The world’s smallest brain will feature alongside famous brains, a rare medieval manuscript, contemporary artworks, specimens, artefacts and film footage related to one of the most complex entities in the universe in Brains: The Mind as Matter, which opens this week at MOSI (Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester).
Brains (26 July 2013 – 4 January 2014) explores what humans have done to brains in the name of medical intervention, scientific enquiry, cultural meaning and technological change. The exhibition features more than 100 items, over a third of which are from Manchester and have never been on public display before.
As well as international stories about the study of the brain this major Wellcome Collection exhibition at MOSI illuminates Manchester’s pioneering role in neuroscience and its rich heritage of objects, from our early ideas about the brain documented in a manuscript dating from 1495, to use of the first commercial CT scanner, to the very latest scientific research. This is the first time the exhibition has been shown outside London and includes 38 new items specific to Manchester.
Twelve contemporary artists are showcased in the exhibition, including one newly commissioned work by Salford-based artist Daksha Patel. Her ethereal drawing of a cross-section of the brain was created using goosefat on paper. Artworks by Helen Pynor, Katharine Dowson, David Marron, William Utermohlen, Annie Cattrell and Corinne Day offer poignant personal responses to the brain. There are also video installations by Andrew Carnie, Ania Dabrowska, Daniel Marguiles and Chris Sharp, and a specially-commissioned photo essay by Daniel Alexander.
Brains features a piece of the brain of the infamous body snatcher William Burke* alongside a model of Einstein’s brain. There is also footage of the world’s smallest known brain – the nematode worm C.elegans** – which has been specially created by The University of Manchester for the exhibition, to highlight the University’s work with neurodegenerative diseases.
Brains: The Mind As Matter is part of a vibrant new programme at MOSI, which includes investment in major exhibitions with key cultural partners. The exhibition has four sections. Measuring/Classifying looks at the techniques employed through history to define the relationship between the brain’s function and form. Objects such as the 60 miniature phrenological heads created by William Bally at his King Street business in Manchester, are an example of the discredited practice of phrenology, in which peoples’ heads were measured to determine intelligence and character type.
Mapping/Modelling looks at our varying attempts to represent the anatomy of the brain. It includes the medieval manuscript On the Body and Soul (written in 1495), loaned by The University of Manchester, and drawings by the Nobel prize-winning scientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1880-1930), who is credited with the discovery of the brain cell.
In Cutting/Treating, the exhibition explores the history of surgical intervention on a form of human tissue that is uniquely swift to decay and difficult to dissect. A 5000 year-old skull with holes drilled (or trephined) into it, demonstrates how long humans have ventured inside the living head. There is also a varied array of tools used to operate on the brain throughout history.
Giving/Taking traces the stories of brain collecting, from the horrors of the Nazi scientists who took the brains of their mass murder victims, to the hope for research into neurodegenerative disorders offered by today’s brain banks. Newly-commissioned photography and film of brain archives and the process of dissection, together with real specimens, artefacts and moving portraits of brain donors by Ania Dabrowska, offer a behind-the-scenes view of the brain’s life after death.
Brains curator Marius Kwint said: “The brain is the subject of major international efforts to grapple with its unimaginable complexity, and to understand the way that it provides for our behaviour, memory and consciousness. In some ways, the study of the brain is our present-day moonshot. So we need to consider how our view of the brain, as the core of human identity, has come about, and what people have done to each other in the name of brain science. The quest to unravel the brain’s mysteries is a fascinating and sometimes moving story.”
MOSI Director Jean Franczyk said: “MOSI is proud to be the only museum outside London to host this exhibition from the Wellcome Collection. It covers one of the most important science issues of our time and puts the human brain into beautiful perspective.”