Natasha Mitchell: It's pitch black except for luminescent images of disembodied body parts floating across the walls

around you. Breasts, an ear, a mouth, an am putated foot, a tongue rolling inside a mouth...and there's a voice: listen... You are a butter flower, You are a mouse You are a molecule. You are full of pain You are a mammal I will be like you. We're inside the creative consciousness of Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist and one o f her epic installations that merge fantasy and reality. Hello, Natasha Mitchell joining you for All in the Mind on ABC Radio National. We're walking in to the artist's mind today, literally, it's a vast cave for one , a fantasy island for another, a hallucination of polka dots for another. And c oming up, acclaimed neuroscientist Semir Zeki, who's pioneered the field he call s neuroesthetics in an effort to probe the biological basis of our aesthetic exp erience of art, literature, love and beauty. Can we learn about the brain by scr utinising paintings, sculpture, literature, opera? He thinks so. Semir Zeki: A work of art is a product of the brain, a work of literature is a p roduct of the brain and one can learn a great deal about the limits and the poss ibilities of brain organisation by looking at these works. And this is a sort of rather radical departure; I have often been confronted with this: 'Listen, Prof essor, science is about measurement; art is not about measurement.' That is not strictly true; science is actually about curiosity, measurement is a means of sa tisfying that curiosity, but I think it would be a foolish scientist who may, fo r example, be interested in the neurobiology of love as indeed I am who would not wa nt to study literature of love. And secondly, it is not the case that we have anything to teach the humanist or the artist, I mean I don't think Cezanne's drawing would improve one iota by kno wing how the brain works. What I'm trying to say is that we have a great deal to learn from them, but we don't have that much to teach them. Natasha Mitchell: Although writer AS Byatt certain thinks she has a lot to learn from the neurosciences, she sits on the board of the Institute of Neuroesthetic s that Semir Zeki heads up at University College, London. More from him later, b ut let's duck back inside an exhibition currently on in London, on the banks of the Thames, that's been described as a vast, humming cranium. I'm with Stephanie Rosenthal, the chief curator of the Hayward Gallery here in L ondon, and right in the middle of the Southbank complex. I gather you envisioned the exhibition itself as some sort of giant brain whose mind are we walking in, i n the Walking in my Mind exhibition, Stephanie? Stephanie Rosenthal: So the idea really was that we say on the one hand it's the mind of the artist, but it could be also kind of a general mind the artist envi sions. Of course every visitor is walking in his own mind, you kind of make up y our own connections and you make up reasons for why these things are combined; e ven if the artist does combine them for one reason, you might just see another o ne in it. What we envisioned and what was important to us is that the Hayward Gallery was the inspiration for this exhibition, because the architecture, unlike other exhi bition places, is so much a space where you can get lost. And I think it's nice to get lost in art and kind of lose the time and, in a way, of course, the show is our mind, like the curator's mind, because we put different works together wh

Natasha Mitchell: We've walked in to the core space of the gallery. So I think the more knowledge you get the more you know what you don 't know and the more confusing it gets. Whose work is t hat? Stephanie Rosenthal: It's work by the English artist Keith Tyson who does. 'Contemporary grotesque lo oking for love in a time of self-hate'. I read philosophy. what he calls studio wall drawings. the whole installation has four caves. But then you as being in the theatre but oh yes. given that you know on 12 January 2007 he writes. big. Natasha Mitchell: I gather he's trying to represent a 24-hour brain. It was onal. at a certain point. Because she was like. since the mid 90s. shiny. Natasha Mitchell: You can overdo the interpretation. actually. but it's also a very personal statement from Tyson because I think his whole work is around exp loring the world and science and to try to understand why he's functioning like he's functioning. person or place. like when you take over a role. They could be nerve fibres. there's a massive. and next to that in October 2004 he writes. someone sa id. we've got these cut-out fig ures. or I read ne uroscience. too. I did a tour with a psychoanalyst the other day and we met some artists. So he's painting things which happened to him on a specific day. It's always dangerous to br ing a psychoanalyst into an art gallery. a whole sort of montage of different pieces. So up above us. Stephanie Rosenthal: Yes. gaffer tape. well. because you might never get there. covered in silver foil. Natasha Mitchell: Well this is an interesting space we've come to. around us ar e roof-high images. yes I have. therapy here. fleshy br ain encased in the thorns of roses. I mean it's quite courageous in some resp ects. and they work a little bit lik e a diary. it's an amazing