The exhibition Das Gehirn in Kunst und Wissenschaft (The Brain in Art and Science) at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn was much larger than I had expected. It is both a cultural history of neuroscience and an exploration of the interaction between art and science.
The exhibition organizers unearthed a wealth of fascinating artworks and cultural artifacts including original drawings by Rámon y Cajal and Brodmann. It is hard to believe that the latter’s scribblings form the basis for decades of brain mapping.
The exhibition starts with a simple and straightforward question: what’s inside your head? The quest for an answer to this question is illustrated by a hook used by ancient Egyptians to remove the brain before mummification and by some contemporary MRI scans, computer drawings and brain models.
There is much to enjoy. The exhibition jumps between art and science, between artworks and scientific models. Occasionally the boundaries between the two blur, as in the drawings by Rámon y Cajal, some of which could easily double as an artwork.
The exhibition touches upon a variety of topics, from dreams and mental illnesses to optical illusions and the workings of memory. The latter is illustrated by a project by the designer Gianluca Gimini. Gimini approached people on the street asking them to draw a men’s bicycle by heart. While everyone knows what a bicycle looks like drawing one is surprisingly difficult, as shown by the sketches included in the exhibition. Gimini then went one step further by rendering the drawings in 3D as if they were real. It goes without saying that it would be impossible to ride any of the resulting designs. This project also raises important questions about the nature of memory and perception.
It’s a bit unfortunate that the exhibition doesn’t travel to other cities. It deserves to be seen in for example, London, New York or Paris. But if you can’t make it to the exhibition, it is accompanied by a catalogue that is also available from bookstores.
Das Gehirn in Kunst und Wissenschaft is at the Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn until 26 June 2022.