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The cerebral city

The human mind as a living, moving, city is the central metaphoric idea of this project, which explores the affinities between the structure of the brain and the landscape of the city


170803 The Cerebral City1The cerebral city emerged from a long-standing collaboration between artist Matthew Maxwell and the Richardson Research Lab at King’s College London. Matthew’s artistic interests include the concept of psychogeography, which involves arbitrarily superimposing maps of two different regions onto each other as a way of reimagining an environment or place.  

The Richardson Lab’s research interests include understanding how the brain is ‘wired’ through neural networks, and how these networks differ in people with epilepsy and people without epilepsy. Using the neuroimaging technique tractography, the Richardson Lab is investigating how information in the brain travels through neural tracts, or ‘pathways’, and also how epileptic seizures spread through these pathways.  

Drawing on psychogeography and tractography, Matthew and the Richardson Lab posited the idea that pathways in the brain (viewed by tractographic imaging) can be reimagined as a city-brain-map, or a ‘cerebral city’. Like a city, the brain comprises millions of pathways that connect the areas of the brain just as streets and paths connect areas of the city. 

In this project, the human brain was reimagined by superimposing tractograms taken from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of three subjects: an artist, a scientist and a photographer (who has epilepsy), onto a map of London, creating personalised pathways (which may differ depending on how their brains are wired). These pathways were physically walked and documented according to each subject’s map, the results providing a unique insight into the psychogeographic experience of a shared urban habitat: what is heard, what is seen and what is encountered as each subject navigates the passageways of their cerebral city. 

Film footage and photography collected as part of the cerebral city walking exercise formed an immersive visual installation that engages the viewer in an artistic representation of the human brain and the technologies used in epilepsy research to better understand it. In the future, The cerebral city has the potential to offer a platform to connect and publicise other projects interested in promoting science and research through art.

Project legacy film

  Film-maker: Matthew Maxwell

Project team

Dr Eugenio Abela is a clinical neurologist and European Union funded Marie Curie Fellow at King’s College London. After obtaining his medical diploma and doctorate from the University of Zurich, he was a resident at the Departments of Neurology of the Kantonsspital St. Gallen and the University Hospital Bern. Eugenio is interested in using advanced neuroimaging techniques in neuroscience research to better understand, diagnose and treat epilepsies.  

Matthew Maxwell studied Fine Art at Oxford University and has work in private and public collections in France, UK and the USA. Originally a painter, his artistic practice now explores affinities between languages and technologies. This has included virtual and augmented reality, music composition and film making.

Jason McGlade is a photographer and creative director with projects featured in multiple publications including Vogue, Elle and Tank magazines, as well as the self-published Freestyle magazine. He developed a form of epilepsy at the age of 26 and now live and works in Berlin and London.

Amber Collingwood is the Project Manager of a five-year MRC funded Programme of Clinical Epilepsy Research at King’s College London, under the leadership of Professor Mark Richardson, Vice-Dean for the Division of Neuroscience. After graduating in 2010 with a BA in Anthropology from Goldsmiths College, University of London, Amber has coordinated a number of epilepsy research projects involving patients and their families. Amber is interested in the social aspects of clinical research, specifically research ethics and patient-public-engagement; recently completing her Masters degree in Bioethics and Society at King’s College London within the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine.

The Cerebral City is a collaboration between King’s College London’s Department of Basic & Clinical Neuroscience and Matthew Maxwell.  It is supported by the university's Culture team.

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