mosaic this. then. so we're heading in. but it's always of course pers an artist. Instead of saying. Oh wow.. Happy Ti mes is a big painting. Stephanie Rosenthal: Yes it is. they could be umbilical cords that link them back to the walls of the str ucture. Stephanie Rosenthal: Yes and they're all linked to. t hey look like rock but it's all sticky tape. Of course it's him. huge. . Stephanie Rosenthal: Yes. it's a very nice image of how you walk in to a brain and discover the mind.ere we feel they represent different aspects of how you can show the mind in a t hree-dimensional space. Natasha Mitchell: On 15 May 2009 he must have been feeling good: Happy. Natasha Mitchell: Ok.' and there's a steel bed in an empty room. It's very exposing of him. it's probably about 10 x 6 metres. And the more he understands the more he knows what he doesn't understand. I can also go and look at visual art. 'Postcards fr om the edge of reason. Stephanie Rosenthal: For him I think it's trying to understand yourself is like be ing imprisoned in a way. it's not myself splitting up. The walls are actually like a cave. a hole in the wall and it's covered in that brown. but then I think it stays an art work. it's a work called Caveman Man Man from Thomas Hirschh orn. but they are kind of joined by. look this is like still a piece. and it became really stran ge because she started to analyse them and. you have seven characters so I'm doing a group like. a bit like barbed wire. plus some dummies. but also the artist is kind of ready to step out.. you always use the way of kind of playing. pattern. well.

When we study. here on ABC Radio National's All in the Mind with me Natasha Mitch ell. paintings and things like that. U sually you have in each case a litter and a television. has their doubt s. say. This is a much more lateral connection to a man and his psyche. and I never miss an occasion to visit a gallery. a portal between an inne r and outer world. And it's interesting to consider that Keith Tyson. s o he's kind of using philosophy to kind of feed his figures. and you're interacting with th e work of art and you're deciding whether it's nice or not.Natasha Mitchell: Right dynamite and then there's a book Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche. the internal world does the same. He was the first to pu t romantic love under the brain scanner and probes questions like. And we'll head back to the Walking in My Mind exhibition shortly at London's Hay ward Gallery. I also like this litter thing because you've lots of empty cans and it just represents in a nicely liter al way that we sometimes just don't know where to put things and we've got lots of garbage in our mind. Creativi ty and the Quest for Human Happiness. Semir Zeki: I think these criticisms are not valid. or feed the mind. 'The outside world is a complete construct of my inner mind. Natasha Mitchell: Look as a neuroscientist specialising in vision over many. very amateur painter myself. the brain is an enabling system for you to appreciate beauty. Stephanie Rosenthal: And on the other side you have Adorno's Moral Philosophy. the artist we just heard about says of his work. Now how he goes about that is quite interesting. And it's not your typical feeling of walking throu gh a brain-like structure if you imagine a kid's exhibition where you know you w alk into the cerebellum and up through to the visual cortex into the frontal lob es. the place where I sit. but it's just the sort of thing Professor Semir Zeki has turned to in his study of neuroesthetics. Natasha Mitchell: Brain junk. is on a frontier. The external world passes through this portal via the art wor k. Now when I discovered that I actually got quite int . which is another common misapprehension. where did the passion come for you in marrying art and neuroscience in some sense? Semir Zeki: Well first of all I am quite interested in visual art. we are saying we have located the neural activity that corresponds with your appreciation of particular works of art that's all. 'Locating aesthetic pleasure in the stand-alone brain is a grotesque ly reductionist attitude to humanity and to our collective of brains. you are actually interacting with the work of art. And we are not sayin g we have located beauty. Secondly I a ctually am a very. Nor are we saying that beauty is strictly loca ted in the brain. your cap acity to evaluate something that's beautiful. It's not your stand-alone brain. And I think one of the tr iggering points came actually when I discovered the area of the brain that is sp ecialised for visual motion. My mind. man y years. why are we dr awn to produce and appreciate art? Are there artistic universals that human brai ns find innately beautiful? And what does all this tell us about our brain itsel f? But some. you do obtain a great deal of knowledge about pe rspective and depth and proportion and representation. He says. I mean if you want to paint an object a chair or something. it just stays there.' Now you wouldn't expect Wagner's romantic opera Tristan and Isolde to define the research agenda of a brain scientist. including author and medical professor Raymond Tallis. And you sort of begin to realise that painting gives you a great deal of knowledge.' Well Semi r Zeki's new book is called Splendours and Miseries of the Brain: Love.

