Seb – How does your brain recognise the appearance of objects? And how does it manage to identify shapes and forms as familiar despite objects’ varying appearance when viewed from different angles? These questions are central to vision science and to our ability to understand our own everyday visual experience of the world around us.
Object perception is one of the key abilities lost in people with posterior cortical atrophy (PCA; literally meaning ‘back of the brain shrinkage’). PCA is an atypical form of Alzheimer’s disease in which the visual centres of the brain are affected whilst leaving memory and insight relatively spared. People with PCA gradually develop profound difficulty seeing what and where things are, as the damaged brain struggles to interpret information about the visual world collected through otherwise healthy eyes.
Psychologists use a variety of paper and pencil tests to examine people’s perceptual abilities. One of these tests, known as the Object Decision task, requires people to discriminate the silhouette of a real object from three other ‘made-up’ shapes. These shapes, and even the healthy brain’s struggle to decide whether they are ‘real’ or not, form the inspiration for the current piece of work.
Charles – The paintings I have created for Art Neuro are based on the various visual processing tests that Sebastian conducts as part of his research. These tests include ‘Object Decision’, ‘Shape Detection’, ‘Colour Discrimination’, ‘Number Location’, and ‘Motion Coherence’. These tests have a specific scientific purpose in the analysis of how patients interpret the visual world around them, but I found an inherent beauty in both their forms and conceptual implications. The process for making these works involved combining different aspects of the tests, selecting real objects and also designing believable shapes, in order to trigger a reaction in the brain of the viewer – what shapes do you recognise? How do you read an object / shape in relation to form, colour and pattern?
I have also created animations that attempt to capture to some degree the experience of Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA), detailing the slow degradation of the brain and the progressive loss of visual functions in everyday life. Although the exact nature of this experience is unclear, I hope that the works can give some insight into PCA and the scientific approaches used to understand the condition and those who are affected by it.