Preview: Wonder: Art and Science on the Brain at The Barbican

Visitors can help creat a map of the brain

Visitors can help creat a map of the brain - Credit: Archant

The cerebellum, eye movements, the lymbic system, the angular gyrus; these are the things that tend to get associated with neuroscience.

People can try their hand at knitting a neuron

People can try their hand at knitting a neuron - Credit: Archant

And despite very readable tomes by the likes of VS Ramachandaran, the study of the brain has yet to make the leap from research activity to recreational pastime for the general public.

However Wonder: Art and Science on the Brain, a groundbreaking festival from the Barbican alongside the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) and the Wellcome Trust, attempts to bridge this gap and help people get to grips with the mysteries and mechanics of the human mind.

The full programme runs throughout March and April and features the likes of comedian Ruby Wax discussing her depression and mathematician Marcus du Sautoy and DJ James Holden exploring consciousness through an audiovisual display.

But the opening weekender, which takes place on March 2 and 3, is a free taster featuring a series of creative events for anyone interested in delving into the grey matter. Highlights include a the Big Brain Flash – a public dance choreographed to look like a brain wave – and workshops to dissect jelly brains to find out what’s inside, and eat the remains.

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Jenny Mollica, part of the creative learning team at the Barbican in Silk Street who helped produce the festival, says: “It’s a first for the Barbican to combine arts and science together like this,” she said.


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“It all started about a year ago when the BNA asked to hold their annual conference here in April.

“We realised we would have all these amazing cutting edge scientists talking about the advanced aspects of neuroscience, but behind closed doors.

“We wanted to work out how can we bring this to the public and from there it grew from there into this big arts and science festival. The real focus is about allowing the public to find out more about neuroscience through art. We’ve tried to make it really accessible and lively.”

Other attractions include a singing hypnotist’s tent, housing a series of mesmeric acts, and a room that plays the sound of the brain working amplified thousands of times to make it audible to the human ear.

“It turns out the noises the brain makes are very beautiful,” says Jenny.

“We have different levels of exhibition – things like the hypnosis explore the mysteries of the mind, while some of them concentrate on demystifying it – how it actually works.

“Hopefully people can come here and learn a lot – I certainly have.

“I came into this not knowing anything beyond the obvious.

“But I think that’s a good thing because that’s how most people will come to the exhibition.

“It’s been interesting with scientists as well. It’s often said that artist are always asking questions, while scientists demand answers. I think it’s true, and it makes for a really good marriage.”

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