saying that sc ientists have a lot to learn from art and literature but artists perhaps less so from neuroscience. this is my firm belief that one of the primordial functions of the brain is to acquire knowledge. that the function of ar of the brain. and this is applicable to many . though. if yo u look at his paintings of the Montaigne Sainte-Victoire. a great port rait is one which gives you knowledge of a certain character. you prov ocatively described artists Shakespeare. Inner Vision. of certain charact eristics of that character. or an extension of. Now I'm not saying that to d o that you'd then sit down and take the paintings of Cezanne and show them in a scanner. How does the brain do this? You could not do worse than looking a t the many paintings of Cezanne because Cezanne's entire aim was really to modul ate form by colour. Natasha Mitchell: You go one step further and even sense t itself is equivalent. i s a primordial function of the brain. And people don't realise that you learn a gre at deal from art as well. Semir Zeki: Well he was a neurologist in the sense that he was actually using hi s brain to conduct experiments. and hence becomes applicable not to just one person but applicable to many characters of that time. Natasha Mitchell: It's another thing to say that Cezanne himself was something o f a neurologist. fifty times ? He was experimenting really with his brain.erested in kinetic art. that hat it's a knowledge searcher. how to get to the elements of form . let us say about arrogance. For example you could paint arro gance. so what led you to? Semir Zeki: Well you see one of the most perceptive statements about authors was made by actually Lichenstein who said science is often considered to be for lea rning whereas art is for pleasure. but it is an interesting development in art. but you might get insight into how you would conduct your experiment. of the impulses that we are getting all day long which are often in a chaotic state. Let's unravel that because at ent here is something quite intrinsic to the brain. or resigned resentment. Let us say portrait painting. So the question arises how do they interact? Natasha Mitchell: So colour and form. I cannot say I am a great admirer of konetic art. Wagner as themselves neuroscientists. I mean Cezanne was an experimenter really. how the brain interprets both colours but also the form of an object. the shape of an object. Semir Zeki: When we look at objects we see the object. Now this the heart of your argum it's a meaning maker. Now let me give you a much more concrete example: it has turned ou t that the colour system of the brain and the form system of the brain are quite separate. I mean in the late self portrait of Rembrandt the re is this resigned resentment at failing powers. If you want to learn something about human nature. Natasha Mitchell: And this was the attempt to embody movement in art. the form and the colour s imultaneously. enormously. And yet in one of your earlier books. He was experimenting . t Semir Zeki: Yes. you'd find it starts v ery naturalistically and ends up in a highly abstract form. i n fact all artists are in some sense neurologists you suggested. This isn't some thing they'd say about themselves. Natasha Mitchell: It's interesting that you make that connection. which he did very successfully. would you be better off reading Corielanus by Shakespea re or studying textbooks of psychology? I would say that you'd benefit from both . Why would somebody sit down and paint and repaint something forty. the function is very interesting to me. but the making of sense of this world. Semir Zeki: Yes.

