Since 2005 I have worked as an artist-in-residence at the LeDoux Lab of the Center for Neural Science at New York University. In the laboratory, I have used high-powered microscopes to observe and record dense images of the amygdala, the part of the brain where fear and anxiety reside. From those images of neurological activity I've created a series of drawings and sculptures.
These works reflect new ways of seeing parts of the brain invisible to all but a handful of scientists who are searching to find patterns among seemingly random collections of neurological communication. How the chaotic looking amygdala communicates with other parts of the highly organized brain to process intense emotions such as fear and grief is as yet unknown.
My interest in the lab's research led me to investigate pattern making in its many visual and cultural forms. Through my own research I encountered the craft of Victorian mourning braiding, and began to see a visual connection between the strands of neurological data that dictate primitive human emotions and the practice of braiding hair in specific patterns, as a way to honor loved ones. These handcrafted mourning braids are not only complex and beautiful but often echo scientific patterns such as the DNA helix form and chromatin in the cell nucleus.
Using wire instead of hair in a series of sculptures, I explored the idea that each braid is a specific memory; in the same way each collection of strands under the microscope reflects a particular human emotion. The ideas generated by this work were the inspiration for this collaborative piece, Circling the Center.
Circling the Center, 2010: Installation by Nene Humphrey, in collaboration with Julie DeLano, Roberto C. Lange and Christopher Keohane.