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Art of Neuroscience 2021

This year, 175 contestants from over 20 countries submitted nearly 300 submissions. We thank all participants for their outstanding contributions. While it was extremely difficult to choose from such a wide range of high quality submissions, the jury consisting of Dr. Paula Albuquerque, Prof. Rodrigo Quian Quiroga and Prof. Semir Zeki eventually converged on a winner and four honorable mentions. We thank them too for their critical feedback and expert opinion. The selected entries can be found below, accompanied with a description and jury commentary. 

To browse through a representative sample of other entries, you can visit our online gallery here. An overview of all submissions can be found in  this document. None of the works can be reproduced without the written consent of the authors and Art of Neuroscience.

Cognition IX by Yas Crawford

Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and Independent Artist

2021 Winner


“The perfectly composed image in classical black and white, is full of movement and dynamic flow.”

This year’s winner reminded the jury of the of the first experiments with emulsion exposure on glass plates and was a representation of the explosion that we sometimes feel takes place in our heads. Even though one may not immediately be able to identify what is being depicted, an array of affects may be transferred from the maker of the visuals to those experiencing an encounter with them.

I work in what I call ‘The Grey Space’ between art and science. The landscape acts as a vessel to position the science, the abstraction leaving space for ambiguity and the unknown. Using digital, analogue photography, video and cameraless experiments, my work has naturally developed in a fine art form.

The series above image belongs to the series ‘The 8th Sense’. ‘The 8th Sense’ and one aspect of my investigation looks at neurological Interoception in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E) patients. Interoception is considered to be The 8th Sense, a link between bodily sensation and emotional reactions. In recent decades the idea of how the body processes information and bodily sensations has created the idea of the experienced phenomenologically lived body as the basis of consciousness. Limited computational and cognitive theories suggests that the study of interoception remains enactive.

Change of Heart (변심)

Adrienne Lee

Independent artist. Studio Art Major, Senior, Davidson College, NC, US.

2021 Honorable Mention

I am attracted to the malleability of steel that allows for fluidity of language. I speak to the recurrence of movement in my personal history via Purkinje cells of the cerebellum. I incorporate Hangul, the Korean alphabet, as a tangible gesture linked to my ethnicity. The inevitable degeneration of our neural structures sometimes feels akin to an act of betrayal against the beauty of one’s accumulated life experiences.

The surprising effort to build a metal and paper sculpture impressed the jury. It was thought to illlustrate aspects of the brain’s functioning in a playful and interesting manner.


Fractal Brain

Sarshar Dorosti

Tehran University of Art

2021 Honorable Mention

The incident of non-symmetric natural phenomena and a mathematical set can appearance the chaos in behavior.

The jury saw in this work a successful attempt to visualize AI’s role on a western-centered perception of emotions by means of animation. They enjoyed the link between behavior and the complexity that goes on inside the brain.

A well-intentioned documentary about a collaborative art process involving imaging technology and neuroscience to produce visuals by patients who are not considered to be conscious according to medical standards.

It questions quantifying notions of what being alive means and also the reach of creativity as existing beyond the scope of what contemporary measuring equipment may detect. On top, it beautifully shows the personal journey of the artist.

The Brainwave Project

Qi Chen

Teacher at Wuhan Textile University

2021 Honorable Mention

The Brainwave Project focuses on helping patients with a consciousness disorder. It is a functional artwork that received the medical support of from the Army General Hospital and the technical support of the Institute of Automation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“In this project, I hope to complete a scientific, professional, visual and personalized audition auditory stimulation solution to help  awaken people in a micro-conscious state. Besides, the project can be used to carry out effective daily rehabilitation training. Using wearable devices to detect real-time brain waves, images are generated that help doctors and families understand the different brain responses to different audiovisual inputs. The devices were tested in May 2019 at the General Institute of the Chinese Army.

Self Evolution

Guihan Lu

Independent artist, Parsons School of Design

2021 Honorable Mention


Self Evolution is a projection mapping installation consisting of a 200cm x 120cm glued together box, projector, a mind wave mobile, and a mind wave processor. In this project, I regard “Self” as a species, which can evolve spontaneously with machine learning according to the brainwave signals of the audience. The idea was inspired by a cartographer, Abraham Ortelius, who published the first modern uniform Atlas in 1570, naming “The Theater of the World.” The world is like a stage. History, nature, and civilization constitute an enormous ecosystem. The integration and collision between them have become an epic in the macro world.

Hence, I created a concept of Self Theater. In the era of rapid development of technology and humanities, people have more diversified self-awareness. Self Theater treats the self as an independent ecosystem. In this ecology, the virtual form, ideology, reality entity, intellectual presence, and the soul form of the self are intertwined and collided at this moment into a series of episodes. Thus, the “self” as a whole gradually evolves, grows, and sublimates. Self Evolution is one of a series of works about self theater. We can think of ourselves as a new species that is gradually growing and flourishing as the audience becomes concentrated bit by bit.

