"The Strange Afterlife of Einstein’s Brain," 2022. Installation view at Museum of Neon Art, Glendale, CA.

The Brain Without Organs: An Aporia of Care

April 16 – September 25, 2022
Museum of Neon Art (MONA)

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The Museum of Neon Art presents the world premiere of The Brain Without Organs: The Aporia of Care, an exhibition of two large neon installations and a series of blacklight activated paintings by artist Warren Neidich. The exhibition uses light and immersive installations to consider philosophical and conceptual questions around information, capitalism, and the evolution of the brain.

Warren Neidich’s works exist at the border zones of art, science and social justice. Over the past two decades, Neidich has applied neurological and aesthetic approaches to understanding humans’ evolving relationship with information technology. He has engaged these issues from the role of curator, writer, and artist. In 1996 he co-founded Artbrain.org and Journal of Neuroaesthetics. Now 26 years and many exhibitions, symposia, and anthologies later, Neidich’s works continue to question the evolving networks of control, surveillance, and information under capitalism and globalism and how they are redefining and reshaping systems of the brain. MONA Executive Director Corrie Siegel states, “Neon is a technology invented at the turn of the 20th century as a tool of commerce and advertising. The bright shine of electrified noble gas still connects on a deep level with viewers both as material of commerce as well as an aesthetic tool, capturing attention, as well as eliciting wonder. Neidich uses neon light as a throughline in this exhibition to apply Marxist concepts about labor, production, and attention, as well as conjure the possibility of art as a source of awareness and emancipation from the attention economy.”

The title of the exhibition, The Brain Without Organs, is inspired by a concept of “body without organs.” This originated in the writings of Antonin Artaud and was expanded by philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. These thinkers advocated for an understanding of the body as something that is more than the sum of its parts, it is an unbounded entity full of potential which is able to affect and be affected by its surroundings. The Brain Without Organs explores how the brain is both located in the skull as well as an expansive socio-political entity, developing along with machine learning, big data, and social media.

The hanging sculpture “Brain Without Organs” is composed of constellations of levitating branches glowing in white neon tubing. These marks represent sulci (the grooves) and gyri (the folds) on the outer layer of the brain. The sulci and gyri enable the brain to contain more surface area and they also serve as mapping devices for scientists who delineate areas of the brain. Neidich uses a Situationist method of détournement to create an alternative arrangement free from the constraints of an overall plan. In this case, as presented at MONA, Neidich is calling for the brain to become a Chthulucene or Ecocene Brain rather than one which is modeled on the values of the Anthropocene. His hope is to produce technologically friendly ecological machines and systems which will produce new forms of what the Norwegian ecologist Arne Naess referred to as the ecological self, bound to the tenants of deep ecology. In deep ecology humans are bound to nature not dissociated from it. Instead of considering humans superior to other life forms understands them to be equal. Humans are therefore linked to the biosphere and connected to biodiversity.

“The Strange Afterlife of Einstein’s Brain,” is a wall mounted sculpture of branching white and red neon shapes that represent the folds in a section of Einstein’s cerebral cortex. The neon elements are simultaneously gestural, indexical, and abstract. Some studies of Einstein’s brain have found several anomalies that distinguish it from typical human brains. In the work these unique folds are delineated by red neon tubing. By highlighting the neurodivergence of one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century the work brings forth the suggestion that neurodiversity is a generator of possibility, rather than limitations.

A small room filled with black light contains paintings that illustrate the brain both anatomically and abstractly. The folds of the brain branch into emojis, text, and symbolism, bringing to mind the social and political nature of cognitive capitalism in which material labor has been replaced by immaterial labor. The fluorescent marks are reminiscent of diagrams, psychedelic paintings, and text threads, mimicking the expansive use of symbolism in attention economies, but also estranging them from their original context.

In destabilizing symbols for the brain, information, and communication Neidich creates space to consider the way our brains are being rewired by our social conditions. As social and political systems are rapidly changing due to neural networks like the internet, Neidich believes it is possible to expand the expectations and constraints society has applied to the mind through artistic navigation. Neidich’s subtitle for the exhibition, An Aporia of Care, refers to the philosophical concept for a state of puzzlement or doubt. For Neidich aporia serves as a metaphor with which to understand the notion of care during a time when the world is increasingly interconnected. “Art as a form of mental hacking can provide an escape from this imminent disaster – if only we have the consciousness and courage to do so!” states Warren Neidich.