Project Diary: The Artist in the Neuroscience Lab

The day that ceramicist Amanda Doidge and philosophy researcher Benjamin Dalton stepped foot in the laboratory of the Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute

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Many conversations were had when Amanda and I spent the afternoon with Dr Sandrine’s team of neuroplasticity researchers at the Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute. Questions ranged from the scientific to the personal, from the artistic to the political. We looked down microscopes, studied images of neurogenesis, observed stem cell cultures, and talked ceramics.

Questions included:

How do scientists measure plasticity?

What does the concept of “form” mean to science?

Why does life have to take “form”? Is life possible without “form”?

Does (neuro)plasticity only ever describe healthy, helpful processes of evolution and development, or can “bad”, pathological processes also be described as “plastic”?

Amanda Doidge Narrating Plasticity Benjamin Dalton
Ceramicist Amanda Doidge is shown around the lab at the Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute by neuroplasticity researchers Demelza Streeth, Curie Kim, Andrea Du Perez and Chiara De Lucia
Amanda Doidge Narrating Plasticity, Benjamin Dalton
Amanda looking at stem cells through a microscope. Amanda was interested in what forms were produced by the stem cells, and we had many conversations with the scientists about what “form” means from a scientific perspective. In terms of the brain, synaptic “form” is plastic because synapses can rewire and create different networks: so what is the different between the network and the form? Can a network also be a form?
Narrating Plasticity, Amanda Doidge, Benjamin Dalton
Neurogenesis in action: what forms are produced by neuronetworks? Amanda was also fascinated but the colours used by the scientists to differentiate between different types of cells at different stages in their life cycles…
Amanda Doidge, Benjamin Dalton, Narrating Plasticity
Amanda and I talked a lot to the neuroscientists about the lifecycles of a cell, and how different cells come together in the brain to make forms. One question that kept coming up was: if the scientists are measuring neuroplasticity in terms of the rate of neurogenesis – how many new neurons are being produced at anyone time – how does this fit in with the bigger thinking of plasticity? How does a researcher go from the zoomed-in picture of neurogenesis to thinking about the overall plasticity of the brain on a much larger scale?
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What is neural form? Neuroscientists talk about plasticity in terms of neurogenesis, and the changing of connections and networks in the brain. How can we think of forms and networks at the same time?
Narrating Plasticity, Benjamin Dalton, Amanda Doidge
The scientists always seemed taken back by how beautiful we found the images of the nascent neurons. Amanda was particularly interested by how the dying cells were colour-coded differently from the living cells, asking exactly what the difference was between these two types of cell and how the dying cells contributed to ongoing “healthy” processes of neuroplasticity. We learned that apoptosis is the process by which cells die in a health and “planned” manner, to make way for new cells or to sculpt forms, “pruning” away unwanted material the way a gardener might prune a bush. Necrosis, on the other hand, is when cells die chaotically and in an unplanned manner, which can cause a lot of problems. It is a very fine balance between the two processes. 
Benjamin Dalton, Amanda Doidge, and the neuroplasticity team Narrating Plasticity
Squadgoals. (From let to right) Amanda Doidge, Curie Kim, Chiara De Lucia, Andrea Du Preez, Demelza Streeth and Benjamin Dalton

Project Diary: Meeting Amanda for the First Time

Cups, Trauma, and Heraclitus: Recalling my very first visit to meet the ceramicist Amanda Doidge at her workshop in Walthamstow

I first emailed the ceramicist Amanda Doidge to see if she would be interested in collaborating on the Narrating Plasticity project on a beautiful summer’s day in 2016. I had been fascinated by her dark, destructive ceramics and her interest in arts and science collaboration.  I clicked send and went back out into my garden in Wolverhampton to listen to Girls Aloud in the sun, not expecting to be contacted for a week or two.

Just ten minutes later Amanda called, asking if I would like to visit her in her studio in Walthamstow to discuss the project. I was very excited.

Two weeks later and I was on the tube to Walthamstow Central. Amanda showed me straight to her studio where her art work was being displayed as part of the E17 Art Trail. 

