What started about a year ago as an artistic exploration of the immune systems attack on nerve cells in multiple sclerosis (MS), has emerged as a resonant investigation of our current global crisis—COVID-19. With MS, it is believed that the damage done to the nervous system that leads to disability is done by over-active immune cells attacking and damaging the myelin sheath around nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. As it turns out, this is similar to the aggressive immune response seen with COVID-19. In this pandemic, the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 infiltrates cells along the respiratory tract and then uses them to replicate. In response, the patient’s immune system kicks into overdrive and launches a “scorched earth” assault to overcome the infection. Again, as in MS, this immune system response itself can cause serious damage. Generally, however, and unlike MS, this counter-insurgency effort by the immune system in fighting the coronavirus, can lead to very serious, sometimes deadly, results very quickly.
Also, while there are striking similarities, there are significant differences. MS is not known to be caused by a specific virus. Why the immune system attacks nerve cells in MS is not really known. This is very different from the current pandemic in that we know the enemy and understand why our immune system wants to eradicate it, even when doing so causes additional damage and harm.
So this body of work, even though born of curiosity and learning related to the cause and progression of MS, strikes me as relevant and poignant as we face this latest viral outbreak.
The quote below is from this article which has some great details on the action involved in the COVID-19 infection. And the video clip above is a portion of a video from a series of projects I’ve been working with off and on since 2019. I’ve recently revisited the projects to continue the work.
“SARS-CoV-2 grows in type II lung cells, which secrete a soap-like substance that helps air slip deep into the lungs, and in cells lining the throat. As with SARS, most of the damage in COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, is caused by the immune system carrying out a scorched earth defense to stop the virus from spreading.
Millions of cells from the immune system invade the infected lung tissue and cause massive amounts of damage in the process of cleaning out the virus and any infected cells.”
As I learn about the anatomy and the biochemical “magic” that occurs inside and among the nerve cells of our brains, along the spinal chord, and throughout the body, I create artwork that resonates with what I learn. Its never meant as a diagram or a scientific illustration per se but rather as an homage to the known and the unknown neurochemistry that is at play in our sentience.
This clip shows about a minute of a rotating slideshow which includes images form my 2D portfolio. All images shown in various configurations on the screen are randomly organized purely for display and review purposes. Its one way to help visitors understand the style, variety, cohesion, and scale of works available for display and for collecting. This is only a small subset of the many images I’ve produced as 2D extractions from time-based video art projects. The bulk of the images shown in this clip are from an ongoing artistic exploration of the wonders of the neuron. These are not intended as strict illustrations but rather a visual appreciation and exploration of what we know and what we don’t know (yet) about how these amazing cells function, both internally and as part of a vast network of similar cells, to form our sentience and our identity.
Please reach out to me if you have questions or leave any questions or comments here on the blog.
This artwork is produced as an edition of one (1/1). It is a digital 7-color print on an aluminum base, with a 0.12” Dibond backing. This image will not be reproduced in any form. It is derived from a series of video artworks exploring human neurobiology. Each neuron in our body (there are over 80 billion) consists primarily of a cell body (or soma), a nucleus, an axon (for outgoing signals) and one or more dendrites (for incoming signals). Neurochemical activity in the soma activates an electrochemical process whereby an electrical pulse (or action potential) travels the axon from the soma to the axon terminal (and synapse). When the potential reaches the synapse (near instantaneously) the electrochemical signal is translated, without contact, through neurotransmitter chemicals to the dendritic receptors of other neurons, cells, or tissues of the body. This incoming signal may be similarly transmitted from the receptors along dendritic channels to the soma of other neurons for further processing. This process, repeated at near lightning speeds, continuously, and system-wide, forms the neurologic wonder of our sentience—all that we think, feel, dream, see, hear, and experience.
The series from which this image is derived is not intended as an illustration of a neuron (though there are structural similarities), but as the product of my curiosity and wonder as I learn how our neurobiology forms awareness, consciousness, and subconsciousness. The bio-architecture of our neurons and the manner in which they function (or, in the case of disease or injury, malfunction), is of great interest to me and forms the inspiration for my 2D and time-based work.
Narrative Threads (excerpt below) continues screening through July 27 at IA&A @ Hillyer in Washington D.C.
Narrative Threads (excerpt)
I just went to see Narrative Threads…Alan, I am so impressed (though not surprised) … I was so moved— it felt tortured and exhilarating at once.
There are narrative threads that bind us, those that unite us, and those that obscure our inner selves. These threads run through our psyche and impact our perceptions and how we are perceived. Those threads that bind us help us feel whole and secure. Help us feel in control and in command of our destiny. Those narrative threads that obscure our inner desires and our inherent rules for behavior tend to make us suspicious, untrusting, feel vulnerable and alone. These threads coexist and interact with each other, sometimes strengthening confidence, and sometimes weakening it. This art is homage to those threads. Threads of sexuality, disability, logic, intelligence, fear, loss, hopelessness, hope, biology and psychology, pride, happiness, joy, anger, and pain. My pieces, each of interest to me for what they represent alone, are merged, juxtaposed, layered, and each changes the layers above and below in time. This is an allegory to my experience of life and living and struggling and loving and feeling and thinking.
World premier of Intersectional Sparkle as part of “Artscape 2019: Animation on the Big Screen” happens at the Parkway Theater, 5 W. North Avenue in Baltimore Maryland 1-2:30pm and again 3-4:30pm Sunday July 21st along with 25 other short animations.
Note: An earlier version of this post had preliminary venue information which has been updated in this post with the correct location, date, and time.
Signals of Hope (video installation, 5 min 24 sec) joins more than 100 other artists at a benefit exhibition for the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery at Smith Center. The exhibition titled Alchemical Vessels 2018: Our Common Thread, will be open from March 16 to May 5, 2018 at 1632 U St NW in Washington DC.
Opening reception: Friday, March 16, 2018 7—9pm
Alchemical Vessels benefit: Friday, April 27, 7–10pm