about the season
The Barbican’s season Wonder: Art & Science on the Brain puts the growing relationship between the arts and neuroscience under the microscope. Among the headline attractions in this collaboration with the Wellcome Trust are an audio-visual lecture on the theme of consciousness from the renowned Oxford professor of public understanding of science Marcus du Sautoy, a free weekend of art and science events and a talk from the comedian Ruby Wax about her struggle with depression.

The season will also feature films about neuroscience and mental health and a theatrical recreation of a 19th-century Parisian debating salon. For du Sautoy the old distinction between the “two cultures” of science and the arts is finally, and rightly, fading away. He believes imagination has always been important in science, just as rigorous analysis has always been useful to the artist. “In science our common sense is often our worst enemy,” he says.

The Wellcome Trust was attracted to a project that would allow scientists and artists “to engage on an equal footing”, according to Dr Daniel Glaser, the Trust’s Head of Special Projects. “Science is part of culture, but scientists are sometimes not very good about being reflexive, or reflective for that matter. They are not as good as artists at talking about what they do, so it will be good to see them interacting.”

The very nature of the season has already broken down barriers, since the followed the decision of the British Neuroscience Association to hold a festival at the Barbican. "We really wanted to give the public a sense of what is going on in the building as well as give the scientists a sense they are in an arts centre," said Sean Gregory, the Barbican's director of creative learning. Perhaps one of the most outward-looking elements, Gregory believes, will be this year's Barbican Box project, put together with the innovative theatre company Complicite due to the long-held interest in neuroscience of Simon McBurney, its artistic director. A battered suitcase, full of clues about a particular scientist and their discoveries, will be delivered to schools in surrounding London boroughs.

Du Sautoy, who worked with McBurney on A Disappearing Number, is also keen to be part of a season that brings the “two cultures” together. “Scientists and artists are often homing in on the same structures. Keats wrote ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’, but I wonder whether the truth is that we call things beautiful when we recognise something useful in their structures.”

Written by Vanessa Thorpe


For more about the brain, check out Big Picture – Inside the Brain a magazine and online resource from the Wellcome Trust.

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health.  They support the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities.
Wellcome Trust 

The British Neuroscience Association is the largest UK organisation representing all aspects of neuroscience from ion channels to whole animal behaviour to neuroscience applications in the clinic. BNA 2013: Festival of Neuroscience is the BNA’s biennial scientific meeting taking place from 7-10 April 2013 at the Barbican.
BNA Festival of Neuroscience

Find out about activities during Brain Awareness Week, 11-17 Mar 13