neurons and glia (and my father’s brain)

Are you in the neuron? Or is the neuron in you?


Steeped in the study of the human brain, I am in preparation for an artist residency at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Consequently I know my brain changes as I learn, while I draw, and even now as I write. I mean it is really changing.

And I guess I can say now my father’s brain is changing too. Dad’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For awhile I understand (more or less) he has dementia – I now know (more or less) he has Alzheimer’s. And because my father has Alzheimer’s (the most common form of dementia) I decide to focus this summer’s residency on both the healthy brain and the  brain with dementia.

Where to begin….
The residency calls for me to work at the Tempe Center for the Arts (I am 1 of 3 artists that will be in residence this summer).  I can’t help but consider the public. Actually I am always aware of the public, but more in the form of viewer (of the completed work) and not necessarily as part of the process. I will engage with visitors in a thoughtful manner.

While I’ve drawn many studies of the brain in the last few years, now I feel the need for a brain basics course (101). I consider the primary building blocks of the human brain – neurons and glia (neuralgia).  I spend days looking at imagery including the drawings of Santiago Ramon y Cajal (The Beautiful Brain).

I draw and paint a neuron↓.

Neuron Study

I draw glia ↓.  I didn’t know there’s a variety of glial cells!

These particular cells are key in maintaining homeostasis. I think of them as a sort of maintenance crew (though they’re more than that). While I’ve found different ratios, overall it seems glia outnumber neurons 10 to 1 (I’ve also read 6 to 1, 3.75 to 1).

Oligodentrocytes

Astrocyte

 

Microglial cell

I enjoy detailing the small preliminary study ↓ (not finished yet).
Note: At this point I better understand where abnormal plaques and tangles, as seen in Alzheimer’s, form.

This week my mother sends my father’s brain scans to me. The day the disc arrives, I pop it into my computer. I recognize my dad’s head and  profile. I manage to bring in (and change) the color of the basic black and white scans. I see them light up and they’re beautiful. There are 4 images, 1 rotates while 3 are static. I figure out how to move through layers of the brain. What am I looking at?  I sober up.

I recognize general areas of the brain though I don’t know how to read the particulars of the images. I hope to find someone who can help me make sense of things.


We’ll be installing in a couple of weeks…
Tempe Center for the Arts

The Gallery at TCA presents
draw: the art of curiosity and innovation
May 25-Sept 1
This interactive exhibition celebrates a wide variety of creative media, styles and techniques that incorporate drawing. The “draw” experience includes fine art displays by local artists, exploration stations for doodling and art making, live artist demonstrations and multiple workshop opportunities for all ages.

Meet Artists-in-Residence through Aug. 3
Kyllan Maney, Monica Aissa Martinez and Bobby Zokaites
 → for more info


Last month I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with Dr. Jay Braun, ASU Emeritus Professor of Psychology. We talked about the healthy brain and the Alzheimer’s brain. Exercise, he says, is the most important thing one can do to maintain a healthy brain.

I’m off for a run now…


an interview / the u of a college of medicine

Mohammad Khan March 13,2018
An Interview with Monica Martinez 

This interview is re-created from the conversation I had with Monica Martinez, the artist responsible for the Nothing in Stasis exhibit that is currently in the lobby of the HSEB. 

How did you become interested in making art?

I’ve been making things since I was in grade school probably. Teachers noted my ability, and kept my interest going.

I attended college at the University of Texas in El Paso and began a more serious study of art, specifically metalsmithing and ceramics. I moved to New Mexico State University to get my graduate degree in fine art, particularly drawing and printmaking.

What made you decide to change media?

I went to NMSU to study with a printmaking professor whose work I admired → Continue reading


The Differential is the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix student publication. Mohammad Khan a first year medical student and an editor for the student-run newspaper contacted me in February.


i call him sudan

The only way to save a rhinoceros is to save the environment in which it lives, because there’s a mutual dependency between it and millions of other species of both animals and plants. – David Attenborough


This week I read about the death of gentle Sudan. Pulling a copy of Albert Dürer’s Rhinoceros, I spend Friday painting a small paper-mache rhino that sits (well over 2-years)  on my studio table.

#lastmalenorthernrhino #sudan

 

complex structure and surface texture

The class assignment is complicated…

I ask students to look at and draw complex (interesting) structure and (interesting) surface texture. I have an array of subject-matter including insects, lizards and sea-shells for students to choose. I hope everyone picks up at least one bug but I know not everyone will.

First semester students use only markers (and paper) while second semester students use scratchboard. Everyone is required to use a magnifying glass. They work 4 days (about 12 hours) in class. Many take the drawing home over Spring Break, to complete.

