Environmental activist and #GreenFinance advocate Katie Kedward wrote a blogpost responding to the Narrating Plasticity exhibition. Here, she shows how the concept of plasticity poses important questions in relation to how we understand ecological crisis and the forms of intervention that are available to us. People often ask what plasticity has to do with plastic as a material – Katie’s post also offers fascinating answers to this!
“We have to remember that we can change because we will soon have to change whether we want to or not. The social brain, just like the rest of the planet in which it is embedded, is beginning to suffer from the biggest ecological trauma in civilised memory. Mitigating its potential impact will require a remodelling of how society currently functions. Leaving it too late will see us forced to react to the consequences, transfiguring humanity as we’ve ever known it.
The narratives we chose to navigate such transformations, as the Narrating Plasticity exhibition so poignantly demonstrated, are crucial to better understanding ourselves. Not only as biological beings and reflective individuals, but as a society too. It is my view that the stories Western societies currently employ to narrate environmental concerns are faulty and ineffective…”
Over Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd February, we welcomed over 300 visitors to the Narrating Plasticity exhibition at King’s College London!
On Friday, visitors attended the exhibition for a drinks reception, a premier of the project film , and a Q&A with project coordinator Benjamin Dalton and collaborators Amanda Doidge and Dr Sandrine Thuret’s team of neuroplasticity researchers from the Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute.
Visitors represented a diverse range of backgrounds, from philosophy, French studies, the arts, medicine, education, politics, and many other areas. This lead to such fertile discussion across boundaries, with a huge range of different reactions to the project and ideas for future collaboration!
Do not hesitate to get in touch with coordinator Benjamin Dalton if you have any reactions or photographs to share, or if you have ideas for how Narrating Plasticity could develop further into the future!
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!
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.
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”?
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.
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.
What is a narrative? What kind of stories can be put into narrative? What kinds of narratives do plastic things create – a sculpture, a frieze, or the plastic brain – when they are no longer bound to linear time?
As we discussed previously, neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s capacity to transform and change form throughout its lifetime, modulating neural subjectivity in response to life events and traumas; however, as the philosopher Catherine Malabou argues, plasticity is not a merely positive capacity for adaptation but also a dark creativity in which the brain can take the plastic form of a trauma it encounters, thus rendering someone unrecogniseable.
If (neuro-)plastic transformations had occurred in these people’s brains and lives, and these plastic changes defied the usual chronologies or logics of normative narrative structures, then their narratives would also have to be plastic.
What is a plastic narrative?
For inspiration as to what a “plastic narrative” might be, I turn again to the philosopher Catherine Malabou’s work Ontology of the Accident(2009).
In this book, Malabou argues that we must not only narrate “good” or “positive” plasticity, but indeed “destructive plasticity”. In other words, instances of neural trauma or pathology should not be seen as glitches or interruptions in “healthy” plasticity, but as valid plastic creations in their own right. Indeed, Malabou seems to argue, the powerful negativity of destructive plasticity seems to be central to the logic of all plastic creation and formation. A blown apart sculpture is still a sculpture, and a traumatised brain is still a brain.
Malabou suggests that, until now, cultural production and neuroscientific endeavour alike have been preoccupied with “good” plasticity, and therefore do not yet seem to have tools or forms necessary for communicating destructive plasticity.
Metamorphoses in literature, for instance, predominantly portrays transformation as a positive and helpful occurrence. Malabou reads Ovid’s Metamorphoses as a series of transformations which help the subject who is transforming. Daphne, for instance, turns into a tree in order to outrun Phoebus, and remains very much Daphne despite having taken the form of a tree. Likewise, in Kafka’s famous Die Verwandlung in which the protagonist Gregor Samsa wakes up to find himself transformed into a beetle, Gregor is still able to think and feel like Gregor despite his bodily metamorphosis. For this reason, Malabou argues, these are not true plastic narratives as they are unable to articulate the truly destructive potentiality of plastic transformation.
A plastic narrative, then, needs to be able to communicate transformation whilst retaining the radically of the temporal and formal disruptions and destructions at their core.