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Brain Art at the Bristol Neuroscience Festival

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Chosen artwork by Maddie Quinn Ibolya Feher

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Brain Art awards ceremony Soultana Symeonidou

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The RWA gallery Kathryn Garner

27 April 2016

Dr Kathryn Garner, Senior Research Associate in the School of Clinical Sciences, and artist, organised an exhibition of Brain Art by local school children and chaired a panel at as part of the Bristol Neuroscience Festival.

While the Great Hall of Wills Memorial Building hosted a bustling Bristol Neuroscience Festival on 18-19 March 2016, the Old Council Chamber along the hall provided a space for calm contemplation.

Microscopy images by University of Bristol researchers set to an eerie soundtrack accompanied an exhibition of ‘Brain Art’, which presented the winners, runners-up and highly commended entries to an art competition for local school children.

The competition was created between Dr. David Turk, festival co-organiser from the School of Experimental Psychology, and Joel Edwards, Learning and Participation Manager at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA). Local schools received leaflets, and further excitement about the competition was drummed up on social media.

More than fifty entries were submitted from schools across Bristol and were judged by a panel of Dr. Sue Pickering, former cognitive psychologist and founder of community project Creative Bristol; Joel Edwards; and Chris Dunseath, RWA artist. Dr. Kathryn Garner chaired the panel.

The competition inspired a wide selection of entries ranging from depictions of single neurons, expressions of thoughts and what our brains are used for, through to comments on neurodegenerative diseases.

One sculpture in particular pushed the boundaries of the competition rules, comprising three ‘Brain Boxes’ of imagined views down the microscope on its inner surfaces, submitted by eighteen primary school children. Each school could only submit three entries per age group, but Zoe Sharples, member of the art team at Hillcrest Primary School, was aware that so much of primary school children’s artwork is made collaboratively. Their entry celebrates this fact and impressed the judges such that they created a special ‘Judges Collaborative Prize’.

One of the objectives set out by Dave and Joel was that the competition should inspire children not usually interested in science to think about neuroscience from a different perspective – to approach the field using language they feel comfortable expressing themselves in.

Many children visited the festival and Brain Art competition with their parents, and some gave first-hand responses about their experience of being involved in the competition. One mother spoke of how her son’s confidence had grown enormously just knowing that his work was to be displayed in a public place, and on walking up the iconic stairs of the Wills Memorial Building expressed for the first time his desire to go to university, if this was what universities were like.

Whilst photographs of the winning, runners-up and highly commended entries were displayed in the Old Council Chamber, the original artwork was framed and hung in the Link Gallery, a free gallery space at the RWA, from 22 March to 17 April.

A sketchbook in the gallery allowed visitors to record their thoughts about the exhibition: “Very nice project! The brain is always interesting!”

“An amazing exhibition and one that is very inspiring. There is such talent on show and it is just so fantastic. Well done to everyone – I am so proud of you all.”

Further information

More information about the Bristol Neuroscience Festival and the Brain Art competition 

See Dr David Turk's Brain Art homepage and Dr Kathryn Garner's Brain Art blog for more details about the event

Find out how the University is working with schools