Critique covers the strengths and weaknesses of the finished work. We talk about the process and the challenges of the assignment. And we discuss the elements of design.

Here are a hand full of the completed drawings. I include a few process and detail shots.

…complicated but beautiful!

 

Diana Three Bees

 

Diana Two Bees

 

Jezebel Grasshopper and a Lizard

 

Nina’s Moth

Maw draws a shell and a cicada titled Corpse vs Death

Alisza’s cicada –  Mother

Carlos “There was Four”

 

Kaylani’s Badger

Dustin

no woman is an island

August 2016
Joe: I took a photo of your work last year at the Sky Harbor exhibit. May I ask your permission to use the artwork for my class on evolution and medicine at the University of New Mexico and on the blog that I use for the class: EvolutionMedicine.com?

Me: Thank you for asking. I received my MFA at NMSU…I have great affinity for New Mexico.

Portrait of Sara, Head in Profile, Arms Akimbo (detail)

February 2018
Joe: I’m in Tempe today through Saturday. I hope to visit the UofA Med school gallery while I am here. Are you available tomorrow around noon? Or Saturday?

Saturday afternoon, almost 1-1/2 years after the initial email – I meet Joe (and his mom!) at the Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix.

Joe is a practicing emergency physician and teaches at University of New Mexico Department of Emergency Medicine. He is also program chair for the International Society for Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health. He wants to see my work and he wants to discuss using some of my compositions on the organization’s website. He invites me to attend their annual meeting this August in (beautiful) Park City, Utah. I appreciate the opportunity (curiosity stirred) but I cannot commit to the latter. Spending the last month working on applications for exhibition opportunities including a summer artist residency, I feel too many unknowns to set the plan in motion. He understands.

The three of us walk the exhibit and eventually come to Portrait of Sara ↑. At the time I work on the study, I explain as I point to the upper right corner of the composition, I learn about the cranial nerves. The vagus nerve, in particular, catches my attention because it is also known as the wandering nerve.

Joe’s face registers recognition and I glimpse excitement. I am in the habit of explaining the details of my work to people but perhaps in a medical education environment, I don’t need to explain so much. It is at this point that Joe brings up the microbiome. I’ve heard of the brain-gut connect, I say. He nods and clarifies gut-brain axis. I think about what I understand… It relates to the vagus nerve, yes? By the time the afternoon is over, I know the human microbiome is of great interest to him.

We talk about a few things including evolution medicine. But what stands out is when Joe connects body and environment.  I don’t write them down so I can’t quote his words, basically he brings up the construction happening across the valley.  What is occurring here, apartment building on top of apartment building – not a good thing for our microbiome. Being in nature and with animals, including living with our pets (the natural world) – supports the human microbiome.

We are a system of connecting parts.

Notes on the Complexity of the Brain, Mixed media and collage on paper, 8×8″

We sit at a table across from two of my small mixed-media portraits (studies of the brain). Joe says… I want that one. You do?!  He appreciates the techie quality. I nod…those are motherboard elements.


To know more about what Joe Alcock teaches visit→ EvolutionMedicine.com.
And → @JoeAlcockMD #tweets #microbiome and #evolution. And #phage.
When they refer to it (phage) on Science Friday (like they did this last week) – I enjoy knowing what it means! Information takes hold in small ways. 

Thank you so much Joe.


The blog posts titled No Woman is an Island acknowledge the people and/or organizations who support me and the work I do.

On a side note:
Did you know today is Day 3 of Brain Awareness Week. It is!
Notified that I did receive the artist residency, this summer I will spend 12 weeks at the Tempe Center for the Arts. I plan to study and draw the human brain.


sims lab – the practice

Invited to visit the Sims Lab at the Phoenix Biomedical campus, I think – mannequin designed to simulate human vital signs – things like breath and pulse. I don’t imagine a complete hospital environment – including sounds – High Fidelity Simulation. I can’t know I’ll meet numerous mannequins including smaller trainers.

Briana walks me into an area that’s ready for an OB lab. She refers to the trainers, I assume she is talking about students in training. I see no students. A trainer, I learn, is a tool, equipment and/or technology, shaped like a human body (full or partial) aiding in the teaching/learning process in medical school. Briana  pulls out a couple of them and explains their use to me.

We move into another room and come across a full body mannequin on a hospital bed, in what appears like an operating room/lab. Briana apologizes for the mess. Mess? I see sterile and clean. She points to things that are out-of-order. In an emergency situation where seconds matter, equipment and tools are in their place.

I touch the mannequin. I’m relieved he doesn’t feel real, at least not the skin surface. Briana helps me to feel organs and bones.