so you see the snake has one arm. Natasha Mitchell: A series of sort of philosophical hats that describe the state of being. Stephanie Rosenthal: But the mind is just like a sun going in every direction. So he's asking the visitor to imagine this island which is totally somewhere el se and therefore everywhere. I mean the brain is something you can look at and hold in your hands probably. i nflecting and inspiring every little corner. S. Semir Zeki: Absolutely and abstracting that knowledge in such a way that it is v aried for many situations. gross. it's got claws. Stephanie Rosenthal: And it's an island. that's amazing. and one of his main figures in his island is the hunte . the state of mind. Natasha Mitchell: In fact the brain is an organ all about abstraction. very simple lin e drawings of the horizon as sort of radiating outwards with really quite bold l ines.o what he does is he has this made up island and what he brings back as souvenirs from this island. he's kind of describing for us with ori ginal images but also in writing and sculptures. Natasha Mitchell: The Islander. a figure walking into the horizon. they are just kind of sitting there. it forms sort of universal categories or concepts of objects or expressions. isn't it. and he's actually working on a project which he calls The Islander. Stephanie Rosenthal: Yes.. And then he does sculptures like the one we have here the on e-armed snake.people. Natasha Mitchell: So in a sense the brain is questing for knowledge. according to Semir Zeki's research. reveal to us. It also inspired him to do another work. Stephanie Rosenthal: So he creates these fantasy animals which are living there. philosophically. And it is like a rabbit warren. it's actually a snake but he's stitched on another kin d of creature's arm ugh. this is what the artist can in effect share with us. he started a series of hats and we have a sculpture of the hat with is the solipsist in this island he is showing different tourists and they all decided to wear different ideologies and so there's a drawing of a couple sitting in a bar and she's wearing the solipsist and I think the man is very individualist so th ey can't communicate at all. Thi s is one of Charles's pieces. Natasha Mitchell: The imagination is limitless and we often forget that in our o wn lives. looking grumpy and don't want to talk to each other. but the mind not. So what we wanted to show with that is of course th e mind is something infinite.. the artist is also constantly questing for interpretation and knowledge. here o n ABC Radio National's All in the Mind. So what he shows us is there ar e no boundaries of the mind. And we're taking some shortcuts today around the Walking in My Mind exhibition too. so it can take shortcuts. Stephanie ? Stephanie Rosenthal: So the next bit of the show is English artist Charles Avery . regardless of whether it's a gracious eucalypt or a mighty oak. or colours. Natasha Mitchell: Oh yes. It is knowledge about the character that it gives you. so where are we heading now. which show animals which live on the island and then as a tourist you can buy them. or that a sad face is sad regardless of the skin it's in. so kind of drawings or object s a tourist bought. For example we com e to know a tree as a tree.

but then it doesn't explain really. Natasha Mitchell: You don't have to nail it on a bit of the brain. if you think it always happens because of this chemical that kicks in.. there's a r eal push now in the sciences to look for the biological underpinnings of art and how we experience things aesthetically in the brain to look for universals in b eauty. it's just about exploring. and I'm not someo ne who wants to nail down something by doing a show and saying this is how it is . for me it does reduce it because you can say every mov ement you do. Natasha Mitchell: I mean what do you make of that whole effort to try and explai n artistic experience in the brain. again. picture yourself hunting. our brilliant bra in makes the world. i t's more that we lose the interest in experiencing things in a different way.or twenty. every feeling you have is generated in the mind. So not experiencing through our rational aspect but more kind of just being someth ing and letting it happen and I think is philosophy replaced by neuroscience? Can everything be explained? Maybe. It's kind of like if you would look for nothing. it's a two way process. this is the a rtistic temperament. And he thinks in recognition of this. so does that mean an artist can never hope to re . to try and understand our artistic sensibility as humans. locate it. Natasha Mitchell: Well in fact curator Stephanie Rosenthal's thinking isn't that different to what neuroscientist Semir Zeki believes.r and the hunter comes to the island to hunt the noumenon. or is it perhaps a reaction to it? Stephanie Rosenthal: I would say the show is really much more about showing how important a creative process is and how important visual art is to teach us thin gs in the world. Stephanie Rosenthal: So therefore you're probably more right in saying it's a ki nd of reaction to trying to make everything into a norm or into something you ca n explain. but it doesn't mean that it's right o r wrong. makes meaning in the world. and you can explain it. aspects of your life. Stephanie Rosenthal: Yes. and it's something that can only be described and not seen. like if you would like try to hunt eternity or something. Stephanie Rosenthal: Yes. It might be the same but I'm sure we're all defined through chemicals which are produced by our minds or the brains but I think it doesn't help to understand and appreciate and be responsible for the world. Is this a respo nse to that big interest. I mean I think the starting point is Kant. the brain forms idealised or averaged co ncepts of objects in the world. Natasha Mitchell: The self is a slippery object or beast. And I think this is what this show can really do by the artist just giving total crazy ideas on what the mind could be. I'm more interested in kind of opening up doors which confuses. artists often leave their wo rk unfinished. it seems to be very sexy at the moment? I me an some people argue that in a sense it's reducing the complexity of the artisti c experience by trying to nail it in the brain.. like every artist explains it. Natasha Mitchell: The noumenon what's a noumenon? Stephanie Rosenthal: A noumenon is a kind of philosophy which usually. or you can say it's the same. trying to.. You can learn an experience. Stephanie. of course showing possibilities and showing the variety. not only by reading and kind of building up knowledge in the way that you get information. here it is. as it sees the world. To him. reduced to a brain spot. As we heard earlier too. and make people aware that they can pick the way they want to perceive things and they can control their own lives and th eir own thinking. Natasha Mitchell: The beast with no form.

