andrew carnie


home   introduction   artworks   a few words   research

magic forest: slide dissolve work


magic forest: an introduction

The work arose from a collaboration with Dr Richard Wingate, of the Medical Research Council Centre for Developmental Neurology, at Kings College, London and was developed with the support of Dr Ken Arnold and Prof Marina Wallas. The work tracks the development, proliferation, and organisation of neurones in the growing brain. The work reflects 1. The changing organisation in the brain, developing to being capable of holding memories, and 2. The process of collecting the raw data for such scientific work through the use of the laser confocal microscope.

The work starts with the location of the growing brain in the skull and proceeds with an ever-growing forest of neurones developing on the screens; the mass increases, filling the whole screen with layers and layers of neurones in different colours. The work ends when the system collapses and the neurones disappear, blackness returns and the skull is shown again getting larger and larger and the work begins to cycle around once more. Each cycle lasts about fifteen minutes. The colours in the work reflect the fluorescence used and seen in the staining of individual neurones, which produce the images under the confocal microscope.


more photographs
Slices and snapshots: reconstructing brain cells.                    

The brain consists of millions of neurons, each a finely branching microscopic structure that reaches out for near and distant neighbours; they contribute to a distributed circuitry whose logic remains one of the greatest mysteries of biology. Structure and function are synonymous. The geometry of the neuron determines its interconnections and is a physical manifestation of the functional processing of the electrical signals it receives. The complexity and beauty of its structure also reflects the developmental constraints that shaped its growth.

Over a hundred years ago, the pioneer anatomist, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, sliced up resin-impregnated brains which had been stained by a capricious potassium dichromate-silver process invented by Camillo Golgi. For reasons that are still not fully understood, a few cells in a thousand turn completely black, their fine processes packed with dense particles.

By studying the fragments of cell distributed through the thin slices of brain, individual neurons were imaginatively reconstructed and giving rise to a model of the cellular composition of different brain regions, their interconnections and even the direction of the flow of information.

Prior to Golgi's stain the very existence of cells in the brain was hotly debated. Contrary evidence suggested that the brain was a continuous mesh of interconnected fibres. A theory that was eventually superseded, as the fine structure of neurons was uncovered in the early part of the twentieth century.

Today, our understanding of the brain still requires the imaginative and computer-aided analysis of slices through brain tissue. By using fluorescent dyes, slices no longer have to be collected using a sharpened blade. Laser scanning confocal microscopes can capture sections of stained neurons optically, giving unprecedented images of the three-dimensional living brain cells retained within computer memory. Just as our concepts of neuroantaomy rely on sections of space, our ideas of how neurons grow come from snapshots in time. Neurons are born within the inner lining of the ventricular cavities that lie at the centre of the brain. They migrate into outer layers of neurons forming layers and nuclei populations of cells serving a particular function. They extend fine fibres, reaching for appropriate neighbours to communicate with. One of these, the axon, contributes to information highways connecting distant regions of the brain. Finally, connections and fibres are remodelled as information itself shapes the structure of individual cells. Piecing together brain cell structure at different time-points has begun to give clues as to how cells might interact and shape themselves as they grow. However our model of brain development is still derived from glimpses of individual cells or by identifying populations by means which inevitably obscure the fine details of individual cells. Sections and snapshots remain, for the time being, the basis of our understanding of neuroanatomy.

Richard Wingate, King's College, London


magic forest has been exhibited in:

the rotterdam natural history museum

the science museum london

the rotterdam film festival

the westport artcentre usa

the design museum zurich switzerland

british assocciation science festival in exeter

the art history dept oxford with martin kemp

the art and mind festival winchester

exit art new york

williams college museum of art

key of life leiden


to be exhibited next

'Magic Forest' will be shown again in the perra museum in istanbul in april 2011 and in dresden and Brno in 2011/2012


magic forest in art in america


more on magic forest pdf


more photographs







back to archive


home page


about us site map privacy policy finding the studio catalogue contact us finding city road winchester



© 2004 Carnie Art Services