The exact nature of trauma, both physical and emotional, is twofold. The word describes a profoundly disturbing or distressing event, as well as its emotional and physical after effects. Each victim and survivor experiences trauma and its impacts in a deeply personal manner, which makes the aftermath all the more difficult to articulate. But if there's any discipline that can be used to effectively communicate what people feel following traumatic events, it's art.
Not only is it therapeutic, the results often convey what is so often difficult to express. Trauma: Built to Break is a new show at the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin that takes a closer look at how artists are able to deal with and ultimately work toward recovering from trauma, all the while encouraging a dialog about the way trauma affects our minds, bodies, and cultures as a whole.
The show is curated by five professionals, including Daniel Glaser, a neuroscientist and Director of Science Gallery London, and Shane O’Mara, Professor of Experimental Brain Research and Director of the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience. (In a related talk called "Why Torture Doesn't Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation" on December 14, O'Mara discusses how the brain can defy base torture techniques, as well as how suffering physically affects the mind.) What's unique about Trauma: Built to Break is that it not only examines how our bodies are affected by negative impacts, but also how our we are equipped with natural mechanisms that allow for healing as well, a component no doubt developed by the science-minded side of the curation team.
The exhibition features a range of styles and media, visually representing the seemingly infinite scope of trauma's effects, yet uniting the works thematically, thereby emphasizing humankind's ability to come together and rebuild itself in the face of tragedy.
The works include more straightforward approaches to art, such as Katharine Dowson's Memory of a Brain Malformation, which depicts her cousin's brain tumor with an intricate laser etching on glass, alluding to the successful surgical laser removal of the tumor itself. Meanwhile, Nola Avienne "knit" herself a new body in Heady following injuries to her head, spine, sacrum, ribs, and perhaps most devastatingly, her spirit. Jane Prophet expresses her own terror of being stalked by a delusional psychotic for 25 years in Second Skin: Straightjacket and Parka. The straightjacket symbolizes her psychological entrapment, while the parka references what the stalker was wearing when he tried to abduct her.
Then there are the comparatively multidisciplinary projects, which include VR and immersive installations such as Composing the Tinnitus Suites: 2015 d by Daniel Fishkin, which examines the artist's own struggle with tinnitus using a massive instrument. Colm Mc Nally's interactive sculptural triptych, Grasp, allows visitors to experience firsthand what it's like to lose one's hands. Trained occupational therapist Gráinne Tynan examines her experience helping those with damage to the central nervous system in Primitive Reflex. Louise Manifold collaborates with fiction writer Kevin Barry for Death & Fiction, a 16mm sound-and-film installation that explores Cotard’s syndrome, in which a living person believes he or she is dead. And perhaps most resoundingly and timely, virtual reality journalism pioneer Nonny de la Peña's VR animated film, Project Syria, puts viewers in the middle of Syria's Aleppo district just when enemy fire hits the scene.
"This exhibition explores our collective resilience in the face of trauma. Each work points to our ability to heal and the importance of communication and human connections to that process," says Lynn Scarff, Director of Science Gallery Dublin. "While trauma’s beginnings are often sudden and unexpected, this exhibition seeks to explore the process of recovery through meaningful and considered conversations. We have brought together an incredibly talented group of artists, neuroscientists, humanities scholars, engineers and designers to engage our visitors in this dialogue. We hope to provide insight into our enduring humanity when confronted with deeply traumatic times."
Click here to learn more about Trauma: Built to Break, which runs through February 21, 2016, at Science Gallery Dublin.