Brief CV
Elena Agudio, born 1979, is a Berlin-based art historian, writer and curator. She completed her PhD in 2010. Since 2007, she has been editor and writer for the Italian art magazine Art e Dossier. Focusing her research on interdisciplinary approaches in the arts, she is currently curator at the Association of Neuroesthetics (AoN), a platform for Neuroscience and Art, where she is coordinating a “Neuroscience and Art Lecture Series” in collaboration with the Medical University of Charité, The School of Mind and Brain (Humboldt-Universität), the Institut für Raumexperimente (UdK) and the Deutsche Guggenheim. She has curated numerous exhibitions and projects, most recently: Totem and Taboo. Complexity and relationships between art and design (upcoming: Museum Quartier, Vienna), In Other's words (upcoming: NGBK and Kunstraum Kreuzberg Bethanien, Berlin), Seeing with Eyes Closed (II edition of “Art and Neuroscience in Dialogue” at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice), After the Light II. Performing Moving Images (RADIALSYSTEM V, Berlin), Las Americas Latinas (Spazio Oberdan, Milano), Mind the brain! An experimental exhibition, (XXIII Annual Conference of the European Health Psychology Society). She has recently lectured in a variety of academic and institutional contexts, including: Institute for Culture Inquiry – ICI Berlin, Haus der Kulturen der Welt – Berlin, Forum Scientiarum – University of Tübingen, Domus Academy – Milano.
Curatorial Statement
The focus of my interest in art and science for the last few years has been on the possibilities of interaction between neuroscientific and artistic research. Some of the latest discoveries in the field of neuroscience are, in fact, making it possible to approach existential themes – that for centuries have been the exclusive realm of the sciences of the spirit – from a new standpoint, capable of opening up interesting new perspectives. In the last thirty years, there has been an exponential expansion in brain-related research, to such a degree that the 1990s were hailed as “the decade of the brain.” At this point, we are able to map cerebral anatomy, functions and activity using a wide range of sophisticated techniques: fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), EEG (electroencephalography), MEG (magnetoencephalography), PET (positron emission tomography), and SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography), to cite just a few. These neuroimaging techniques have made it possible to directly observe what is going on in our brains when we are engaged in a variety of perceptive, executive and cognitive tasks. Neuroimaging has arrived on the cultural terrain with an arsenal of images that both threaten and seduce us into the belief that even the most interior spaces of ourselves are within the range of an objective lens. The images of the brain and the traces of its activity are striking photographs that show some of the most intimate attributes of our essence: they are capable of portraying some of our most personal characteristics and experiences, subjecting the subject to a form of objectivization. In recent decades, people have once again engaged in heated discussions about what philosophers call the mind-body problem, the metaphysical problem of the distinction between mind and brain, a debate that hinges on the apparent semantic and ontological opposition between the intangibility of the mind and the physical nature of the body. Because we have the capability of superimposing the mental dimension onto the cerebral one, of linking all our experiences to a neurological event, we are forced to ask ourselves whether the great, unfathomable mystery, “man-the-subject”—a question that has been speculated about in thought and philosophy for centuries—can be solved on a purely physiological basis. If the mind can be traced to the structure of the brain itself, what is left of the person in the most transcendental sense? In 1989, Patricia Smith Churchland spoke of Neurophilosophy: Towards a Unified Science of the Mind/Brain. We are now capable of replacing the Cartesian dualism of res cogitans-res extensa and the Platonic concept of pure thought existing separately from the biological reality of our body, with a more complex vision of the mechanism that forms and harbours life, moving past an overly ideological outlook based on the dichotomy between mind and matter. A turning point came in 1994, when Antonio Damasio published Descartes’ Error, attempting to unify mind, brain, and body based on strictly scientific data. Carefully examining several particularly revealing clinical cases like that of Phineas Gage, who suffered a severe injury to his prefrontal cortex, the Portuguese neurophysiologist articulated his findings about the essential cognitive role of feelings and emotions, while advancing the theory that the mind derives from the body; meaning the entire body, not just from the brain. Nowadays, it is a question of understanding “how the body shapes the mind;” to quote the title of a recent book by philosopher Shaun Gallagher. Some leading figures in the field of cognitive science now focus their research on the bodily self, thus reviving the phenomenological theories of embodiment and modernizing the ideas of philosophers such as Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty. Following the methodological approach introduced by Chilean neuroscientist Francisco Varela (neurophenomenology), people are now trying to study the complexity of the self – the “hard problem” that is also so important to art – starting from the idea that human cognition and consciousness can be understood only through a rigorous examination of human experience, of the body, and the physical world with which the body interacts. My point is that the scientific enthusiasm, which is generated by the availability of new technology, could prove to be dangerously reductive unless it is backed up by more complex investigations and by more challenging approaches of a multidisciplinary scope. These simulation methods for analyzing brain activity, despite the scientific nature of the data that they yield, can only be seen as limited when one is dealing with philosophical issues such as those related to consciousness and the nature of the mind. At times, even neuroscientists believe a one-sided epistemological perspective is inadequate to the task. Neuroscience’s new receptiveness to input from the arts and humanities (and vice-versa) may, therefore, prove to be a fertile, important field, allowing a more complex, polyphonic approach to the delicate topic of the human condition.
