Infinitely Malleable – Approaching contemporary sculptural practice through the notion of neural plasticity

Fleur Summers
2014 Conference

Contemporary sculpture has a strong history of interaction with the body through experimentation with perception. Since the 1960s, artists have made works that test embodiment and question how direct bodily experiences influence thought. These phenomenological works use installation, video-feedback, light, mirrors, and other devices to extend spatial and temporal subjectivity, often involving participation by the viewer.

This analysis of cognitive embodiment and the creativity involved in transforming physical objects is also demonstrated by the mirror box devised by neurologist V.S.Ramachandran. Clinically, the mirror box is thought to produce neural changes in the brain illustrating the notion of neural plasticity and challenging the previous position that the adult brain is immutable. Not only is the mirror box similar to sculptural objects but the notion of plasticity has implications for understanding our responses to both everyday objects and works of art.

Current neurobiological studies of art primarily focus on vision and two-dimensional works. The neurobiological study of sculpture and consideration of the viewer’s moving body is inherently a more complex and broader area of investigation. This paper will consider neural plasticity from the position of an art practitioner and seeks to explore and expand, through sculptural practice, the conceptualisation of space and the body.

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About the author

Fleur Summers is a Lecturer in the School of Art at RMIT University and currently teaches BA students in the Sculpture, Sound and Spatial Practice Studio. She has over ten years teaching experience in sculpture with a focus on process based methodologies in the development of creativity in the studio. She also co-ordinates and lectures into Art History and Theory teaching the course Art, Music and the Brain. Fleur is a practicing artist and has exhibited both in Australia and overseas producing installation, video and object based works.

Fleur is currently a PhD candidate at RMIT University. Her project Making Connections: The Sculptural Encounter as a Neurocognitive Experience engages with the intersection of sculpture and neuroscience through the production of neurologically engaged art works. Her research interests include embodied cognition, experimental art practice, discursive formations and the studio as laboratory.