New Masters: The Power of Multiple Sclerosis Art and Epilepsy Art
The best art provides perspective, allows us to see and feel things differently. It can also create an experience that leads us to a deeper understanding of an issue. Recently, two fantastic projects have emerged that have used art to deal with issues surrounding the neurological conditions of epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
Art has frequently been an invaluable form of expression for those with various neurological conditions, allowing a freedom to communicate experiences that are difficult to articulate. It is far less common that artists without any direct experience of a condition are encouraged to understand and inspired to react to it. Having said that, two projects launched in 2014 – the London Brain Project’s Beyond Seizures and the Australian MS Society’s Seeing MS – do just that.
By engaging with conditions that are often misunderstood and misrepresented such as epilepsy and Multiple Sclerosis, these projects explore the hidden issues with these common diseases. Both art projects are united by their originality and their desire to provide the audience with a new perspective on what it’s like to live with these conditions. They aim to expand people’s understanding, promote education, encourage debate and facilitate an open discourse on topics that are important to society.
Beyond Seizures and Seeing MS represent an exciting development in the aim to raise awareness and offer further evidence as to the power of art.
Epilepsy Awareness and Art – Beyond Seizures
The London Brain Project (LBP) is a not-for-profit set up by three PhD students from the UCL Institute of Child Health’s cognitive neurosciences department to explore epilepsy through art. Their Beyond Seizures exhibition is the first in many projects to engage people with neurological conditions. The exhibition is the result of a collaboration between neuroscientists, artists and people with epilepsy to create artworks to challenge the notion that epilepsy is a condition defined only by seizures. The art was designed with the aim to expose many of the myths and misconceptions that still exist around epilepsy.
London Brain Project
Michelle Downes one of the PhD students told Wired Magazine in a recent interview on the project:
“We wanted to create a new model of interaction between patients, neuroscientists, neurologists and medical professionals and we wanted to use that as a platform to engage the public in breaking down stereotypes.”
The project began with a workshopping process that brought people with epilepsy and their close family members together with experts along with artists who had no prior knowledge of epilepsy. The artists were then faced with the challenge of learning about and responding to the multi-faceted nature of epilepsy. They had to understand the social issues surrounding the condition as well as gain more specific insight into the treatment side-effects.
At the heart of the project is a desire to educate people about epilepsy and its symptoms, to help people see beyond the obvious external physical manifestation of the disorder. The result was a diverse exhibition that featured everything from wire sculptures to prints.
The exhibition also features Mola CL, a sound artist who used signals from EEG recordings of brain waves taken at three different time points during a nocturnal seizure. Mola CL then filtered and transposed the data to audible levels to create what he called: “a representation of what the brain activity might sound like if we were able to hear it in real time” Mola CL then got musicians to interpret the soundwaves. You can listen to the resulting compositions below or hear them playing in a meditation room at the exhibition.
Multiple Sclerosis Awareness and Art – Seeing MS
Similar to the Beyond Seizures exhibition, a project by Australia’s MS Society offers a unique insight into what it is like to live with a frequently misunderstood condition. The Seeing MS project brought together nine photographers with people with MS. After hearing their stories, the photographers were then tasked with visualising one of nine different MS symptoms. It was a challenge for them to explore innovative ways in which they could artistically represent the invisible symptoms of MS.
“Most symptoms of multiple sclerosis go unnoticed by everyone except the person living with them,” the MS Seeing states. “One day they can alter your memory, the next your vision. Striking without warning and leaving no trace, they are invisible.”
Both projects aim to foster a deeper understanding of their conditions. However, Seeing MS is about depicting the symptoms that people can’t see whereas Beyond Seizures is concerned with encouraging the audience to see beyond the obvious physical manifestation of an epileptic seizure.
The Seeing MS photography project invited photographers to listen and respond to the experiences of people living with MS. There are a whole range of MS symptoms that include mental health issues, blurred vision, fatigue, and numbness. Many of these symptoms are not visible and do not manifest as obvious physical symptoms and this makes it harder for others to understand. The nine photographers each consulted with people with MS to create images that could more accurately represent these different symptoms.
You can view each photographer’s work on the Seeing MS website, and also download an app that features a special filter visualising the experience of the symptom so you can take your own photos.