Unit 2 – Future of the Mind – Grid cell context/research

My research into AI and artificial minds took me into the latest developments of DeepMind, the research arm of Google. I was intrigued to learn in this article that the increasing sophistication of AI is in turn advancing our understanding of the human brain – specifically here in relation to how we navigate space. It particularly fascinated me this notion of there being cells specialised to certain sensations (a bit like the individual conscious agents that Hoffman mentioned in the interview I posted – the specialised cells all contributing to one seamless conscious experience of space) – one type acting as a ‘you are here’, one for the direction of your head, and another forming a grid for relative position/spacing.

This regular pattern of grid cells was especially intriguing for me – here it referenced a hexagon, though it could also be considered a tesselated pattern of triangles. It has previously been proven in rat brains, and only in the past few years have we seen early proofs it could too be present in humans.

I love this notion of a secret/hidden mental map that is created to help us navigate the world, that is underlying our visual interpretation of the world. I wondered too if there could be a future in which we could ‘hack’ this secret mental mapping system, to make familiar spaces that we are new to, or allow you to immediately understand the best route through a maze, for instance. Use of this regularised grid could help you to better predict or adjust to new situations, which of course the Future is the ultimate one.

This strikes me as similar to the dots used in motion capture technology – to help digital imaging ‘navigate’ an actor’s body/face in order to best map it to a 3D computer generated image.

That this should be in a hexagonal grid was also very intriguing for me. Instinctively, I imagine organic forms and shapes to be irregular, curved, amorphous, but hexagons are geometric, regular, straight edged. That said it is a form we do see in nature, for instance in honeycomb structure, or the basalt columns visible in places such as a the Giants Causeway. It is described as being the most ‘efficient’ shape, and hence why the cooling rock forms in this way. It is also described as the strongest shape – hence it’s use in the structure of the strongest known material, graphene.

Giants Causeway basalt columns

It was thus especially eery to come across this display in the Whitworth, just a day after reading of grid cells.

I was interested too to see what these grid cells might look like in reality. Unfortunately it does not seem there are specific electron microscope images of these in existence, so I instead looked to images of generic neurons.

These images, magnifying the molecular to amazing detail, show an intriguing textural quality, and complex intricacy of connection
I experimented recreating this texture using gummed tape and tissue paper, along with ink and paint. I could not quite achieve the level of intricacy I might have liked but it was an intriguing effect. I particularly liked using the gummed tape to make the 2D surface more structural
With another, less magnified image (the original here on the right), I found hexagonal areas within it and cut or drew over to indicate these, before overlaying it with a regularised pattern on tracing paper. I particularly like the effect this produced, the juxtaposition of the geometric and irregular, organic and structured.

Impermanence: my work & research

Since the lecture on approaches to drawing, I’ve been interested in thinking about impermanence in art and materials disintegrating.

This specifically was sparked by the mention of artist Amanda McCavour who creates ‘thread drawings’ on water-soluble fabric. One material (the thread) remains while the other (the fabric) disappears.

I think this is different to auto-destructive / destruction art. Where the whole piece might be destroyed in the process, e.g. Gustav Metzger’s acid paintings, or Banksy’s Love is in the Bin. Instead it is the juxtaposition of something ceasing to be, while something else endures. For me, this is akin to memento mori. We are reminded of our own mortality, while at the same time viewing something that will endure beyond the life of the subject.

I looked to other water soluble materials to experiment with this idea. In both tests I took the paper and ran it under the tap directly – this alone let the pen run, but I had to stroke the sketch itself in order to distort it directly. In both cases I chose to use imagery/text that directly act as memento mori.

I think this was an interesting experiment, but I wonder if it is a little too obvious? I may try to incorporate this into a more subtle approach.

Another thought I had was to make use of fleeting phenomenon to explore impermanence. In particular, shadow. In the process of making one of the objects for my survival kit, I happened upon an interesting shadow form as I was exploring it in suspension

I would be interested in exploring this theme further also. I am aware of artists creating sculptures in order to cast figurative shadows, but am not yet aware of more abstract shadow pieces, which I am interested to look into.

Detail of shadow cast by Kira Freije’s Standing Woman Arms Folded, RA

Play – Exquisite Corpse: Critique/my work

In this workshop, we collaborated as a group in generating lots of images and drawings of objects that could signify body parts – these were all photocopied and scaled in various ways to give us uniformly black and white copies. We were then tasked to create a series of characters with these body parts in collage.

The final works I created are shown above – at the end of the workshop we walked around looking at each other’s work and came together for a brief critique, where we picked out ones we thought worked well and why. My image of the kettle with the moustache (left most on the right hand image) was picked out by several peers as being interesting, for seeming in motion, or suggesting a gesture of dance, due to how I had placed the different pieces at different angles.

There were some forms I was immediately drawn to, and for the middle figure, the two objects that form it seemed to come together perfectly in the first instant. This is the only character for whom I did not go through an iterative process. I especially like how off balance but simultaneously complete it strikes you.

For the left hand figure here, I was keen to make use of this folk icon sculpture, particularly due to the interesting form and large scale. I wanted to play with this sense of solidity with a small or off-balance leg so experimented with a few options.

Meanwhile on my second sheet, I liked this other lamp shape for other legs, and also the teapot, but didn’t feel they quite worked together in an interesting way. The middle figure I felt had a bit too much going on, though I was interested in incorporating the eyes somehow – I liked them being detached here from the body itself.

I enjoyed this exercise especially. I think my most successful figures used shapes and forms that I had not myself selected from the material, and I found this allowed me some ‘distance’ to objectively select what I found to be most interested and explore different combinations more easily. The forms I had found (the crab, the lampshades) perhaps did not do as successfully because I had a bias to ensuring they were used and so perhaps working them in where they might not have been entirely best suited? I do like all my figures but I think some (the teapot, the wheel) are more complete than others.