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

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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

Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy, or How I met my own brain and my own plasticity

[Spoiler] This is a story about how a Tinder date ended in brain surgery.

In September 2015 I began my PhD in the French department at King’s College London, researching how contemporary French philosophy engages with current theoretical neuroscience.

Despite this interest in philosophical conceptions of the brain, I had never really thought about my own brain. I never thought I would ever get to see my own brain, or that I would ever come face to face with the questions of neural vulnerability and transformation that I was reading about in theoretical texts.

From Tinder to Neurology

On Thursday 10th December 2015, just months after starting my PhD, I was beaten up in a homophobic attack. I had been on a date with a guy at a pub in Holborn. His name was Shaun, and we had laughed and drunk too much and talked about whether animals drink the milk of other animals or not. Shaun had performed a song about this. At the end of the date, we had a snog outside the pub just next to The Lion King. A group of men had walked past, shouted abuse at us, and then punched me in the head. Hakuna matata.

Unconscious, I was taken St Thomas’ hospital, with my date bundled into the back of the ambulance with me. I remember being asked what year it was, how old I was, what my name was, and struggling to answer any of these questions.

At the hospital I had a CT scan and a doctor came to speak to me.

“So, the scan shows that you have some concussion and a bit of bleeding on the brain… that’s to be expected. But — and, err, nothing to panic about just yet — we found that you have a pre-existing brain tumour…”

My tumour, it seemed, had nothing to do with the attack, and was sandwiched right in between the third ventricle of my brain and the forth ventricle, meaning that fluid could not flow out of my brain normally and my brain was swelling up like an GMO melon. This is a condition called hydrocephalus, which means water-head.

Following a long week of extra tests, watching Loose Women in the day room, and wondering around in one of those hospital robes where your bare bottom shows at the back, I underwent brain surgery to relieve my water-head of all its excesses.

Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy

I remember entering the surgical theatre, seeing all the instruments laid out for me like the implements of torture in the final scene in Braveheart, and the anaesthetist tapping the table as if to say “hop on, now, there’s a good boy!”

The operation was an Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy. Here is a video of one on Youtube as seen from the camera at the end of the endoscope; the inside of the ventricles look like underwater caverns explored by a diver. Whilst the consultant hadn’t been too worried about my tumour itself – it looked “pretty friendly”, thank God, and he was happy to leave it where it was – the extra fluid did have to be redirected. The surgery was to make a small hole at the bottom of the third ventricle in my brain, allowing the fluid to escape another way. The operation was describable only in plumbing terms, it seemed. All about blockages, cisterns, squirts, and bypasses.

Benjamin Dalton and friends
The post-surgery visitation: morphine, nudity, and DVDs.
Benjamin Dalton post brain surgery
My mom lovingly reattaches my earrings after they had been brutally banished from the operating theatre.
brain
My brain, before and after surgery.

The operation was a success, and I woke up to find my extremely composed and endlessly handsome neurosurgeon by my bedside. He was happy.

Then they gave me an injection of morphine and I felt it race round my body’s contour – round my head, up my left arm, down my left leg, over to the other leg, and back up, like you might ice the outside of a gingerbread man at Christmas. Then I was wheeled back to the ward where my friends and family took photos of me with my bottom hanging out of my robes, and watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding on DVD.

Neuro-vulnerability and Plastic Stories

My own encounter with my brain taught me a lot about both neuro-vulnerability and neuro-resilience: the brain is at once impossibly fragile and impossibly hardy.

I had been extremely lucky in that what had happened to my brain – both before and after surgery – had not incurred any perceptible changes in my cognitive or motor function. Many of the patients on my ward, however, were suffering from brain injuries or pathologies that that radically changed their mental function, some unable to tell where they were, speak, or recognize family members.

Whilst plasticity refers to a resilience (the ability of the brain to transform and persist and survive), this very transformability is also its most intimate vulnerability: the neural self is always on the verge of transforming into something else, something unrecognisable, as the result of the most banal of material occurrences.

These people’s ability to put themselves into narrative – to communicate a cohesive, linear phenomenology of identity, trauma, and transformation – was, thus, radically hindered: an incapacity for narrative that had direct impact on their ability to negotiate agency with regards to decisions of care and treatment when met with a clinical team that only has the resources to engage with one type of (non-plastic) narrative.

In this project, “Narrating Plasticity”, the neuroscientists collaborated with Amanda to determine how much the conception of plasticity differed as it passed between the plastic arts and the plastic neurosciences; over months of workshops, making pots, looking down microscopes, talking, it emerged there are – and indeed must be – many forms of narrative necessary for communicating different forms of plastic change and transformation.

Imagine the ethical and clinical potentialities and innovations within hospital and therapeutic spaces and many others that might come from plastic narratives. It is my contention that in order to connect with our plastic bodies in plastic times – in order to offer these plastic bodies new forms of therapy, new forms of experience, new forms of community and help or mutual-aid – we must recognise all plastic forms and transformation as forms of life, precisely in innovating new forms with which to put plasticity into narrative.

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Plastic narratives are already all around us, often in the most unlikely places. For how my brain surgery got me into B movies, and how I came to find neuro-exploitation cinema therapeutic, see my article for The Still Point journal here.

Exploding glazes and the problem of destructive plasticity

“The exploding glazes are exciting,” Amanda tells me. “But they won’t do. We want our apoptosis controlled!”

 

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Amanda’s exploding glaze Petri dishes…