Ben Denham

Postulates of Brain Sculpting


Contemporary neuroscience has provided us with insights into the functioning of the brain that have the potential to inform new modes of creative practice. In this paper I discuss how recent developments in the areas of brain plasticity and the occupational specialization of brain processes can open a field of investigation that will involve the deliberate “sculpting” of the neural medium. The art-historical context for this paper is performance and performative video work in which the body is conceived of as the artist’s medium. I draw on the scientific literature in order to outline a postulates of brain sculpting which allows us to see the brain as a medium that can be sculpted through specific forms of creative practice. This paper proposes two modes of brain sculpting. Firstly the development of specific areas of the brain through a rigorous engagement with certain activities, (as exemplified in the highly developed navigational hippocampi of London taxi drivers). The second mode of brain sculpting involves connecting areas of relatively autonomous brain function (as seen in the connections between the auditory and fine-motor areas in musician’s brains). The paper outlines how the scientific literature connects to existing examples from the contemporary arts, while also speculating on how working directly with the brain-as-medium might produce new modes of creative practice. Finally I consider how artists might work with scientists to gauge the success of their brain sculpting activities.

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Ben Denham:

Ben Denham is an artist and writer based in the Blue Mountains. He teaches casually at the University of Western Sydney and the National Art School. His doctoral thesis considered the relationship between art and neuroscience with a particular focus on gesture and linguistic embodiment. A recipient of the Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Prize, Ben has also received “new work” funding from the Australia Council for the Arts. His work has been shown in Australia and internationally. A key thread in his art practice involves training his mind and body in idiosyncratic, and often difficult, modes of writing and speech. He is currently consolidating his thoughts around this type of training into a postulates of brain-sculpting. In his studio he is working on a project that integrates elements of robotics, camera control, drawing and writing.