We head down the hallway to meet Victoria (below), a birthing mannequin. Yes, a mannequin that gives birth. Here is where I get a better sense of what high fidelity simulation means.

Briana explains the mechanisms while I note a 2-way mirror.  Medical students learn to respond to a full birthing experience, including sound. As in real-life each birth, and so each simulation, is unique. It all goes smooth or it doesn’t.

We come across placenta sitting on a table (of course we do).

Briana: It is birthed 35-45 minute after baby.
Me: Are there contraction?
Briana: Yes.

Briana mentions placenta brain. The phrase, not necessarily the explanation, brings a visual to my mind.

Me: I understand it’s a part of the secondary endocrine system.
Briana: It carries all the hormones that mom and baby need.

Right at this point I notice Briana is pregnant. We talk about various cultural norms concerning placenta. She explains it is also freeze-dried, ground and encapsulated, so mom (and nursing baby) may continue to benefit from the nutritious placenta for a good while after delivery.

Across the room I see 2 more mannequins – male and female. As we exit, I’m glad to know Victoria isn’t alone.

Briana: Let’s go see the kiddos!
Me: Kiddos?
We enter a smaller dark area. Lights come on bright and for a second I feel like I’m backstage at a theater production.  

Briana: Victoria’s bellies are hidden back here.
Me: Victoria’s bellies?!
Three fabulous bellies! As I write this I don’t recall if Briana says this or I do. I think she says it and I feel it true – they are fabulous! …and in various stages of pregnancy siting across the narrow table.

I learn about Leopold’s maneuvers.

And then I meet the kiddos… I hold one and as directed I roll it tightly in my hands like it might be while in utero. It is smooshy, flexible and surprisingly heavy. Average weight, Briana notes.

She then opens up the less common vertical C-section belly (below) and calls out the layers. Particularly interested in fascia, it’s the only layer (white) I focus on.

Off to stage right is the plug-in station …
I don’t say this but i think it. Babies, they lighten everything up.

We walk into a few more mock hospital rooms that include infants and young children on gurneys. Briana wipes the eyes of one of the mannequins and cleans the mouth of another. I sober up understanding the elements in these environments are for training students before they meet real people in real events.

Completing the tour, I ask about the student’s emotions and reactions. Yes, these are also part of the learning experience. It’s all about the full practice of medicine.

Briana works at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in the Center for Simulation and Innovation. Her background is in Cardiology and Cardiology Intensive Care.
She heads off to a meeting and I return to my studio.

Photo from the Tempe History Museum currently on view – 4th floor HSEB.

Note:
While I walk across the hall and take the 4 flights of stairs down – again I can’t help but think about being an artist. I especially appreciate the unusual experiences my work brings me. I could not have imagined any of this in all my years of art school.

Thank you Briana. We both have newborns in the planning – mine will be in 2D (probably on canvas) while yours will show up in 3D (real-life). Best wishes!


My artwork – Nothing In Stasis (solo exhibition) is on view through the first week of April.
Monday-Friday, 9-5

At the Health Sciences Education Building
Phoenix Biomedical Campus (PBC)
435 N. 5th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004-2230
Map (PDF)
Parking Information

Health Science Education Building

repositories of genetic information

When Eliezer contacted me, he was looking for something that could showcase his research interest. He was starting a lab, he explained, and was looking for a fun and thoughtful visual for his site. I asked him to tell me a little about his work.

The primary goal of my lab is to decipher the role of RNA metabolism in craniofacial development and cancer.  I didn’t understand what he wanted exactly. I was just starting to make some (stressing the some!) sense of DNA. Are you looking for craniofacial structure?

He replied….Like DNA, RNA is a repository of genetic information. Before DNA existed, RNA was responsible for carrying all the genetic information. While this function now is carry [sic] by DNA, still all the genetic information has to be copied into RNA in order for a gene to be properly expressed. Unlike DNA, RNA is a very versatile and multitasking molecule, and play many important roles in the cells.  It is really mind-blowing all the functions that RNA can play in the cell and yet we know very little about the role of RNA metabolism in cells. 

…Most of my work focuses on cellular events that occur inside the nucleus.

… my goal is to understand how different aspects of RNA metabolism are coordinately controlled to generate structure and function during embryonic development and how mutations in components of the RNA metabolic program lead to congenital disorders and cancer.

We made some agreements. I sent him an image. And recently I came across his site! Look → Calo Lab.

While I have done various studies of cells since that time – RNA is on my list of things to get a sense of. One day!

The body is a labyrinth. I love that I stumbled into it.