The Cerebral City

By September 10, 2018Events

The human mind as a living, moving, city is the central metaphoric idea of this project, which explores the affinities between the structure of the brain and the landscape of the city.

The cerebral city emerged from a long-standing collaboration between artist Matthew Maxwell and the Richardson Research Lab at King’s College London. Matthew’s artistic interests include the concept of psychogeography, which involves arbitrarily superimposing maps of two different regions onto each other as a way of reimagining an environment or place.

The Richardson Lab’s research interests include understanding how the brain is ‘wired’ through neural networks, and how these networks differ in people with epilepsy and people without epilepsy. Using the neuroimaging technique tractography, the Richardson Lab is investigating how information in the brain travels through neural tracts, or ‘pathways’, and also how epileptic seizures spread through these pathways.

Drawing on psychogeography and tractography, Matthew and the Richardson Lab posited the idea that pathways in the brain (viewed by tractographic imaging) can be reimagined as a city-brain-map, or a ‘cerebral city’. Like a city, the brain comprises millions of pathways that connect the areas of the brain just as streets and paths connect areas of the city.

In this project, the human brain was reimagined by superimposing tractograms taken from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of three subjects: an artist, a scientist and a photographer (who has epilepsy), onto a map of London, creating personalised pathways (which may differ depending on how their brains are wired). These pathways were physically walked and documented according to each subject’s map, the results providing a unique insight into the psychogeographic experience of a shared urban habitat: what is heard, what is seen and what is encountered as each subject navigates the passageways of their cerebral city.

Film footage and photography collected as part of the cerebral city walking exercise formed an immersive visual installation that engages the viewer in an artistic representation of the human brain and the technologies used in epilepsy research to better understand it. In the future, The cerebral city has the potential to offer a platform to connect and publicise other projects interested in promoting science and research through art.

Watch the video here: