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Welcoming Lucas Kelly, Inaugural PCfN Artist-in-Residence

Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics

May 6, 2019


Anjan Chatterjee, Katherine Sachs, and Lucas Kelly

In neuroaesthetics, we interrogate the seemingly paradoxical observation that art and aesthetics are hallmarks of human experience, and yet are undeniably personal and culturally situated. Reconciling art’s diversity and universality is one overarching goal of neuroaesthetics and the PCfN’s own scientific agenda. In addition to advancing basic and translational research in the rapidly expanding field of neuroaesthetics, the PCfN aims to serve as a home for scholars and creative professionals desiring to extend, transgress, and re-define disciplinary boundaries that currently silo artists and scientists. The successful pursuit of neuroaesthetics inquiry shares challenges of all interdisciplinary efforts – establishing a common vocabulary, seeking overlapping and complementary aims, recognizing and interrogating domain-specific assumptions, exploring alternate modes of perception and thinking, and creating space for novel insights or methods to emerge. By bringing innovative thinkers and creators in allied disciplines together, the PCfN aspires to define and advance a new scientific field and to establish itself as a destination for groundbreaking dialogue between the visual arts and neuroscience.

It is in this spirit that we have invited Lucas Kelly to join the PCfN as our inaugural artist-in-residence. His work will be supported by a generous award from the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation, an organization that provides significant funding for the arts at Penn. The Sachs Program offers vital resources for artists and other collaborators seeking to expand practices and engage with a broader community.

Kelly is a Philadelphia-based artist and a member of the Tiger Strikes Asteroid network. Broadly construed, Kelly's work is an exploration of memory, its fragility, and its reconstructive nature. His pieces consider the psychological need for linear narrative when replaying scenes from one’s personal history. Likening each access to a memory with the process of opening a jpeg image file, Kelly intuits that a kind of averaging of remembered events or scenes occurs, leaving gaps that our mind fills in to create coherence. Over time, these moments of access deteriorate the accuracy of the memory itself. Thus, although we long to preserve and remember, he appreciates that in our efforts to do so we alter and sometimes damage the fabric of our most treasured recollections. Kelly refers to this process as a “beautiful disaster of sentimentality.”

In recognition of one’s flawed ability to maintain faithful narratives, Kelly extracts forms, colors, or sensibilities from specific moments in his own autobiography. From these extractions, he creates abstract images and objects which act as surrogates for the missing parts of the memory. These abstractions exist in real space and their permanence counteracts the ephemeral nature of their source.

Kelly’s conceptualization of memory reveals an intuitive grasp of the reconstructive nature of memory as understood by cognitive neuroscience. In addition to engaging with other scholars, clinicians, and artists while on campus, during his residency Kelly will be embedded in the research lab of PCfN director Anjan Chatterjee, MD and immersed in their method of exploring, investigating, and testing hypotheses. Taking their common understanding of memory as a starting point, Kelly and Chatterjee anticipate an experimental form of collaboration between the artist and PCfN researchers: rather than address scientific questions, the tools of neuroscience will be leveraged to generate conceptual or material contributions to new work by the artist. The residency will culminate in a jointly-produced final exhibition that will invite the public to consider how artists and scientists can meaningfully pool their skills to expand their modes of thinking and to create novel forms of aesthetic expression.

We’re looking forward to this opportunity to share, learn, and create together. We‘ll keep you posted with updates along the way!

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