Projects realized (Selection)
*SEEING WITH EYES CLOSED, Neuroscience and Art in Dialogue, Peggy Guggenheim Collection – Library, Venice, June 2011. Curator: Elena Agudio. Co-curator Anton Burdakov Symposium: Moran Cerf, Olafur Eliasson, Ivana Franke, Vittorio Gallese, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, Ida Momennejad, Jeebesh Bagchi (Raqs Media Collective), Semir Zeki Installation by Ivana Franke On the occasion of the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009, the Association of Neuroesthetics (AoN) organized a symposium on art and neuroscience at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection In resonance with the curatorial focus of the 54th Biennale: IllumiNations, the symposium held on June 2nd, 2011 – organized in collaboration with Berlin School of Mind and Brain (Humboldt-Universität) and Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin – explored the theme Seeing with Eyes Closed. The project focused on the visual experience of flowing images induced by stroboscopic light behind closed eyes. ** Talk Series on Art and Neuroscience, 2009-2010 Elena Agudio curated a wide variety of talks in cooperation with the Association of Neuroesthetics for a public lecture series organized by the Berlin School of Mind and Brain (Humboldt-Universität, Berlin), the Institut für Raumexperimente (UdK/Studio Olafur Eliasson) and the Deutsche Guggenheim. Within the framework of the “Neuroscience and Art Talks Series;” speakers from various disciplines have been regularly invited to present and discuss their work in public. The lectures served as a forum to feed the need and desire of neuroesthetic research, and to draw attention to the intriguing outcome of the interdisciplinary dialogue between scientists, artists, and scholars. Curated talks: - Amos Gitai & Uri Hasson, ¨When Cinema meets Neuroscience¨ (October 7th 2010 – Deutsche Guggenheim), - Vittorio Gallese, “Embodied Simulation and Aesthetic Experience,” (January 13th 2010 – Berlin School of Mind and Brain), - David Freedberg, “The Body in Motion: Art, Anthropology and Neuroscience” (May 20th 2009 – Berlin School of Mind and Brain) - Michelangelo Pistoletto, “The Emergence of Self-Awareness” (May 6th 2009 – Berlin School of Mind and Brain) ***MIND the BRAIN! An experimental exhibition, Paolo Bottarelli, Reynold Reynolds, José Rufino (2009, Pisa, Italy, on the occasion of the XXIII Conference of the European Health Psychology Society) Advanced research on the mind, the brain and human behaviour is nowadays capable of giving us the hope of reaching a deeper insight into the conditio humana. New perspectives are being opened. Being aware of the possibilities available today, and of the range of goals to reach them in the near future, is fundamental. At the same time, while driven by this cognitive enthusiasm, we should never disregard the dangers in dealing with such a fragile and vulnerable complexity. The goal of the experiment is to combine the scientific point of view with a different perspective, such as art, a discipline that never fears suspending judgement. ****Art and Neuroscience in Dialogue, Symposium at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, - Library, Venice, June 2009. Curated by Elena Agudio and Alexander Abbushi Symposium: Davide Balula, David Freedberg, Vittorio Gallese, Christine Macel, Ernst Poeppel, Semir Zeki, Pae White Installations by Sissel Tolaas and by Florian Hecker On June 4th 2009, during the opening of the 53rd Venice Biennale, the Association of Neuroeshetics (AoN), together with the Marino Golinelli Foundation and the Ernst Schering Foundation, organized a symposium in the Library of the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation. A selected group of neuroscientists, artists, and critics were invited to address the possibilities of new interactions between neuroscience and the arts, with a view towards the most recent interdisciplinary approaches.