The Beautiful Brain

Katharine Dowson’s inspiration comes from nature, medicine and the scientific world as she often collaborates with scientists as part of her artistic practice. These include researchers investigating genetics, dyslexia and Parkinson’s disease, producing intricate casts of her own heart and brain from MRI scans. Her sculptures are made in various media but especially transparent materials and glass, which she uses as a metaphor for a membrane, a fragile yet robust skin that allows light to pass through and reveal the hidden interior within.

Katharine Dowson is fascinated by the properties of the eye, which allow adjustment to changes in the direction of light. She has combined this with her interest in the mind’s ability to adapt and mould itself in the creative process. For her, glass is a membrane; it has a life of its own; it moulds itself into objects thus evoking memory’s processes of impression and recall, replication and change. She constructs forms that rely both on transparency and translucency, using materials that allow light to pass through, playing with the opposing qualities of clarity and distortion, with which both cast objects and those seen through lenses may be distinguished. Through the manipulation of glass, lenses and light, she infuses notions of inner and outer worlds; of what is opaque, or hidden from view in contrast to that which is clear or illuminated.

Dowson’s interest in the human brain started in 2002 whilst collaborating with Dr. Piers Corneliesson, Newcastle University and Dr. Paul Hanson, Oxford University in their research into Dyslexia.   She had an fMRI scan of her Brain, specifically into the part of the brain that process’s words and the anomalies there may be within the dyslexic brain function. As part of this research, she produced a body of work around the psychology of IQ testing for the Exhibition ‘Head On’ at the Science Museum, London 2002.   Images of Dowson’s Brain subsequently initiated various works.

Katharine Dowson My Soul 2005. Photo: the Artist and GV Art London.

My Soul 2005 is a life size laser-etched image of her brain from the MRI scan in two pieces of crystal.  Having seen dissections and slicing of brains, Dowson made her own brain into a virtual specimen.  My Soul references the self and asks the viewer to reflect upon the exact location of the soul and the origin of our emotions.

Katharine Dowson My Soul 2005 (detail). Photo: the Artist and GV Art London.


Katharine Dowson Memory of a Brain Malformation 2006. Photo the Artist and GV Art London.

Memory of a Brain Malformation 2006, is a life size laser etching, in glass, of Dowson’s cousin’s Altera Venus Malformation, a brain tumour, which was successfully lasered out. The image of the delicate vein scaffold that feeds the brain tissues are reminiscent of a tree and supporting a nest within the branches, that is apart of the organism but alien at the same time, much like a parasitic ecosystem. The life size lased glass veins and tumour are delicate and ephemeral like a memory and the echo of the real thing before being lasered away.

Katharine Dowson Engulfed 2015. Photo the Artist and GV Art London.

Dowson also volunteered as a control subject at Imperial College London, working with David Dexter, Professor of Neuropharmacology and Scientific Director of Parkinson’s UK Brain Bank. She had an updated MRI scan of her brain 10 years after the first Oxford scan and in 2013 she created exact 3D-printed models of her brain, which she then cast in glass.  Engulfed 2015 is her life size brain, core cast in glass, like a floating specimen, trapped in fluid.

Katharine Dowson Meditation 2016. Photo the Artist and GV Art London.

Meditation 2016 is Dowson’s brain carved in pink Portuguese marble from her 2013 MRI scan.  It is 2.5 times life size. The tactile quality of the marble is an essential part of the work, giving an intimate feeling when caressing a sculpture of the organ we think holds the mystery of the human psyche.

Katharine Dowson Meditation 2016 (detail). Photo the Artist and GV Art London.


Katharine Dowson Synapse 2013. Photo: the artists and GV Art London.

Dowson made Synapse 2013 while she was The Institute Of International Research In Glass Research Fellow, Sunderland University UK.


All images copyright and courtesy of Katharine Dowson

Get the Full Experience
Read the rest of this article, and view all articles in full from just £10 for 3 months.

Subscribe Today

, , , , , ,

No comments yet.

You must be a subscriber and logged in to leave a comment. Users of a Site License are unable to comment.

Log in Now | Subscribe Today