollock." Image: Julia Buntaine
Buntaine's latest project is the ambitious "For Pollock," which uses neuronal data printed in bright paint-splash colors similar to the work of famous artist Jackson Pollock, whose name is synonymous with American abstract expressionism. Buntaine has transferred neuronal imaging data from EyeWire to 25-centimeter square aluminium tiles that serve as the canvas.
"Neighbourhoods." Images: Julia Buntaine
EyeWire, launched at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a citizen science program that engages people in a game project to map the human brain. Plans for Buntaine's aluminium artwork include 100 different pieces, of which she has completed the first few dozen. The striking modern art, with its cascading waves of the brain's own electrical wiring, is a synthesis of the art and science, but also the technology used to generate the images through EyeWire.
"Raw Feels." Images: Julia Buntaine
Metals are also used in Buntaine's "Wave(s)" sculptures, which are made of rebar wire in the shapes of alpha, delta and other brain waves that extend as large as 1.2 meters.

"The brain runs on electricity, and this electrical activity is one way in which we gain insight into the brain's mechanisms," the artist explains. "Mathematically divided into five groups, our brain waves embody our conscious and unconscious activity. This piece is an exploration of the aesthetic potential of brain wave forms."
“ Wave." Images: Julia Buntaine
Buntaine and her colleagues are frequent speakers on the role of art in medical illustration for technical and professional purposes, for understanding specific topics like climate change, and notably for outreach – to connect with the community and advance a cultural understanding of science in visually exciting ways.
Banner image: Julia Buntaine