Paula Crown and Leon Deouell On December 7th, there was a special international, interdisciplinary discussion between Paula Crown and Prof. Leon Deouell on the convergence of art and the brain.

Paula Crown is a renowned multimedia artist with a practice encompassing drawing, painting, video, and sculpture – and part of the Crown-Goodman family of Chicago. Leon Deouell is the Jack H. Skirball Professor in Brain Research, Human Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences. Crown’s work INSIDE MY HEAD: A Contemporary Self-Portrait is currently on view as a virtual exhibit at the Hebrew University Art Gallery. It has been reproduced under the recording of the webinar, with the artist’s video at the bottom of the page.

The two panelists engaged in a stimulating and fascinating discussion of the convergence of art and brain, from their respective points of view as artist and neuroscientist.

Inside My Head – A Contemporary Self Portrait

“I think of it as painting with tools of technology” – Paula Crown

The self-portrait is among the most prevalent subjects in art history. Typically, it involves using a mirror to capture the surface information which is then selectively conveyed to the audience. With any luck, the artist’s internal life will shine forth from these external details.  Of course, no objective portrait exists. The artist’s perception always colors his/her view of the subject, and the viewers’ perceptions color their interpretations.

The multimedia work INSIDE MY HEAD: A Contemporary Self Portrait (2013) began with MRIs of Crown’s brain. Beset by migraines since childhood, she animated these high-tech images of her internal landscape and projected them on concave screens. The piece is a self-portrait rendered from the inside out, an intimate view of her personal topology. Altered and viewed in an alternative scale, the images evoke the cosmos and its starscapes, from which we evolved.

This virtual exhibition includes an animation made from Crown’s MRI scans. Initially, the imagery appears to be abstract patterns. However, upon closer observation, these images, with their pulsating accumulation of shapes and forms, reveal the workings of the artist’s own brain, documented via a magnetic resonance image (MRI).

As Crown states, “I view them as abstract forms and topologies that could be micro or macro in size.” Although Crown has said that landscapes capture her attention and she researches topologies and maps, there is not narrative or symbolism to her work. It’s the various shapes and patterns that interest her. My work is “just a connection between what is happening in our bodies and what is happening in the larger world,” she says.

The animation is accompanied by an audio track composed specifically for this piece, replacing the original hammering noise of the MRI scanner with a soothing violin, a musical interpretation of the activity of Crown’s brain. As the shapes change so does the music. “The music is my brain’s anatomy that was literally put into a software program and converted to sound,” Crown explains. “Then a violinist played to the animation of the brain scans.”