Narrating Plasticity Amanda Doidge Benjamin Dalton
Amanda’s workshop was set up displaying her work from the E17 Art Trail, where artists from all over Walthamstow open their studios to the general public. This piece is her series entitled: Kill or Cure
Amanda Doidge Narrating Plasticity
Placards explaining the thinking behind Amanda’s ceramics series Kill or Cure and ‘The Angel Inside’
Amanda Doidge Narrating Plasticity
‘The Angel Inside’
Amanda Doidge Narrating Plasticity
Single cup from the series ‘The Angel Inside’

Amanda told me that she was interested in series because she wanted to bring her ceramics to life somehow. Series of cups told a story. Amanda told me she liked how a series could either be a multitude of different cups, or display the same cup at different moments in its transformation.

To put the ceramics in series introduces the element of time into the ceramics.

In Kill or Cure, the cup appears to deform over a period of time, falling back under the weight of its handle. Each cup had been fired with an increasing amount of lithium in it, with the higher doses causing higher levels of deformation.

Amanda and I discussed what it meant to take one cup out of the series and look at it in isolation: it doesn’t even look like a cup, you are seeing it out of context, you do not know what has happened to it to produce that form.

In this way, seeing a cup in isolation is like meeting someone for the first time, be that on the street, or in a clinical setting when a doctor is trying to determine the history of a patient, or the development of a problem: you do not know what has preceded that form, or where that form will go next.

Narrating Plasticity Amanda Doidge Benjamin Dalton
Amanda arranging and rearranging the ‘The Angel Inside’ series in her studio.
Narrating Plasticity Amanda Doidge
Some of the many, many moulds used to create Amanda’s series… like the cups themselves, these moulds had to deform over time, straying further and further away from the form of the “traditional” cup with every new casting.

 

Narrating Plasticity: Behind The Scenes (Part II)

Project leader Benjamin Dalton regroups with filmmaker Sam Plommer for day 2 of the Narrating Plasticity project film shoot

Narrating Plasticity Sam Plommer
Filmmaker Sam Plommer sets up the camera at the Francis Crick Institute for our interview with neurogenesis researcher Isabelle Blomfield
Sam Plommer and Isabelle Blomfield at the Crick Institute Narrating Plasticity
Filmmaker Sam Plommer interviews neurogenesis researcher Isabelle Blomfield at the Francis Crick Institute, and we discuss arts and science collaboration and the future of neuroplasticity research
Narrating Plasticity Isabelle Blomfield Benjamin Dalton
Neurogenesis researcher Isabelle Blomfield talks to us about her work on neuroplasticity, arts and science collaboration, and the future of plasticity research
Isabelle Blomfield Sam Plommer Benjamin Dalton Ben Dalton Narrating Plasticity
Discussion becomes passionate on the set of Narrating Plasticity The Movie
Isabelle Blomfield Narrating Plasticity Benjamin Dalton
Neurogenesis researcher Isabelle Blomfield gets ready for her close-up at the Francis Crick Institute
Jennifer Dhingra, Sam Plommer, Benjamin Dalton, Narrating Plasticity
Medic and Sexual Health Educator Jennifer Dhingra talks to us about the plasticity of sex and gender identities in relation to health care
Jennifer Dhingra, Benjamin Dalton, Narrating Plasticity
Medic and Sexual Health Educator Jennifer Dhingra talks to us about her time working for the charity Sexpression, and about how health care is coming up with new ways to communicate the plasticity of sex and gender identity
Jennifer Dhingra narrating plasticity
Medic and sexual health educator Jennifer Dhingra spoke about her own reactions to the Narrating Plasticity project, talking about how the ways in which we live and express sex and gender identities is more plastic than ever
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Snow falls on Amanda Doidge’s ceramics workshop in Walthamstow
Benjamin Dalton and Sam Plommer, Narrating Plasticity
Project leader Benjamin Dalton with friend and colleague filmmaker Sam Plommer on the set of the Narrating Plasticity project film at the ceramicist Amanda Doidge’s workshop in Walthamstow
Benjamin Dalton and Sam Plommer, Narrating Plasticity
Project leader Benjamin Dalton and filmmaker Sam Plommer have a history of collaboration. Benjamin acted in Sam’s queer short film “Seeing Each Other” (2017), whilst Sam is shooting, directing, and editing the Narrating Plasticity project film. Sam is also the writer, director and editor of his own queer web series: Sorry Not Interested. Catch it on Youtube.
Narrating Plasticity Benjamin Dalton
standing on Walthamstow on the kitchen floor in Walthamstow
Narrating Plasticity, Sam Plommer and Amanda Doidge
Filmmaker Sam Plommer and ceramicist Amanda Doidge prepare to film outside in the snow
Narrating Plasticity
Amanda’s Workshop
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Filmmaker Sam Plommer braving the bog
Amanda Doidge
Ceramicist and project collaborator Amanda Doidge talks to us about her own brand of “destructive plasticity”, and her art work “Kill or Cure”
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Interviewing ceramicist and project collaborator Amanda Doidge in her art studio in Walthamstow, London.
Narrating plasticity, Benjamin Dalton, Sam Plommer, Amanda Doidge
Project leader Benjamin Dalton, ceramicist Amanda Doidge, and filmmaker Sam Plommer in Amanda’s ceramics studio in Walthamstow
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Amanda Doidge talks us through her preparations for the upcoming Narrating Plasticity exhibition launch on the 2nd February, whilst drying one of her pots with a hairdryer  

