Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Wingate: Session 1- Imaging

From: Richard Wingate
Date: Wed, 7 Mar 2007 05:35:13 -0500 (EST)


At the risk of lagging behind the group, I’d like to simply sketch someanswers to Suzanne’s opening comments in sequence and come back in on theongoing discussion as I catch up.

By way if a brief introduction, I’m a research scientist studying thedevelopment of the brain. I’ve had collaborations in the visual arts (AndrewCarnie, a fellow panelist here) and history of imaging (Marius Kwint at Oxford University). I’m guessing/hoping that I’ll be able to offer a slightlydifferent perspective on visual culture and bioscience rooted within the lab- we’ll see..

1. What role do picturing practices play in your discipline of “knowledgeproduction?”

Pictorial representation is of central importance within my area of science.Nothing, it seems, is quite as compelling as the elaborate images of individual nerve cells, the patterns of connections between brain regions or the patchwork mosaic of transient gene activation during brain development. Images are oftenprimary data, but they are also used for illustration or emphasis- a visualassertion. Quite frequently, a particular image or graphical style ofinterpretation becomes emblematic of a particular research programme or lab.Pictures are therefore both the substance of scientific research but alsoconvey a sense of style.

2) How have your perceptions and attitudes of mind been challenged by currentdialogues within the “Art-Sci” arenas?

Art-Sci challenges the relatively easy assumptions of the autonomy of sciencefrom a set of broader influences. From the earliest stage of collaboration with Andrew Carnie, it was clear that the themes of my research (fate, commitment,lineage, guidance, migration, with respect to cells) were those issues thatAndrew Carnie explored in his work. How much of the resonance associated withsuch words do we exploit in science, unconsciously or consciously, to addmotivations and a sense of meaning to events under the microscope?Working in collaboration also raised the question of which biomedical images,within a given era, are chosen to represent science. Should we as scientists be concerned with preparing, rendering, colouring microscopic images forubiquitous competitions or awards? Why do certain representations of biological constants sit more easily within a particular age than another? This kind of thinking prompted a more academic investigation of the history of the image ofthe neuron within its cultural context (with Marius Kwint, published last yearin Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9, p.745-52). Again the Art -Sci "world" is the arena in which to reflect on what aspects of a broader visual culture wescientists pull into the pictorial representation of our data and itsgraphical, often schematic, explanation?

3. What role have new imaging technologies played in your conceptualizations of visual modeling or artistic application?Digital imaging has transformed biomedical science. Many scientists are experts in image acquisition, manipulation and frequently write their own softwaresolutions where commercial products lag behind the pace of storage, renderingand visualization requirements. For the last ten years, I have been working atleast in some part of my research with 3D time-lapse images, bringing meinto contact with obscurities of MPEG encoding, film editing and data filestructure. By contrast, in the not so distant past, much of the data I used was constructed by pen and ink. What’s been an interesting revelation is that theunconscious understanding of structure that comes with drawing has been lostwithin this new digital, pseudo-coloured world. I frequently find myselfreducing these epic quantities of hard won-data to sketches on the back of apiece of an envelope - not only to explain to others, but also to understand.

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