Do You Mind?

December 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

Do You Mind? Artists Respond to Matters of the Mind was an science-art collaboration which culminated in a very successful exhibition at the award winning Ironbank complex on Auckland’s Karangahape Road. The exhibition took place from July 28th until August 7th, 2010.

The project was initiated by Dr Megan Dowie, a neuroscientist who was at the time based at the Centre for brain Research at the University of Auckland; and Erin and Leah Forsyth, who run the creative agency The Busy Nice. Together, they selected fifteen artists and paired them with fifteen neuroscientists and asked them to create artworks in response to ‘matters if the mind’. Participating scientists and artists were selected for the commitment and energy they contribute to their respective fields. Once selected the participants were then randomly paired, scientists-artist and introduced at the launch of the project on Thursday 6th May. Challenges were also issued that evening, providing an ‘open-framework’ for their collaborations. Pairs were simply encouraged to discuss brain research and give an eight-week window for the production of works. This guise, as opposed to a traditional brief, allowed for maximum potential and catered to the varying backgrounds and activities of both participants.

Dr Megan Dowie and Erin Forsyth, one half of the pair behind The Busy Nice, explained more about the collaboration and the exhibition, in an interview on Radio New Zealand:

Three of the scientist-artist pairs were also featured in a cover story in Canvas, a weekend pull-out of the New Zealand Herald.

The pairs were as follows:

Lucy Goodman – Sophie Bannan

Kim Wise – Aleksandra Petrovic

Amy Smith – Dane Taylor

Joanne Lin – Aaron King-Cole

Amelia Van Slooten – Amy Unkovich

Pritika Narayan – Mei Cooper

Jane Evans – David McClunie

Renee Gordon – Tom Henry

Sarina Iwabuchi – Estella Castle

Valerie van Mulukom – Melanie Bell

Carolyn Wu – Rita Godlevskis

Henry Waldvogel – Henrietta Harris

Reece Roberts – Lia Kent MacKillop

Juliette Cheyne – Timothy Chapman

Veema Lodhia – Alexander Hoyles

Kim Wise, the researcher that I was paired up with, studies Tinnitus and possible auditory attention training towards reducing the impact of something that can be quite debilitating to sufferers. Tinnitus is the involuntary sound perception which lacks an external sound source. They’re “phantom sounds” are often described as ringing in the ears, and can often be an indicator of damage within the ear itself. It was an amazing experience being allowed into Kim’s laboratory and clinic and listening to the library of tinnitus sounds, some of which are quite grating to the ears. It gave me an insight into what it could be like to live with a sound like that, a constant, never-ending sound that doesn’t go away. Kim herself suffers from tinnitus, and this made her research all the more pertinent, as the condition doesn’t go away even when the sufferer goes to sleep. The sounds increase, or rather the perceived volume of the sound increases, because there isn’t any other external sound to drown out the tinnitus or to take the mind off it. This is where Kim’s research is situated; in finding solutions to selectively turn the brain’s attention elsewhere through attention training. The attention training itself is somewhat akin to playing games using a computer, to train and test your concentration and attention as the difficulty levels increase. Kim told me that the other researchers in the clinic have fun testing themselves and each other using the games, since there’s a variety of games, and all the data can be recorded for future reference. There is a serious side to the games, in that they are helpful in providing an avenue of treatment. Since there is no cure for tinnitus, all doctors can do is help to alleviate the problem. Sometimes sufferers have trouble admitting that there is something wrong, or have trouble explaining to another person that they can hear something that the other person can’t. And sometimes, sufferers just live with tinnitus for years, until it becomes almost unbearable. With all of this in mind, I sought out to make work that would do justice to her research as well express in a visual way what my understanding of tinnitus is.

I ended up making three drawings, two were concerned with a visual representation of tinnitus, and the third with the treatment that Kim was researching.

Untitled (2010), pen, ink and pencil on paper, 700mm H x 500mm W (each)

For the catalogue, each artist and researcher were asked to write a couple of short paragraphs about their overall experince, as well as of the artwork that was produced throughout the collaboration.

Artist’s Response:

Kim Wise studies Tinnitus and the various treatment approaches for perceived ‘phantom’ sounds that have no external auditory context. My research focuses around things that appear non-sensical but suddenly become complicated with meanings and interpretations.

Her response to my practice and interest in her research reads: “The complexity of the scenes are just as intricate and multifaceted as the various theories and treatment approaches regarding tinnitus, and as diverse as the individual tinnitus sufferers themselves. Also, the size of the gramophones correlates to how large and bothersome a problem chronic tinnitus can seem to some people – with navigation though the health care system similar to lugging over-sized musical equipment up a ladder.”

Scientist’s Response:

During our first meeting, we were provided with obsolete, brain images. The backside of each aged photograph cleverly featured project details. Each was entirely unique, despite the universality of our subject matter – the brain.

There ensued a combination of passion for individual work focus (as artist or researcher) and earnest attempts to impart points-of-view. Novel word pairings emerged: “sclerotic” and “sculpture”; “paint” and “apoptosis.” Concepts suggested were as distinctive as the people present and the shared, old brain photographs. As researchers collectively attempt to unlock the mysteries associated with particular brain regions, this project has been a wonderful experience and reminded of why we do what we do; the beneficiary of our research is often a human being; an individual. The method whereby collaborative artist Aleks Petrovic found inspiration in my tinnitus research – toward creating a unique, intensely and intricately beautiful work of art – has been a poignant reminder of this.

Kim and I, along with another pair of scientist Reece Roberts and artist Lia Kent MacKillop, were asked to be interviewed for the Arts on Sunday programme on Radio New Zealand. The interview can be found here:

The Centre for Brain Research, where Megan Dowie was a research fellow, published some of the results of the collaborations as well as the overwhelmingly positive response the exhibition garnered from both the scientific and artistic communities, in its newsletter:

Below are the pages about Do You Mind? from the Centre for Brain Research newsletter:


Shortly after the Do You Mind? exhibition finished; Megan Dowie, one of the ladies behind the idea for the collaboration, started working on an article about the collaborative process as well as its artistic outcomes, to be published in an academic journal. After proofing of text and images, as well as some waiting, the article was published in PLoS Biology, an online science journal in May 2012.

Below is the article, and it can also be viewed on the journal website:



Whilst waiting for the above article to be published , the organisers of the exhibition were invited to present at a neuroscience conference at the University of Auckland. Leah and Erin Forsyth, of The Busy Nice, created a video comprising of interviews with the artists. Megan Dowie, who by this time had moved to a research position at the University of Oxford, was also interviewed via Skype and provided comments on the success of the collaboration and exhibition. I was one of the artists interviewed, asked to elaborate in my own words the collaboration with Kim Wise, my own process of research and how it related to her investigations into tinnitus, as well as the eventual outcome and how I came to visually represent Kim’s and my research.

The video of these interviews can be viewed here:

All images Copyright 2017, Aleksandra Petrovic


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