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angle-left Thinking beyond the barriers of our workspace: A lectern for the BRaIN Program

How does a lectern become a multidisciplinary work of art that all but speaks for itself? Everything  evolving from the Convergence initiative tends to do that, born of the ongoing conversation between neuroscience trainees at the Brain Repair and Integrative Science (BRaIN) Program at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) and fine arts students at Concordia University.

Artist Paméla Simard was commissioned by the BRaIN Program to replace the dilapidated lectern in the symposium room at the Montreal General Hospital research site with something different – a creation with a “unique and inspiring touch.” Keith Murai, neuroscientist and leader of the BRaIN Program, was impressed by the work Simard produced in collaboration with Hunter Shaw, a doctoral biology student supervised by another researcher in the program, Yong Rao, for an innovative course at Concordia University in 2017.

The course, DART461, was based on a two-way engagement framework fostering collaborations between students in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University and neuroscience students at McGill University. Cristian Zaelzer, a research associate in Charles Bourque’s laboratory, founded the Convergence – Perceptions of Neuroscience initiative in 2016 and participated in developing this course. Students from the traditionally separate domains teamed up to learn about each other’s projects and methods and create a series of science-inspired artworks. Working with Shaw, Simard created stunning installations of hand-laminated wood pieces from fluorescence microscopy images of the fruit fly brain.

An artist’s protocol for exploring the brain

On July 23 Simard joined the leaders of the BRaIN program to host a well-attended event presenting the latest artwork to emerge from her connection with Convergence: the new lectern located in the Livingston Building at the Montreal General Hospital site, pictured below. This woodwork installation interprets the anatomical, cellular and molecular levels of neuroscience investigation. 

“I hope that the scientists and clinicians who will be looking at the lectern throughout the years will look at it with amazement for what they recognize and also for what they don’t recognize, but still speaks to them,” Simard said during her talk entitled “Exploring the BRaIN: An Artist's Protocol.”

In Keith Murai’s perspective, neuroscience and art have more in common than most people think. “If you think back to the earliest investigations of the brain,” he said, “they were performed by highly creative individuals such as Santiago Ramón y Cajal. At the time – in the 1800s to early 1900s – scientists lacked the sophisticated microscopes and electronics of today and relied on pencil- and ink-on-paper to describe what they discovered. In many ways, they relied on their artistic skills to communicate and translate what they observed.”

While the modern technologies and increasingly specialized science research topics seem to have estranged researchers from the artistic quest in scientific research, he believes the new lectern will remind researchers of the power of multidisciplinary work: “I hope this project will inspire all of us to be collaborative yet unique, and think beyond the barriers of our workspace. By doing so, life will be more interesting and our contributions more impactful.”

Read more about this remarkable creative journey in a blog by Fernanda Pérez Gay Juárez on the Convergence website: The power of multidisciplinary collaboration: A sculptor’s exploration of the brain

Concordia University’s Faculty of Fine Arts will offer the collaborative course (DART498/CART498/DART631) in a full-year format in 2018-2019. Concordia Fine Arts students and McGill students pursuing an Integrated Program in Neuroscience (IPN) are invited to register. Learn more

—published August 7, 2018