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The brain. Colour giclée prints by S. Aldworth, 2011.

Aldworth, Susan, 1955-
  • Pictures

About this work

Also known as

Cogito ergo sum 3


This is a set of 20 prints based on fMRI scans of the brain (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Brain scans are designed to reveal what is going on in the brain. However they only show anatomy and physiology. The "functions" which they show are functions of the structures, rather than functions of the person. The artist wondered "What do they show of the identity of the human being?". Her answer is to enrich the scans with aspects of life which are absent from them

Her first attempt to render this theme took the form of a collage the same size as a brain scan (44 x 35 cm.) called Cogito ergo sum 1. The suggestion was made that the serial nature of brain scans made them suitable for a set of works: MRI scans that show the imagination at work. The subject was too intricate for silkscreen printing, and the decision was made to use digital printing, with the aid of Christopher Gibbs as digital master printer.

The brain scans were made at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL ( ). They were offering research brain scans for £10 and a mug!. The artist undertook to have one. The people being scanned had to lie in the noisy machine and were asked to reply in whispers to questions, for instance about the difference between natural and artificial objects such as a carrot and a fork. The scans were supplied to Susan on disk and on film by Dr Andrea Mechelli

The artist took the films which had photographic emulsion on one side, and worked in the emulsion with a scalpel, then rescanned the worked films at 2,100 dpi. The scans were reworked with colour using Photoshop brushes, including brushes created for the purpose. They were then printed on a digital printer using seven colour inks. The files for each print take 20 minutes to load as they are large digital files took to load on the screen

Views of the brain that are similar to MRI brain scans but have been manipulated by printmaking techniques to insert aspects of human personality that are considered to be not detectable by scientific and technological methods. They can be seen as visual expressions of scepticism about "neuromania", the exaggerated identification of neurological causes of mental and emotional activity, as discussed in e.g. Alva Noë, Out of our heads: why you are not your brain, and other lessons from the biology of consciousness (New York 2009); and Raymond Tallis, Aping mankind: neuromania, Darwinitis and the misrepresentation of humanity (Durham, 2011)



Physical description

20 prints : giclée prints, printed in seven colours ; images approximately 34.5 x 34.5 cm


Wellcome Library no. 766660i


1. The first two prints show the skull in profile: they are orientation images, introducing the following 18 prints of horizontal sections. Imagery showing "my relationship with my brain; what an idea might be like". The 19C etching of men at work is scanned from a Dover Publications book, and shows the brain working. The lettering above and below "Can you see me? I am inside and outside" is created in Photoshop, including the woodcut-like distressing
2. The cogs show the mind at work
3. The first horizontal slice. The circles scratched in the emulsion are like springs wound up to make the brain work. The clown acts as the ringmaster saying "Roll up!". He comes from an earlier series called "The Circus" in which circus acts represent the imagination. The gold is applied in Photoshop and represents the world outside the brain as being present inside it in a broken and variegated form
4. A further slice downwards and a different mood. The angel holding the brain scan represents the personal and the anatomical, soul and body. The photographic edge of the brain lies against the wood-engraving texture of the print. The blue background provides a cooler and more laid-back palette than the orange, yellow and gold palette, though the different colour emphases are designed to work together as an ensemble
5. The person in the brain looks out, representing subjectivity: we look out from our brains. The face is a scanned engraving, the eyes are coloured brown in Photoshop
6. An astrolabe fits in the contour of the brain section, representing the attempt to measure and map the brain and consciousness
7. This combines two different ways of looking at the brain: fMRI section and angiogram, one a tonal method, the other linear. The artist had previously spent a year drawing angiograms at the Royal London Hospital. The angiograms show arteries (in this case a healthy one). The scratches at the top show where the identity code used by the hospital has been deleted
8. A character from the "Circus" sequence on the left; a tightrope walker next to the Big Top pole, juggling, linked by an angiogram-like line to her skeleton. Her dress is made from scans of dead hydrangea petals
9. A child's face scanned from a Victorian print, a "pretend ancestor" of the artist. The child represents time in relation to the brain, the forgotten time of development from birth to adult life. The right and left sides of the brain are distinguished, breaking across the face of the child. The white woodcut-like lines around the brain are drawn in the emulsion with a scalpel
10. A new motif is introduced: the brain as chignons, drawn on the film. The lettering (codes and ident information) is part of the scan
11. A companion to no. 10, in contrasting colours
12. A clockface under the brain, representing time: firstly in the sense that the brain scan records a person at a single point in time, and secondly with regard to the philosophical question whether the person portrayed is the same person from one moment to another – the past and the future are imaginary, only the present is real. The master printer had a drawer full of old clockfaces.There is a 3-dimensional relation between the photographic and the drawn marks
13. An "ideas picture": what does it feel like to have an idea? It is like an unwinding spring within the chignons of the cerebral cortex
14. Circus performers represent the imagination (cf. no. 8 above): "the carnival in the sludge of the brain". The Big Top pole is on the right. The green ear-bone on the right is the result of the merger of the yellow of the brain and the blue of the outside world. The photographic outline of the brain at the bottom is cloudy in contrast to the texture of the drawn background
15. and 16. Form a pair with contrasting backgrounds. A pair of eyes looks out, personifying the individual looking out from and with the brain. The substance of the cerebral cortex is shown through drawn chignons, while its contour is shown in gold photographic outlines
17. and 18. Form a pair with contrasting backgrounds arranged in chiasmus to 15. and 16. Starker, and replacing the chignons with black holes
19. reverts to a cooler colour scheme as the end approaches. The butterfly arises from the figures of the cerebral ventricles and expands outwards. But it is shortlived
20. The end, represented by a burst aneurysm within the chignon of the cortex, surrounded by official ident codes


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