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Creating images of the living mind

We are all now familiar with images from brain scans. But is a brain image a picture of the 'living mind'? Can images capture the states we call mental illness, and if so how? What does thinking look like? What role do images of the mind play in scientific and popular understandings of human emotions? And what can artists contribute to our vision of consciousness?

Visualising the Mind: images of mental life in science, art and popular culture is a new artist's project at the BIOS centre at LSE, supported by a People Award from the Wellcome Trust. Artist Ruth Maclennan will work alongside BIOS researchers to explore the ways in which the mind, as physical and cultural entity, has been or might in future be visually represented and with what scientific, aesthetic and cultural implications.

For centuries artists, writers and scientists have attempted to describe and visualise the workings of the mind and its 'container', the brain. Advances in brain imaging seem to promise that, at last, we will be able to see the mind when we look at the brain. This investigative and speculative art project will consider diverse approaches to the 'mind-body problem' from memory theatres, to the 'brains-on-stalks' of science fiction, to contemporary PET scan imagery, and everything in between.

During this ten month residency, Ruth Maclennan will produce new work, curate a group exhibition and, together with BIOS director Professor Nikolas Rose, organise a series of public debates with artists, writers, scientists and social scientists on the subject of visualisations of the mind.

Ruth said: 'Making images is always about visualising and fixing a particular state of mind, of creating a document - a thing - out of the internal flux of consciousness, of translating thought into visible, tangible stuff. '

Professor Rose said: 'Images play a crucial role in contemporary neuroscience, and in popular understandings of the mind. The Visualising the Mind artist residency will result in new and original works of art and a public exhibition linking social science, scientific, and artistic conceptions of the mind. We are delighted to have Ruth working with us exploring the links between art and the life sciences and broadening the reach of contemporary art culture in London.'




Ruth Maclennan has exhibited widely in Britain and abroad since graduating with an MA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths' College in 2000. In 2001-2, she was Leverhulme artist-in-residence in the LSE Library Archives. While at LSE she produced several new works and an exhibition, The Archives Project: Part 1; and organised a series of artists' talks and screenings at LSE entitled Out of the Archives, on the subject of the archive in art practice. She contributed to the exhibition and book: Potential: ongoing archive (John Hansard Gallery, Southampton, and TENT, Rotterdam). 

Recently, the Wellcome Trust commissioned Maclennan to produce new work for the exhibition Four Plus: writing DNA. She carried out research in the Trust's Medical Film and Video Library, and in the BBC television archives, to produce a new film: We Saw It - like a flash. The film was screened in the British Council film festival in Berlin, House of Science and Film. She has lectured at many institutions, including Camberwell College of Art and Central Saint Martin's, Goldsmiths' College, the Photographers' Gallery, the Women's Library and Kulturhuset in Stockholm.

10 August 2004