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Knowledge translation: Why art can be a meaningful tool to communicate deep science

Research stories May 30, 2022
The installation “Unwoven” represents the exploration of the assignment of gendered traits to something like a ye pf cell in the brain

Brain Canada and the Convergence Initiative co-sponsor exhibition of artwork to explore the intersection of the arts, neuroscience and society

What happens when art and science meet? What if they aren’t all that separate to begin with? These are some of the questions a group of Montreal-area students asked and answered, through the Convergence Initiative, a unique program that strives to bridge the knowledge gap between brain research and the broader public through scientific and artistic collaborations.

Brain Canada Foundation is a co-sponsor of this year’s Convergence exhibition, held from April 14 to May 7 at the Native Immigrant gallery on Cote Saint Luc Road, in NDG. The exhibit highlights art works developed through an interdisciplinary course at Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts, which invites students to creatively explore the intersection of arts, neuroscience, and society, and how together they contribute to a greater understanding of ourselves and others.

Convergence Initiative’s Founder and President Dr. Cristian Zaelzer is a neuroscientist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) and a part-time Professor at Concordia University. The program is in its fifth year, and it revolves around the notion that bringing art and science together can advance an idea or expression and have a positive societal impact. Dr. Zaelzer believes using art to communicate deep science helps to bridge the knowledge gap between researchers and the public.

“This gap is an important consideration when sharing science with people since communication in human beings does not only rely on facts,” notes Dr. Zaelzer.

“Art and science are part of that eternal dichotomy that happens every day in our brains, where emotions and logic play in concert to help us decide what is best for our loved ones and ourselves.” – Christian Zaeler

“Instinctively we also read voice tone, body language, facial expressions, and social clues, integrating them in the brain to judge if the message and the carrier are worthy of our time and attention. This emotion-based mechanism has granted our species the advance and survival for thousands of years. Art is a language based on emotions. It uses carefully orchestrated materials, elements, timings, tones, and cues to trigger our automatic responses. We feel moved, happy, sad, disgusted, unsettled, or elevated by the art and its many expressions.”

According to Dr. Zaelzer, science-art collaborations combine information and emotional triggers for high impact. This connection can prompt a resulting genuine curiosity and interest in neuroscience and brain function.

“Art and science are part of that eternal dichotomy that happens every day in our brains, where emotions and logic play in concert to help us decide what is best for our loved ones and ourselves. It is simply natural to put them together because, in our brain, they do play together.”

To learn more, visit www.convergenceinitiative.org