9 People Who Have Turned Medical Imaging Into Art

by Tera Tuten on July 23, 2013

About 5 years ago, I looked at the rainbow strands of light below and wondered if I was seeing some sort of digital art.

What I was actually seeing was a map of someone’s brain, made with a Siemens Magnetom Allegra 3-Tesla scanner at Massachusetts General Hospital.

By imaging the mobility of water molecules, the brilliant strands here showed nerve pathways – essentially a wiring diagram of a thought…maybe even a feeling.

And even though this image may not have been intended as art, it was a sign that medical imaging technology could now be used to create art, based on the new views of our minds and bodies that such technology provides.

While that multi-coloured image (at right) is interesting, beautiful, even provocative, the 2005 MRI is just the tiniest foray into a world that the nine artists below have fully immersed themselves in:

Sophie Kahn (http://www.sophiekahn.net)

Long fascinated with capturing the human form in action, Kahn – a New York-based sculptor/mixed media artist – uses 3D laser scans, 3D printers, and ancient bronze casting techniques to create sculptures that “resemble de-constructed monuments or memorials. They engage questions of time, history, vision, identity and the body.”

Kahn uses captures of heads, torsos and more…”The 3D scanning technology I use was never designed to capture the body, which is always in motion. When confronted with a moving body, it receives conflicting spatial coordinates, generating fragmented results: a 3D ‘motion blur’.” From these scans, Kahn creates videos or 3D printed molds for metal or clay sculptures. “The resulting objects bear the artefacts of all the digital processes they have been though.”

Greg Dunn (http://www.gregadunn.com)

Having finished a finished a 2011 doctorate in Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania, Dunn combined his fascination with the brain with his love of minimalist scroll and screen painting from the Edo period in Japan. “It was a fine day when two of my passions came together upon the realization that the elegant forms of neurons (the cells that comprise your brain) can be painted expressively in the Asian sumi-e style. Neurons may be tiny in scale, but they poses the same beauty seen in traditional forms of the medium (trees, flowers, and animals).” His work pictured here – “Gold Cortex” – is enamel-on-gold-leaf, commissioned for the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition at Carnegie Mellon University.

Nene Humphrey (http://nenehumphrey.com/)

Since 2005 Nene Humphrey has been artist-in-residence at the Joseph LeDoux neuroscience lab at NYU, where her work has focused on “explorations of the brain mechanisms underlying human emotions.”

Her multimedia work Circling the Center incorporates community braiding, film, sound, and live performance into a mixed media presentation with a central feature of a giant woven abstract brain.

Virgil Wong (http://virgilwong.com )

A prolific digital innovator, Columbia University artist and researcher Virgil Wong is also VP, Interactive Media for Element 115.

His work in the art of medical imaging is perhaps most in-play in his role as the co-founder of Medical Avatar, a company that “uses personalized 3D anatomical bodies (e.g. at right) to visualize health information in the past, present, and future.”

He is currently doing research at Columbia University on “time travel simulations” of patients’ bodies to motivate disease prevention.

His many new media creations and design/education collaborations fuse digital overlays with the human physique, using programs, apps, and online utilities.

Julia Barello (http://www.juliabarello.com)

Rather than emulate or add to the product of medical imaging, New Mexico State University art professor Julia Barello makes art with the raw product used for such imaging:

Using dyed x-ray film, Barello creates flowers like those seen at right, for installations, performance art, or wearable pieces such as the earrings pictured here.

Another of her installations sees recycled medical imaging film used to create a flock of birds.

“Obsession is my work method,” says Barello in the honestly-written artist statement on her web site.

Elizabeth Jameson (www.jamesonfineart.com)

California-based artist Elizabeth Jameson uses neuro-imaging technologies to showcase parts of the brain that are rarely seen outside the medical community.

“My works consist of a series of intimate portraits based on MRI and other digital scans, exploring the wonder and complexity of the brain.”

Says Jameson on her web site, “My quest to understand the brain began in 1991, when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). This disease ended my career as a public interest lawyer, but to my amazement, allowed me to discover myself as an artist who is able to offer my art to the general public as well as the scientific, medical, and disabled community.”

Laura Ferguson (www.lauraferguson.net)

At age 13, New York City-based artist Laura Ferguson credited a year spent in a full-body cast to help treat scoliosis with her fascination with her skeleton.

“When I first started drawing my skeleton in the early 1990’s, I used my own x-rays as source material. X-rays have a shadowy and mysterious beauty, but I began to feel limited by their straightforward, back-to-front point of view. I wanted to draw my skeleton in more dynamic poses, too complicated to imagine.”

After 2000, Ferguson was able to start using higher-resolution CT scans of her body with 3D rendering for creating her art. The result – as with all her art – is dramatic and highly personal.

Marcos Lutyens

A California-based intermedia artist who has exhibited internationally, Marcos Lutyens has worked with staff at the University of California, San Diego’s Center for Brain and Cognition on large scale projects that involve interactivity, the environment and new technologies.

His FlavourCollider project deals with the reaction of the brain to the taste of different drinks is picked up through a “Neurosky Mindwave” headset that reads EEG signals. These signals are translated into visuals in real-time on flat screen monitors. “It’s an experiment to externalise and share taste-emotion impressions,” says Lutyens.

Satre Stuelke  (www.radiologyart.com)

The original inspiration for this posting, physician and artist Satre Stuelke founded the Radiology Art project “to explore the hidden contents and structures of everyday things.”

Stuelke created these beautiful works of art while studying as a medical student at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.

Stuelke got the images from an older four-slice CT scanner (you can read more about the process here)

After scanning, the images are processed in Osirix for Mac and later with Adobe Photoshop.

In those programs, colors are assigned “based on the varying densities of materials present throughout the object to allow for optimal viewing of both inner and outer structures.”

Depending on the spread of densities within a particular subject, black or white backgrounds are put behind the images.

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