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Neurogenesis – From Neuron Birth to All That We Are

Neurogenesis is a collaboration between Artist, Professor Helen Storey, Developmental Biologist, Professor Kate Storey and digital innovation agency, Holition.

The physical nature of the work comprises of a dress at the edge of its material life; using collected materials that have been blowing in the wind by a railway track throughout the sisters’ childhood. Snagged upon a decaying branch, this is juxtaposed with original and responsive film footage of neuron birth and differentiation, taken from research in Kate’s lab – from under the hem of the dress, images shine out, in a literal visualization of the process of neurogenesis.

Responding creatively to Kate’s original footage, Holition designed a space within which zones react to the physical presence of the viewer, by giving them power to control progression through the neurogenesis process.


Project Rationale

Funded by Wellcome, to mark 20 years on from the sisters’ ground breaking interdisciplinary work, ‘Primitive Streak’, ‘Neurogenesis’ utilizes their current research practices in a new enquiry examining developments in biology, culture and the digital world since.

The project, unpredictably, brought the personal and professional lives of the Storey sisters together.

The four years it took to complete, were lived whilst both women were primary carers for their father, experiencing and responding to his slow decline and fight against dementia. Captured on film, the work completed a few months after his death, ultimately reflects their intimate and professional journeys together.

See project film for background.


Project Team

The project was a Wellcome commission, which sought to bring up to date how the artist (Helen) and the scientist (Kate) practices and research had changed over time and for Helen to respond to latest developments in Kate’s field of developmental biology.

Holition were instrumental digital partners, who developed an interactive component, connecting the viewer to both the biological event and the dress itself.

H.storey@fashion.arts.ac.uk


Process

As with Primitive Streak, Helen spent time with Kate in her laboratory to understand the process of neurogenesis, before starting to imagine how that might manifest itself materially; crucially, she was asked to respond specifically to a new discovery made in Kate’s laboratory.

The first material experiments were conducted at The Institute of Materials, by setting a sci/art brief for UCL students and staff. There, multiple material interpretations of neuron birth were created through a series of workshops.

To start with, the project naturally focused on the birth of neurons, but as the parallel journey of taking care of their Father and all that that meant became ever present, this prompted Kate to look at the possibilities and existing research for the continuance of neuron birth in adult life and crucially, the link between the loss of neuron function and dementia.

The project narrowed back down to Kate and Helen, spurred on almost, as their Father fought to save his own mind, they searched for ways for the loss of it to be explored through the work – or, at least to make the connection, so that others might be curious and engage or, ask a question they might previously have never imagined asking.


Outputs and Impact

The project was first shown at Dundee Contemporary Art Gallery March 23 – April 21 2018.

Project website: https://www.neurogenesisandallthatweare.org

Dundee Contemporary arts: http://lifespace.dundee.ac.uk/exhibition/helen-and-kate-storey-neurogenesis-neuron-birth-all-we-are

Holition’s film: https://vimeo.com/263173417


Learnings, Findings and Reflections

This project was the hardest experience of Helen’s creative life, entwined as it was with the slow loss of their Father.

A project, which could have been shelved, instead became a place they returned to, as a vessel to make some sense of the pain. It was also a place that honored their Father’s devotion to helping them realise their individual forms of creative expression as young girls and on, into womanhood.For the sisters, the work is still hard to go near, covered, as it is, in marks of fractured time and a grief which lives on, now also in physical form.