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Benjamin Dalton, Narrating Plasticity
Filming ceramicist Amanda Doidge at work through her window: the ceramicist in situ
Amanda Doidge Narrating Plasticity
Storying away the finished cups for the Narrating Plasticity project exhibition!
Narrating Plasticity project Benjamin Dalton
The cups get ready for their close-up
Narrating Plasticity
Setting up for more interviews in front of this incredible plant collection
Narrating Plasticity
Filmmaker Sam Plommer readying himself for the final interviews of the Narrating Plasticity project film
Narrating Plasticity project, Amanda Doidge
Ceramicist and project collaborator Amanda Doidge talks to us about her work, plasticity, and how the project has gone
Narrating Plasticity Amanda Doidge
Ceramicist and project collaborator Amanda Doidge reflects back on the Narrating Plasticity project and looks forward to the upcoming exhibition and considers what the future of arts/science collaboration in plasticity research might be…
Narrating Plasticity
Some finished “exploding cups” ready to be stored away for the Narrating Plasticity exhibition 2-3rd February at the King’s College Anatomy Museum
Narrating Plasticity Amanda Doidge
Something strange this way comes – catch all of this and more at the Narrating Plasticity exhibition on 2-3rd February in the King’s College London Anatomy Museum

Narrating Plasticity The Movie: Behind the Scenes

Benjamin Dalton Ben Dalton Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute
I try out a spot of teat-pipetting in the laboratory at the Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute
Benjamin Dalton Ben Dalton Anna Kolliakou
Talking to Dr Anna Kolliakou of the King’s College London Cultural Institute and Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience who has been advisor on the Narrating Plasticity project!
Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute Benjamin Dalton Sam Plommer Curie Kim Demelza
The dream team <3. Filmmaker Sam Plommer and I with Dr Sandrine Thuret’s neuroplasticity research team at the Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute. Left to right: Alish Palmos, Chiara De Lucia, Sam Plommer, Benjamin Dalton, Demelza Smeeth, Curie Kim, and Andrea Du Preez
Benjamin Dalton Ben Dalton Dr Sandrine Thuret
Benjamin Dalton in conversation with Dr Sandrine Thuret at the Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute
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Filmmaker Sam Plommer editing some interview footage on the go… 
Sam Plommer Narrating Plasticity
Filmmaker Sam Plommer sets up the lighting for a morning of interviews in Professor Patrick ffrench’s office at the King’s College London French department
Benjamin Dalton Ben Dalton and Sam Plommer
The first interview of the morning with Benjamin Dalton and Sam Plommer
Sam Plommer Maurice Wohl laboratory
Filmmaker Sam Plommer setting up the shot with Dr Sandrine Thuret’s team of neuroplasticity researchers in the laboratory at the Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute!
Benjamin Dalton
“Ready for my close-up, Mr Demille…”
William Martin Sam Plommer Benjamin Dalton
Interviewing potter and ceramicist William Martin at his studio in the Bussey Building, Peckham. Talking about queer plasticity, masculinity, mental health and ceramics.