Self Reflected (detail), basal ganglia and brainstem, 22K gilded microetching, 96″ x 130″, 2014-2016
Self Reflected (detail), thalamus and basal ganglia, 22K gilded microetching, 96″ x 130″, 2014-2016
Self Reflected (detail), motor and parietal cortex, 22K gilded microetching, 96″ x 130″, 2014-2016
Self Reflected (detail), midbrain, 22K gilded microetching, 96″ x 130″, 2014-2016
Self Reflected (detail), cerebellar folia, 22K gilded microetching, 96″ x 130″, 2014-2016
Self Reflected (detail), reticular formation and brainstem, 22K microetching, 96″ x 130″, 2014-2016
Self Reflected (detail), visual cortex, 22K gilded microetching, 96″ x 130″, 2014-2016
Self Reflected in Violets (detail), 22K gilded microetching, 96″ x 130″, 2014-2016
Image Credits: Greg Dunn and Will Drinker
My nontraditional path to art through a doctorate in neuroscience arms me with an outsider’s perspective and gives me the freedom to introduce imagery and concepts derived from a different world than is traditionally encountered in fine art.
My work is neonaturalist, that is, art based on natural forms and influenced by scientific advancements that allow us to perceive the universe beyond human senses. Neonaturalism harmonizes unfamiliar scientific imagery and techniques with an experimental artistic scaffolding. For example, it demonstrates that fractal forms of nature are consistent across scale; that neural landscapes of the brain fit seamlessly into the established realm of Asian aesthetics; that expanses of the microscopic world are fundamentally equivalent to landscapes of the macroscopic world. Neonaturalism fuses the worlds of concept and aesthetics, chaos and order, art and data. It visually, conceptually, and technologically brings the scientific method into design and technique to produce pieces that demonstrate surprising and sometimes beautifully abstract notions about the unseen, while commenting on the common foundations of art and science in communicating human experience. Neonaturalism translates the perpetual stream of inspiration at the cutting edge of scientific research into visceral artistic form to portray the immense beauty that pervades all corners and all scales of our universe.
A Note on Process
All of the Self Reflected images, which were created over a two-year period by Greg Dunn and applied physicist and artist Dr. Brian Edwards, come from a single piece of art, an animated, reflective microetching that can appear in a huge number of ways, depending on how it is illuminated. Its appearance is wholly dependent on its lighting, meaning that it can be displayed in animation or colored light.
The images are not brain scans. They are created meticulously using a combination of hand-drawing, deep neuroscience research, algorithmic simulation of neural circuity, digital design, photolithography, hand-gilding (more than 1,750 sheets of 22K gold leaf have been used), and strategic lighting. Through the immense amount of detail and simulation of neural activity, Self Reflected achieves an unprecedented level of detail and scope that are not attainable with current scanning technology.
The brain activity in Self Reflected is designed to show what is happening in the brain at the moment the artwork is seen, hence its title Self Reflected. (See the link below to the Self Reflected videos, which best help demonstrate that this is a dynamic work of art that cannot be captured completely in still images.)
The Self Reflected project was funded by the National Science Foundation.
Basal ganglia are involved in movement, decision-making, and reward.
Brainstem and cerebellum are regions of the brain that control basic body and motor functions.
Cerebellar folia comprise the laminar structure of the cerebellum, a region involved in movement and proprioception (calculating where the body is in space).
Midbrain is the area that carries out diverse functions in reward, eye movement, hearing, attention, and movement.
Motor and parietal cortex are regions involved in movement and sensation, respectively.
Reticular formation and brainstem refers to raw, colorized microetching data from the reticular formation.
Self Reflected in violets comprises the entire Self Reflected microetching under violet and white light.
Thalamus and basal ganglia are involved in sorting senses, initiating movement, and making decisions.
Visual cortex is the region located at the back of the brain that processes visual information.
About the Artist
Dr. Greg Dunn received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Pennsylvania in 2011. The artistic experiments he undertook while a graduate student demonstrated that the qualities of neural forms cleanly fit into the aesthetic principles of minimalist Asian art and sumi-e scroll and gold-leaf painting.
Now a full-time artist in Philadelphia, Greg Dunn works to incorporate his knowledge of neuroscience, physics, and biology into the artistic process through imagery, concept, and technique.
Collaborating with Dr. Brian Edwards, an artist and electrical engineer at Penn, Greg Dunn invented a revolutionary technique called reflective microetching that allows dynamic control of imagery and color in reflective gold surfaces. As a result of this work, he was awarded a grant, the EAGER Award, from the National Science Foundation to produce an enormous 8′ x 12′ microetching of the human brain—likely the world’s most complex and detailed artistic piece on the brain. Completed with the help of Dr. Edwards as well as neuroscience and fine arts students, the massive Self Reflected is on permanent exhibition at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In addition to exhibiting at the Franklin Institute, Greg Dunn has exhibited in solo and group shows in numerous other venues, including the Mutter Museum, Philadelphia; Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts; Centre for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany; Howard Hughes Medical Institute (headquarters), Chevy Chase, Maryland; New York Hall of Science, Queens, New York; and the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Collections that hold work by Greg Dunn include Max Planck Institute, Jupiter, Florida; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; University of California at San Diego and University of California at San Francisco; and the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Private collections in Canada, Japan, and Mexico also have acquired Greg Dunn’s artworks.