Jo Berry is a cross disciplinary artist who used our laser studio to produce pieces for her installation, Brain Container. The installation is part of Blackpool Illuminations and opens on Monday 22 September. We spoke to Jo to find out about the Brain Container project and her practice.
Your project Brain Container launches next week, can you tell us a bit more about the idea behind the project?
Over the last year and a half I worked as Artist in Residence at Lakeside, the University of Nottingham’s public arts centre. I worked in collaboration with Dr. Lena Palaniyappan a psychiatrist involved in the care of young persons who experience psychosis for the first time he uses ‘neuroimaging ’(pictures which show the brain’s function) to better understand this condition and other mental illnesses.
Dr. Palynippan explains that: “Understanding the mechanisms behind mental illness has been undoubtedly the toughest challenge of our times. How does this brain that harbours love and hope make up the voices and demons too? Just what does the human brain contain, really? Both Neuroscience and Arts strive to comprehend human beliefs, hopes and expressions: the components of our mental state. This common ground has brought the artist and the scientist together for this work. Working with Jo (Berry) has made me realize that the subtle variations of brain networks are more than mere tools of scientific investigation; they are now the substrates for a richer engagement with my patients and their carers. I hope the Brain Container will provide a streak of insight to illuminate the material basis of psychosis.”
“Working with the artist Jo Berry has enabled me to visualise mental illness in a different way, to recognise the power of art making in those with mental health problems, and to wonder at the natural beauty of the brain, arguably the most enigmatic organ in the human body”. (Dr Victoria Tischler, Associate Professor in Behavioural Sciences, Institute of Mental Health, University of Nottingham)
I hope that this work offers a glimpse of how our minds work and the road maps of the brain from the perspective of an artist interested in neuroimaging, our health, our well being and this unique place, Blackpool.
Brain Container has involved engagement workshops – what processes did you use in the workshops?
An important part of this project was working with the Arts for Health Groups’ in Blackpool and Nottingham. The people I worked with were magnificent and very creative. They produced a wide range of rich, beautiful and witty Artwork, creative writing and Light boxes. The Blackpool participants produced work inspired by neuro-imaging, Blackpool Archives and Zoe Beloff: Dreamland showing at the Grundy Art Gallery. Participants exhibited their work at the Central Library and at Ice-Cream & Dream Night, Lancashire Dead Good Poets Society led by Vicki Ellis and myself. In Nottingham participants took inspiration from the research I have been doing with Neuroimaging at the Institute of Mental Health and The Art and Asylum Exhibition showing at the Djanogly Gallery, University of Nottingham earlier in the year.
What can people expect from the Brain Container installation?
Brain Container is a new, lit, moving Artwork housed in a customised cargo container, which aims to act as a giant interactive light box. The artwork designed for this space is made up of a series of thirty-six cast acrylic discs hung, lit and rotating. The discs are made up of a series of laser cut coloured Perspex panels that have been glued together and then cast in clear acrylic. The design drawings created to produce the laser cut artwork are based on a series of scientific images from neuro imaging data.
To produce Artwork for the Illuminations and work with Lightworks’ and Blackpool Councils Arts Engagement Team has been a unique and exciting opportunity.
In 2012 for the Blackpool Centenary celebrations I designed the Fluted Pylons near the Cenotaph and North Pier, which were inspired by the original Fluted Pylons of 1912 and the 1930s design drawings held at Lightworks‘ Archive.
You used the Laser cutting machine here at Freds for the project, had you ever used a laser cutting machine before and if yes what for?
I have been laser cutting a range of Plastics/ Perspex and lighting films for over fifteen years. Before this I was drilling Perspex to create Light Drawings. I love the process and the results and since I started using the laser I haven’t wanted to stop. Over the years I have used commercial laser cutters as well as cutting work myself. I have to say that having the opportunity to work at Freds and cut out lots of design ideas has been fantastic, and reasonably priced. This has allowed me to experiment and use a range of material.
Is using new and digital technologies such as a laser cutter an important part of your practice?
For the past fifteen years I have been producing artwork that uses Light, drawings made digitally and animations’ for exhibition and for Public Art Projects. Working with digital technology has allowed me to work across digital platforms to produce a whole range of work. I would not be able to produce the work I make without new and digital technologies such as laser cutting.
Do you have any tips for people wanting to use a laser cut machine?
Learn Adobe Illustrator and sort out your design ideas before you start. This is critical as whats the point of cutting out or engraving anything – Ideas/ design process is imperative. However it is also important to experiment with the laser and materials you can laser cut. It is a process of learning through having a go and trying out your design ideas.
Do you have any advice for artists who are just starting out?
Don’t give up, it takes a while. My advice is to keep going (grit your teeth) and say yes to every opportunity and try not to get disheartened with the rejections; there are always lots- its part of the reality of working as an Artist/ Designer.
Make sure you take every opportunity – say yes !! (A lesson I am still trying to learn)
What is next for you?
I have just started teaching part time at Birmingham City University, teaching Illustration, so this year will be busy.
I also have lots of ideas to explore and develop with other collaborators including scientists, technologists and lighting experts. And I would love to continue to work with Lightworks’ Illuminations to develop some new and exciting light pieces. I hope you will be able to keep up to date via my website, http:// www.joberry.co.uk.
Brain Container opens on Monday 22 September at 4.30pm, Claremont Park Community Centre, The Old Library, Claremont Road, Blackpool, FY1 2QJ
Jo Berry’s work also features in the BBC documentary The Beauty of Anatomy part 5. Watch the documentary here.
Are you interested in using the laser studio? Find out more about the services we offer here.