by Rita Carter
The imagery most closely associated with neuroscience is the brain, its neurons, their circuitry, and related graphs and equations – the visual paraphernalia of science. At its core, though, neuroscience is about subjective experience; the way that you and I perceive and relate to the world we inhabit. This is business that is far too important to be left to neuroscientists.
Welcome, then, this unusual book by artist Garry Kennard. Unusually among artists, Kennard recognized very early on that neuroscience could contribute to our knowledge of how it is to be human. The advent of neuro-imaging techniques such as PET and functional MRI – in which the workings of the brain are made visible, as well as its anatomy – resonated with his ambition to discover how works of art affect our emotions, thoughts and memories. The project led him to establish the Art and Mind festivals, which ran for several years in Winchester. These were the first events to bring artists and scientists together in an attempt to find some common language in which to convey their complementary views of the mind. Art and Mind has since evolved into a forum for artists and scientists who continue to try to forge common ground.
Kennard’s own work continues, meanwhile, with a new series of paintings which provoke profound questions about our place in the world. He has also produced a set of essays and what he describes as the beginnings of a new and original kind of autobiography. Rather than providing a straightforward account of his life, Kennard’s autobiographical writings describe certain experiences and his speculations on what they show about how our brains operate in daily life.
Kennard’s paintings, as paintings should, speak for themselves. He has, however, written that he sees all his images in the tradition of icons – objects of contemplation. The paintings show everyday objects or scenes isolated against infinite stretches of space. The effect is to make us aware of the tininess and fragility of the known world. These ‘secular icons’, as he terms them, combine near photo-realism with abstraction. The idea, according to Kennard, is that the viewer is forced to switch from one mode of perception to another, experiencing a double-take which gives the paintings a mysterious and sometimes disconcerting impact.
Certainly this beautiful book will engage and satisfy readers and viewers on many different levels. Combining images and symbols, and forging first and second-person perspectives, it creates an unusually fully-rounded view of one human mind at work.