Narrating Plasticity The Movie!

We are so excited to share the Narrating Plasticity project film with you!

We made a film about the Narrating Plasticity project with filmmaker Sam Plommer and which premiered at the Narrating Plasticity exhibition launch at the King’s College London anatomy museum on 2nd February 2018!

So many thanks to everyone involved, and hope you enjoy it! Feel free to get in touch with your reactions and comments! 

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

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?
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

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
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.

Destructive Plasticity in the Petri Dish: First trial

Amanda Doidge introduces me to her first experiment with “destructive plasticity” or “destructive creation” in the form of a series of Petri dishes made with mutant glazes!

The following explosive, exploded, destructive and destroyed Petri dishes are the results of Amanda’s initial meditations on “destructive plasticity” for the project.

Amanda sends me a cooly dramatic email just before she went away on holiday: “Hi Ben, these are some glaze tests of crawling and crazing glazes. A lot of them exploded in the kiln as they cooled down. I am going away tomorrow. Amanda.

The results are fantastic: cracked, greenish, pulled apart Petri dishes, some of which bubble and churn like creme brûlées or curdled milk, and others which crack into harsh geometrities and matrices like a the mudcrack floor of a desert.

When Amanda had explained to me the idea of the self-destructing Petri dishes, she told me that the glaze would be the detonator. Looking through a recipe book of glaze mixes, and pointing to a shelf full of labeled chemicals and elements in jars (Aluminum, flint, LiCO3, Magnesium Carbonate, etc…), Amanda had told me her aim was to “do everything wrong” in preparing the glaze mixtures.

Amanda had got the idea for the Petri dishes from a visit to the neuroscience laboratory at the Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute when we met Dr Sandrine Thuret’s team for the first time. Amanda had become interested in the successions of the simple, clinical forms in series used for looking at stem cells. Creating explosive Petri dishes in the kiln would be a way of thinking the tension between the clinical inertia and prophylaxis of the Petri dishes, and the dynamic, destructive-creative potential of the stem cells.

Amanda prepared her Petri dishes for the kiln like little bombs. Whilst the kiln is usually the step in the ceramic produce in which form is solidified, ossified, and confirmed, Amanda’s Petri dishes explore the kiln as the site at which form is destroyed, pulled apart, and a form is created out of the destruction of form.

Amanda and I have been reading the philosopher Catherine Malabou‘s theories of of “destructive plasticity” together, looking in particular at her works What to do with What To Do With Our Brain? (2004), Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity (2009), and The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage (2009).

In these works, Malabou looks at people’s brains who have been irrevocably transformed through injury or neuropathology, her personality and selfhood becoming suddenly completely different from the person they had been before the event. Malabou argues that these transformation are not the opposite of form, they are not interruptions in plasticity, but they are themselves a form of plasticity: a form is always created when an old form is destroyed, a form of destruction.

I am not sure how much Malabou’s “destructive plasticity” is playing a part in Amanda’s thinking of the Petri dishes at this moment, or whether Amanda’s own “destructive plasticity” is something altogether different and divergent. I am excited to see where this will lead!