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Amazing Brains

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Presenting NYSCI’s first virtual art exhibit: “Amazing Brains”

Amazing Brains melds science and art to create extraordinary images of brains in many different ways. From high-resolution images of real brains from different species, to artistic portraits crafted out of brain cells, Amazing Brains depicts real brains from the imaginative perspective of an artist.

Have you ever wondered with a brain looks like at a cellular level? Using modern digital microscopic imaging techniques, Partha and Tatiana looked at brains from octopi, zebra finches, mice, turtles and even humans to see what brains really look like up close. And what they found was more like abstract art than a drawing in a biology textbook.

Their resulting gigapixel (some as big as a terapixel) photos, which can be enlarged to very large print sizes without pixilation, show the strikingly beautiful microscopic inner landscape of brains. In the complete exhibition, these images are presented to the viewer in the same way as one might present images of forests or of the night sky: for sheer aesthetic pleasure, to learn something about brains from direct observation, and for a sense of wonder at the intricacies that lie within us.

Along with the real images of brains that are essentially objets trouvé (found art) the exhibit presents original artwork inspired by brains, using neurons as elements. The intent behind these works are described in the artist’s statement accompanying the exhibit.

1. Portrait Of A Child

Ink on Archival Paper, 2019

By: Tatiana Mitra
Portrait of a child drawn in neurons.

1 Portrait Of A Child
2. Human Hippocampus

Dye-Sublimation Print on Aluminum, 2020
This is a Nissl-stained section of the human hippocampus. The hippocampus is a core brain area thought to be important for the formation of long-term memories. In memory impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is one of the first brain areas to suffer damage. The image is acquired at half-micron resolution.

2 Human Hippocampus
3. Untitled 2

Ink on Archival Paper, 2020
By: Tatiana Mitra
Artist’s daughter at two years old

3 Untitled 2
4. Human Brain with Signs of Traumatic Brain Injury

Dye-Sublimation Print on Aluminum,
A Nissl-stained section of a postmortem human brain is shown with a partial view of the cortex and the underlying white matter. One can see evidence of small bleeds (micro bleeds) in the white matter presumably caused by vascular injury during the traumatic injury.
Millions of individuals are seen in emergency departments for traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) in the United States, with more unaccounted for due to mild injuries not requiring immediate medical attention. While most patients with TBI recover completely within weeks to months of their injury, over 3 million individuals are living with a TBI-related disability in the United States. The image is acquired at half-micron resolution.

4 Human Brain with Signs of Traumatic Brain Injury
5. Octopus Brain

Dye-Sublimation Print on Aluminum, 2020

Octopuses look cool and maybe scary; they are intelligent and they have really weird brains, with two-thirds of their neurons distributed in their arms. Shown is a Nissl-stained section through the “central brain” of the octopus with two prominent optic lobes visible on the two sides. The image is acquired at half-micron resolution.

5 Octopus Brain
6. Hamlet

Ink on Archival Paper, 2019
By: Tatiana Mitra
This is Tatiana Mitra’s interpretation of a drawing of the nervous system commissioned by Vesalius and executed by the studio of Titian. Andreas Vesalius (1514 – 1564), an extraordinary European Renaissance physician and anatomist, used aesthetic appeal to bring together science and art. In Tatiana’s interpretation, Hamlet stares not at the skull of Yorick, as in Shakespeare’s play, but at his brain.

6 Hamlet
7. Turtle Brain

Dye-Sublimation Print on Aluminum, 2020

This is a Nissl-stained horizontal section through a turtle brain. Brains of turtles are small compared to their body. Yet, they can still remember you and even respond to their name. The image is acquired at half-micron resolution.

7 Turtle Brain
About The Artist & Scientist

Partha Mitra, the scientist, is interested in the art-science interface and has collaboratively worked on sculptural renditions of brain circuits. He maps real brain circuits and studies machine intelligence, to gain a conceptual/theoretical understanding of how brains work. Partha has a multi-disciplinary research program spanning physics, computation and neuroscience.

Tatiana Mitra
, the artist, is interested in the artistic possibilities presented by brain circuitry and has originated the style of portraiture using neurons as elements as shown in this exhibit. Tatiana trained as an architect and works in figurative sculpture, both physical and digital. Her artworks have received many awards and one of her sculptures was exhibited in the 2017 Beijing Biennale.

Tatiana wrote the following statement to accompany the exhibition:

“When people think about the brain, they often imagine a familiar shape. But there is an undiscovered world inside. I use art to communicate the beauty of the brain’s inner structure.

Each neuron is painstakingly drawn by hand. I start by sketching the outlines, then gradually fill it with neurons until a recognizable image appears. As the drawing nears completion, the neurons become more intertwined and connected, creating depth and contrast. The resulting neural patterns are not based on a particular person’s brain connectivity. Rather, they reflect a generalized interpretation of the dense inner forest of the brain. Like in a real brain, each neuron is a little different, and no element repeats twice.

Most people think of art and science as very different, if not mutually exclusive. Scientists discover objective facts about the world. Artists bring subjective ideas, images, and impressions into reality. The brain is the fundamental thing that makes us human, providing us with the ability to appreciate art in the first place. Our brain is incredibly complex, yet elegant.”