Open Frequency 2010: Susan Aldworth selected by Paul Stone

Open Frequency 2010: Susan Aldworth selected by Paul Stone Susan Aldworth, Out of Body, 2009. Monoprint and video. 3 mins 23 secs

Paul Stone profiles the work of Susan Aldworth

Susan Aldworth’s work focuses on the brain to explore the nature of human consciousness. Working on location as an artist-in-residence has become central to Aldworth's practice – she has held residences in both the Royal London Hospital and King’s College London, Gordon Museum of Pathology – as she 'finds inspiration from looking directly into the brain'. She has recently been appointed as Artist in Residence at the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University. Taking imagery of brain scans, and working in various media including print and film, Aldworth has developed a body of work that explores the nature of human consciousness and identity, most recently for the two touring solo exhibitions Matter into Imagination (2006) and Scribing the Soul (2008).

Aldworth’s interest in her subject matter stems from very personal experience –she collapsed in her studio in 1999 and was taken to the Royal London Hospital where, fully conscious whilst the doctors searched for a diagnosis, she 'was looking into my brain, in real time, live, on a monitor, while lying on an operating table'. Though escaping serious damage herself, for Aldworth the episode was to prove highly significant for her future development as an artist: 'I knew from that moment that I didn’t have a soul. The mind and the body are one thing, and that is my brain. I became obsessed with finding out what neuroscientists know about the brain and with understanding what it is to be human nowadays.'1

Aldworth began to observe brain operations on other patients, drawing brain scans and developing her new visual language as an artist, using the 'authentic marks and lines of the brain – its veins and arteries – to develop work about personal identities'. The resulting works document bursts of activity or even the systematic process of cell death in the brain. Subtly coloured and often involving multiple overlaying of images, Aldworth creates images that are at first reminiscent of telescope images of far away galaxies or resemble some mutated alien life form plucked straight from a sci-fi film. The imagery of contemporary neuroscience is uniquely beautiful, with many of the medical professionals involved in its research responding to this imagery aesthetically as well as scientifically, and Aldworth continues to develop close interactions with several key researchers in the field, as she progresses her own artistic line of enquiry.

Through her blending of personal and scientific narratives, Aldworth aims to challenge conventional definitions of portraiture through an examination of the internal structure of our brains, from the intricate details of the micro-circuits formed by billions of brain cells, to the output signals that the brain generates that are recorded through the scanning process and reflect our conscious experience. By the very nature of its subject matter, neuroscience offers a unique bridge between the disciplines of art and science in their pursuit of understanding human consciousness. Likewise, Aldworth advocates the internal person as a proper subject of portraiture in the light of contemporary neuroscience and the consequent understanding of what it is to be human and how we articulate these findings via our own creative and expressive means.

'Bringing together the subjective with the objective, Aldworth’s prints belong to a distinguished tradition in which art is the partner to science in the advance of insight and understanding of the human condition. Through the medium of etching – a process crucially dependent on chemical reactions - she has produced prints which embody the act of the creation, and in the process she gives us extraordinarily intimate portraits of the mind in action.'2

[1] Quoted in Ann Landi, ‘Brain’, ARTnews, June 2009
[2] Gill Saunders, Senior Curator, Prints and drawings, Victoria & Albert Museum, November 2007

Paul Stone, April 2010

View Susan Aldworth's profile >

Artist's biography

London-based artist Susan Aldworth, a philosophy graduate from Nottingham University, has exhibited extensively during the last 10 years and has received a number of awards, commissions and residencies. A selection includes commissions from Guy and St Thomas’ Charity for Evelina Children’s Hospital at St Thomas’ Hospital, London (2010), SWI Gallery, London (2008) and a commission of light sculptures for Royal Ward, Royal London Hospital; residencies at the Institute of Neurosciences, Newcastle University (2010), the Department of Neurophysiology, St Thomas’ Hospital, London (2009), Gordon Museum, King’s College, London (2007) and awards from Newcastle University (Beacon Award 2009) and the Wellcome Trust (2007).

Selected exhibitions and screenings include: PRINTWORKS, Unit 2 Gallery, London Metropolitan University (March 2010); Landscapes of the Mind, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown USA (January – May 2010); Out of Body screened at ICA, London as part of the London Short Film Festival (January 2010); Copyright Human, Musée de la Civilisation, Quebec, Canada (November 2009-January 2010); Northern Print Biennale, Hatton Gallery, Newcastle (July 2009); Configuration, Collyer Bristow Gallery, London (June 2009); Methodical Adventures, Unit 2, London Metropolitan University (May 2009); This Fatal Subject, Old Operating Theatre Museum, London (Wellcome Trust funded, January 2009); Scribing the Soul, Arts Council funded touring exhibition (February – September 2008); Air Terminal, Video Exhibition, Primo Piano Living Gallery, Lecce, Italy (August 2006); Matter into Imagination, Cuenca Biennial, Ecuador (April 2007) and 3 London sites: Menier Chocolate Factory Gallery, Royal London Hospital Whitechapel, and the Old Operating Theatre Museum (June-September 2006).

Upcoming exhibitions include Images of the Mind, Moravian Gallery Brno, Czech Republic (November 2011) and Reassembling the Self, two exhibitions of new works made in response to Aldworth's research at Newcastle University into visual impairment in schizophrenia. These exhibitions will run concurrently at both the Hatton Gallery and Vane in Newcastle (February 2012). 

About Paul Stone

Paul Stone has been based in Newcastle upon Tyne since 1986, moving to the city to study Fine Art at Northumbria University, both on the BA and MA courses. Having exhibited as an artist since 1990, he curated his first exhibition at Newcastle’s (now defunct) Zone photographic gallery in 1993. His involvement in other projects includes time as a Co-Director and Curator of Waygood Gallery and Studios, Newcastle (1997-2001), Newcastle Curator for the LMN (Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle), a cross-regional project consisting of exhibitions in each of the three cities (2000), Curatorial Advisor to HART, Hull (2001), co-curator and organiser of Vane Export (Stockholm, 1999) and Outlanders (Newcastle, 2001) for BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, as part of their B4B pre-opening programme. He was awarded a Crafts Council Spark Plug Award for curatorial research in 2009 and is also an Editorial Production Assistant for a-n The Artists Information Company

Stone has been involved with Vane since the organisation’s foundation in 1997. There are three phases to the history of Vane’s activities. The first consisted of four large-scale annual events acting as an umbrella for a number of diverse exhibitions across the city of Newcastle and the surrounding region (1997-2000). The second was a series of curated exhibitions, often involving working with invited national and international partner curators or galleries (2002-03). Having staged the majority of exhibitions and events up until this point in temporary venues, the third phase was the opening of a permanent gallery space in Newcastle city centre in July 2005. The gallery presents around six exhibitions a year and participates in a number of international art fairs. 

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.