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Duke University Arts

Waves of Mu in FCIEMAS

Nov 3, 2010

Waves of Mu in FCIEMAS


The reception area in Duke's Fitzpatrick Center (FCIEMAS).

The white-caped meninges -- Pia (Michele Okoh-Bernis), Dura (Camille Wright), and Arachnoid (Annabelle Meunier).

Hanging out for a while to chat and taste chocolate and champagne makes for a thoroughly stimulating show.

Dura explains that everyone will be taking their shoes off before they enter the brain.

Lingering for a while over the educational material.

Reading material suitable for a show about the brain.

The centerpiece of the brain is the very very busy thalamus (Skylar Gudasz).

Thalamus & Co.

A path of shoes leads from the brain to the classroom/laboratory.

One piece of real estate that's always worth investing in.
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For the past few weeks, Duke's Fitz­pat­rick Cen­ter for In­ter­dis­ci­plin­ary En­gin­eering, Medi­cine and Ap­plied Scien­ces (FCIEMAS) has also been a cen­ter for art. For Waves of Mu, an in­stal­lation and per­for­mance piece by vi­sit­ing art­ist Amy Caron, The Studio be­came a fanciful in­ter­act­ive walk–through mo­del of the brain and Schiciano Au­di­to­rium became a per­for­mance space.

Eight times between Oct. 20 and Oct. 30 audiences of about 50 were relieved of their shoes, ushered into the brain and then down the hall for some dramatic research. Actually the show started as soon as the audience began to arrive. While they waited, white-robed greeters — Dura, Pia, and Arachnoid, named for the meninges — plied them with champaign or cider and chocolate. There was punchy ambient music to listen to, composed by Duke graduate student Paul Leary, and video clips to watch. Brains were busy handling diverse sensory input as people waited to learn about how brains handle sensory input. It wasn't sensory overload, though, since it was also a time to chat and ask questions. In fact, sociability was one of the main themes of the evening.

Dura, Pia, and Arachnoid accompanied the audience into the brain, collecting their shoes in the process. Inside the installation, though, the center of attention was the person sitting at a desk typing, answering the phone, sorting and straightening and generally keeping busy. That was the switchboard of the brain, the thalamus (from the typewriter and the clunky phone, it seems that the brain is stuck in the disco era, technologically speaking). She was apt to hand a slip of paper to whoever was nearby and ask them to take it to some other part of the brain. In spite of the swirl of activity, she was kind enough to answer a few questions.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about what you do?

A: The thalamus receives all input, everything goes through the thalamus and then she redirects the input where it's supposed to go. The only thing that doesn't come through the thalamus is smell. There's like tiny amounts of smell that go through the thalamus but mostly no smell whatsoever. It just goes straight to the olfactory bulbs and then it's redistributed elsewhere because that's one of our most basic instincts.

Q: I heard something about the four Fs...

A: So that's the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus has to do with the four Fs, which are Fear, Flight, Fight and Fornication. It's like a little bit in front of, which is why it's called the hypo.

Q: It seems like a pretty busy job.

A: It's a very busy job, you have to deal with stuff all the time. Before you can even do whatever you're about to do or think what you're about to think or say what you're about to say or respond in any sort of way, your brain has already received this input and sent it through the thalamus to wherever it's supposed to go. That's what enables you to react the way that you're supposed to react, and this all happens very very very fast.

Q: And you have to send messages...

A: I send messages everywhere. We're always getting messages, always getting phone calls. It's terrible.

Q: Do you have any advice for any young ones that are thinking about becoming a thalamus?

A: Just be able to multitask, answer email, you know, write up memos, answer phone calls. You really have to leave your personal life at home, because there's just no time for it here! Oh, and keep clean, and keep a clear head. Drink a lot of coffee, that helps. That's my advice to young thalamus wannabes.

When she's not in a brain, Skylar Gudasz sings in a band with some Ugly Girls (they're really boys).



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