But it gives you a knowledge which. Natasha Mitchell: Dream on. to complete h is works for him? Semir Zeki: Yes. it's going t o be left and I'll finish it when I get the divine inspiration from heaven. yes. but you have a much more biological interpretation of these great unfinished wo rks. which are actually a good guide to his theory of art. that he can never complete in the re al world in his sculptures. It is the viewer completes his painting. I mean if statistics are to go by. It's a very different matter when love is unsatisfactory. 'I shall leave things unfinished until I get that divine inspiration from heaven. Now it is perhaps not that important. and that occurs somewhere in th e brain. apart from the early Gree ks was actually Cezanne.' Well from the workshop in heaven well he's t alking in semi-religious terms but a good interpretation of that would mean that I'm just not capable of finishing it but it's not to be destroyed. or our brain at least. What is that paradox in relation to the brai n that creates art? Semir Zeki: Well I think the paradox lies in the fact that the brain promises mo re than it can deliver.create their inner visions on the canvas? Semir Zeki: One of the first people to recognise that. indeed I do have a v ision of the kind of house I'd like to have and I'll never be able to have it. Semir Zeki: Dream on. perhaps over 50% of us. an extraordinary capacity to do this with speed and efficiency. It has got superbly efficient machinery for acquiring kn owledge. Semir Zeki: Michelangelo himself says in one of his sonnets. are dissatisfied with our love affairs othe rwise why would we divorce. he had too many commissions. And this of course comes to a head in matters of love. . Natasha Mitchell: Now why does this so especially interest you as a neurobiologi st? I mean you've also pointed to Michelangelo and the fact that maybe around th ree fifths of his sculptures were unfinished too. And he left it to the spectator or the brain o f the spectator to finish off the paintings. many of us. I may have a vision. Natasha Mitchell: So the suggestion being that Michelangelo has a particular vis ion in his brain that he can never realise. giving them considerable latitude i n interpretation. a chateau somewhere in the Loire. Many would put that down to th e fact that he just had too much work on his plate. Why does that interest you neurobiologically? Senmir Zeki: Well that interest is not so much in terms of neurobiology. Therefore he was completely in different to the criticisms of him about leaving large patches of his canvas unp ainted. Natasha Mitchell: The title of your new book series called Splendours and Miseri es of the Brain . It's a very different matter when one's creative capacities are not responsive t o the concepts in the brain. absolutely. he said I am not interested in finishing a painting bec ause to see is to conceive voir c'est concevoir. Natasha Mitchell: So he actually wanted us. through the concept which you cannot always satisfy and therefore dooms people to dissatisfaction in important areas of their life. Really what you're getting to here is a tremendous paradox in the human brain that's your argument. but in terms of we are in many ways dissatisfied with our lives because we are not able to find the real counterpart to the concept that our brain has built.

