Large amount of data
The American artist Taryn Simon (born in 1975) has a singular visual oeuvre which always finds unique ways of addressing serious phenomena. She is adept at compiling large amounts of data to give her ideas great scope and depth. In The Innocents from 2002 she photographed and documented people across the United States who had been wrongly sentenced to the death penalty.
In Paperwork and The Will of Capital from 2015 she recreated and photographed the bouquets of flowers that had been present at the signing of major global treaties following the Second World War; a touch of incongruous elegance in the midst of major global challenges.
Recently, at the request of Udo Kittelmann who has curated the exhibition at the Prada Foundation in Venice, “Human Brains: It Begins with an Idea”, she has conceived an extraordinary piece of work which occupies the third floor of the Venetian palace: The Conversation Machine. Meanwhile, the first floor of the Prada palace brings together an array of artworks and objects recounting various perceptions and fantasies to do with the brain throughout history.
The Conversation Machine is an assembly of 32 screens featuring 36 neuroscientists who take turns to speak, and who listen and respond to one another. We watch dumbfounded as these conversations give insight into the brain’s mode of functioning, while a scientist who appears to be Indian talks about how one of his patients who suffered a stroke drew a self-portrait that only depicted half of his face.
Taryn’s key idea, as she explains in the video, is that – contrary to what we might expect – rationality doesn’t take up that much space in the brain. At the origin there is always a glitch. In other words, what defines these large machines inside our heads is all the discordant messages reaching it, all the things that don’t run smoothly, all the things that haven’t been anticipated.
Udo talks about how this exhibition has been the fruit of extensive research, and that they would never have been able to pull it off without the collaboration of a scientific committee.
140 hours of interviews
Simon has established links with brain specialists from all over the world and filmed their contributions, which constitute in total 140 hours of interviews. She then distilled this down into a digest reduced to 2.5 hours, forming an immersive installation about trauma and the complexity of brain function. In English, art historians employ the term “conversation piece” to describe genre scenes painted in the 18th century depicting a meeting of people. Taryn has created a conversation piece for the 21st century.
The unknown planer of the human brain
It is designed to explore the unknown planet that is the human brain.
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