To celebrate the incredible creativity and the record number of submissions, the staff of AoN 2021 has additionally selected five more artworks to be highlighted on the website. We loved the different perspectives, materials and media that scientists and artists have used to express themselves!


Guy Ben-Ary

SymbioticA, center for excellence in biological art cellF


cellF is Guy Ben-Ary’s biological self-portrait and the world’s first neural synthesizer. It portrays one of Guy’s juvenile dreams: to become a rockstar.


In the Lab of SymbioticA at UWA, Ben-Ary had a biopsy taken from his arm and using specific stem cell technology, he transformed this skin cells into neural stem cells. These differentiated over a Multi-Electrode Array (MEA) dish to become “Ben-Ary’s external brain”. The electrodes can both record the action potentials and electrically stimulate the neurons. The voltage responses pass through components to produce sound, just like in analogue synthesizers, from 16 speakers in the space.

cellF combines the similarities between the network and the instrument to create one cybernetic entity. Human artists are invited to play with cellF in one-off shows. Their music is fed as stimulation and the neurons respond in interactive “jam sessions”. cellF is a collaboration between artists Guy Ben-Ary, Darren Moore, Nathan Thompson and Andrew Fitch, and scientists Stuart Hodgetts, Mike Edel and Douglas Bakkum. For more info –

What Lies Ahead –

Simon Demeule & Pauline Palma

University of Montreal / McGill University


What Lies Ahead is an interactive poetic experience that explores themes of artificial intelligence, language, psychology, and intent. Experience it online at; please be sure to use Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

Through a simple text-based interface, this piece creates a game of exquisite corpse between the participant and a text-generating AI, an altered version of GPT-2 trained on the vast Gutenberg English literature corpus. As the synthetic responses unfold, words cascade through all configurations considered by the algorithm, partly unveiling the black box process within. The human tendencies captured by the algorithm resurface, produced by a machine that fundamentally lacks intent.

As the participant is presented with ambiguity and absurdity, their cognitive ability to bridge gaps and construct meaning becomes the guiding force that steers the evolution of the piece. In turn, participant’s input feeds the algorithm, thereby prompting interpretation again. Through this cyclical, almost conversational process, a unique poem emerges. 

This project was created through the Convergence Initiative, an organisation dedicated to encouraging interdisciplinary work between the arts and sciences.


Plastic Potential of a Single Neuron

Begüm Kurt & Lucila Pérez Gianmarco

Achucarro Basque Center for Neuroscience 


Polystrene is a type of plastic commonly used in cell culture consumables and it is slow to biodegrade, also the recycling process is quite costly. This sculpture has been made of hundreds of pieces of “used” plastic consumables collected from cell culture trash bins, and given the shape of a neuron with dendrites, axons, and axon terminals at the end.

This sculpture is representative of how much plastic we are consuming in a very short time at a single institute (these plastics were collected less than a week) and is an example of finding a creative (and fun) way to recycle them in the future. Sculpture’s dimensions: 100x90x40.

Mind Flow cytometry neurons

Nancy Kouta

Independent Artist


My illustration is a reflection of Flow cytometry,the widespread technique used to identify, analyze, and separate complex mixtures of cells in suspension in an abstract way. I tried to describe the brain tissues, and flow cytometric individual cell types that is found within and throughout the brain matrix. My composition is how art can be mixed with science in order to let us feel and understand better the human matter.

REM sleep
Slow Wave Sleep

Spikiss – music from the human brain

Alain Destexhe & Luc Foubert



Spikiss is a musical transcription of human micro-electrode recordings. The recordings were described in a previous article (Peyrache et al., PNAS 2012), and consisted in micro-electrode array recordings in human patients, where the excitatory and inhibitory neurons could be isolated. The music was made by associating sounds to the recorded spikes, where each neuron plays its own tone.  The inhibitory neurons are more rhythmic (the bass and percussion components), while excitatory neurons are more sparsely firing, more adequate for the melodic aspect (the xylophone). 

The neurons were selected ad-hoc, as a function of their musicality, and sometimes were pooled together, but in all cases the sequence obtained strictly respects the recorded spike sequences in the data.  The time was slightly slowed down compared to real time but no additional sound was added.

This musical translation was done for three brain states in the same subject: wakefulness, slow-wave sleep and rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, where most of our dreams occur.  One can hear very well the difference between wake and slow-wave sleep, where the activity is intermittent (Up/Down states), while it is sustained in wake and REM. 

Spikiss is made open-access under a Creative Common licence (non-commercial, share-alike).  Please acknowledge the authors when sharing.