the one we are standing in right now and then we have a huge sculpt ure terrace bringing the polka dots outside into London. couldn't they. Natasha Mitchell: Kusama's work is often characterised by massive room-size inst allations like this. you see the po lka dots now everywhere. Imagine if Beethoven had been satisfied with the 5th Symph ony. he would not have gone on to write his late quartet or his late sonatas and that would have been a huge loss. oh. Stephanie Rosenthal: So what she did for the exhibition. a very famous woman. mirro red walls and big white polka dots and then there are these inflated objects als o covered in white polka dots. so it rea lly feels like she's taking over. or her mind is taking over. a Japanese artist. sh e's actually got an exhibition on in Sydney at the Museum of Contemporary Art at the moment which I dropped in to. who heads up the Institute of Neuroesthe tics at University College. that the brain quests for perfection. Stephanie Rosenthal: Yes. Natasha Mitchell: Well Professor Semir Zeki. Natasha Mitchell: These could potentially be big. Thank you. I worked on these pieces all day and every day and then I created pieces in which a desk. she realised three diff erent works. it's a fascinating thesis that you' ve got and I do appreciate you joining me on the program this week. Who is this? Stephanie Rosenthal: It's Yayoi Kusama. the ceiling and the walls were covered in polka dots. As I grew up I continued to concentrate on drawing thousands of polka dots and t hrough that process I felt I was able to explore my life and to look to the futu re. covered in polka dots. she sounds like she has hallucinations.. so this is a red space. I mean that would say that we are plagued with a permanent st ate of dissatisfaction. something really happened. you s trive to more and more to get something which is really worthwhile and I think i t's a sort of a gift. I mean interestingly polka dots are something tha t she represents from her own mental experience. Natasha Mitchell: Professor Semir Zeki. covered in bright polka dots.. London. seeing all those polka dots scattered around. and then when you exit the exhibition you feel like. This space that we're walking in to now is Japanese art. 'I recall these e cstatic moments like an illusion. Semir Zeki: It's a horrible paradox but it is also a gift. and if you're not. Semir Zeki: It was a great pleasure. she's just turned 80. that the whole world is covered with polka dots and therefore she is giving this experience to other people but also she says this is how she deals with this.Natasha Mitchell: And yet we can never ever meet the expectations of the brain i s your suggestion. Natasha Mitchell: And she says. floating brain cells. because you know if y ou are satisfied you may not carry on producing things.' There was a sense of obsession in these works she says. Kusama now has been living for many years in a psychiatric institution where she also creates her work in Japan . we can never deliv er it. Stephanie Rosenthal: So I think this idea that we walk through it and we kind of become part of making the connections is something which I think is part of the . looking back on her childhood. the floor. and then the next step is that she covered the trees along the Thames with polka dot fabrics.

audio.initial idea of a show. Stephanie Rosenthal: No certainly not. Stephanie Rosenthal: Thank you for taking the time. Just over there is a big London r ed bus. transcri pts and lots of extra titbits as ever. but as you said. right. Natasha Mitchell: Well. ciao for now. au/rn/allinthemind My thanks to Anita Barraud and Joel Church. Head to abc. but I'm sure it's not always fun for her. slightly disturbing. a polka dot in its own way. I mean in a sense her work is very interesti ng in that she's had some very difficult mental Natasha Mitchell: It's frightening. I'm Natasha Mitch ell. She manages to port ray them artistically in a fun way. along with my blog for your comments. Natasha Mitchell: We are the synapses in Kusama's big polka dot red brain. references. Natasha Mitchell: Stephanie Rosenthal. Why should this be less real than other things? So how do w e know? Like we might all just suppress the polka dots. She continues out on to the terrace and of course we have the Thames. I mean this is like ther e's no right or wrong. she's using her art to k ind of deal with it and have fun and pleasure. but thank you for taking us through the Walking in my Mind exh ibition I'm looking forward to exploring it further. Stephanie Rosenthal. including an extended feature of the Robo ts and War program on the blog. head curator of the Hayward Gallery at Lo ndon's Southbank Centre. Stephanie Rosenthal: Yes. well I'll just let people walk in to my mind so I make it more real. . And more info about the Walking in my Mind exhibition o n our website. lots more meat to be had there. you've got another meeting. I'll have to let you go. So I think it's really one way of opening yourself up by saying.