Portrait of artists and scientists who worked on the collaborative installation.

Transforming connections

Over the summer of 2017, artist Helen Pynor shadowed the activities of the Visual Circuit Assembly Laboratory at the Crick. In particular, she worked closely with Group Leader Iris Salecker and PhD student Emma Powell to observe experiments and utilise imaging tools.

Introduction

Development of the visual circuit in Drosophila melanogaster is a sculptural symphony unfolding in three acts, performed with minor variations, over and over in these tiny bodies. Tissue furls, unfurls and furls again, each time assuming a new form that eventually leads to the unlikely miracle of sight.
Helen Pynor, Artist, 2017

This lab studies the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, which goes through an extraordinary metamorphosis as it develops.

Upon hatching, the fly has a pair of almost crystalline compound eyes, through which visual information is transmitted to the central brain. This area of the brain contains a multitude of nerve cells (or neurons), whose extensions are arranged in a beautifully regular pattern of columns and layers.

The scientists are investigating how neural networks develop to form connections within the optic lobe. They hope that understanding how these fundamental steps are coordinated within a growing brain may provide insights into how disorders such as autism, epilepsy and schizophrenia arise in humans.

Helen not only became captivated by the transformations being studied by the lab but also the limitations of language and imagery in articulating these phenomena. Working closely with Iris, she created tactile wax models to support her spatial understanding of the changes that occur during metamorphosis. She combined photographs of these models with acrylic, lights and imagery drawn from nature to create her final piece, which is suspended from the ceiling of the Gallery. Helen also worked with Iris to create a film that captures the physical gestures relied upon by the scientist when describing complex and intricate developmental processes.

The resulting commission is an investigation into the expansion and movement of patterns in time.

Explore

One of the elements from the exhibition entitled: 'Random precision_Countless intimate acts'.

Random precision_Countless intimate acts

One of the elements from the exhibition entitled: 'Random precision_Countless intimate acts'.

Helen Pynor, 2017

One of the elements from the exhibition entitled: 'Random precision_Countless intimate acts'.

One part of the installation, acrylic, digital photography, lights, stainless steel - suspended from the ceiling of the gallery.

Images

Still photographs from the film: ‘Development of the Visual Circuit of Drosophila melanogaster in Three Acts: Larvae I; Pupae I; Pupae II’

Development of the Visual Circuit of Drosophila melanogaster in Three Acts: Larvae I; Pupae I; Pupae II

Still photographs from the film: ‘Development of the Visual Circuit of Drosophila melanogaster in Three Acts: Larvae I; Pupae I; Pupae II’

Helen Pynor, Iris Salecker, Ben Gilbert, 2017

Still photographs from the film: ‘Development of the Visual Circuit of Drosophila melanogaster in Three Acts: Larvae I; Pupae I; Pupae II’

Still photographs from the film.

Soundcloud

Transforming Connections: In Conversation

Helen Pynor invited Iris Salecker and Emma Powell to visit her studio whilst she developed the final artwork. Listen to their response and reflections on the collaboration.

Audio interview produced by Ellie Mackay.

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