Brain surgery, body illusions and busking scientists as Wonder takes over the Barbican
The Barbican is set to come alive with an interactive ‘street fair’ of brain experiments, illusions and workshops, stimulating talks looking at the impact of London city life on the brain, and comedian Ruby Wax talking about her battle with depression and the research that it has inspired.
The events are all part of Wonder: Art and Science on the Brain, a season of events organised by the Barbican and the Wellcome Trust, two leading organisations in the worlds of art and science. Wonder explores the inner workings of the brain, our most complex organ, and features films, music, theatre, talks and participation, and a wealth of hands-on experiments for all ages.
The season has been inspired by the British Neuroscience Association's Festival of Neuroscience (7-10 April), a scientific conference of some of the greatest minds in brain research from across the globe that is to be held at the Barbican.
During the Festival, the public will have the opportunity to rub shoulders - and minds - with artists and neuroscientists. From 7-9 April, the Barbican foyers will be buzzing with the 'Wonder Street Fair', featuring free drop-in events for everyone. Activities include the chance to try your hand at brain surgery with surgeons and scientists, a magical Beuchet Chair that will shrink you to the size of a doll, and an opportunity to discover how your intelligence compares to an elephant, a chimp and a six-month-old baby.
As part of the wider Wonder season, visitors will also have the chance to explore the relationships between the city and their brains, find out how urban living drives impulsive behaviour and see what impact our 24/7 culture has on our sleep patterns in Packed Lunch talks (8-10 April) from brain scientists. On 9 April, visitors can find out about the latest research into treating Parkinson's disease by using stem cells - the body's 'master cells', which can develop into any of the cell types in the body - in a talk from Professor Anders Bjorklund, from Lund University in Sweden.
Comedian, actress and converted neuroscientist Ruby Wax (8 April) will take her audience on a journey from the heights of fame to the depths of mental illness and back again. As she has learned to cope with her mental illness, and with a growing number of degrees in brain sciences under her belt, Ruby's perception and understanding of her condition offers a fascinating insight into the way our mind and spirit works. The event will be hosted by the BBC's Claudia Hammond, and Ruby will be joined by Dr Tamara Russell, who will talk about the science of mindfulness.
In the Barbican cinema, cult film 'Fiend Without a Face' (7 April) will be showing as part of the Wonder film season. A B-movie classic from the 1950s, the film tells the story of a scientist whose thoughts materialise as an army of invisible brain-shaped monsters that terrorise an American military.
Robert Kingham will lead The Grey Soul of London walking tour (7-8 April) around Finsbury, the lesser-known London district to the north-west of the Barbican, exploring how the history of an area can imprint itself on the psychology of one person and what this tells us about our subconscious relationship with our urban environment. Organised by the Museum of London.
Amy Sanders, Programme Manager of the Wonder Season for the Wellcome Trust, said: "This is going to be an incredible few days at the Barbican, with fun, laughter, contemplation and debate to light up the mind. We hope that everyone who takes part - artists, neuroscientists and visitors - will leave the Barbican feeling that bit richer, that bit enthused and that bit more curious."
Sean Gregory, Director of Creative Learning at the Barbican, said: "These events continue a fascinating season that has explored the intricate and increasingly close relationship between art and science. We're delighted to be working alongside the Wellcome Trust to offer the public these opportunities to explore the brain and how it relates to the many types of human creativity through this brilliant series of events, which include performances, workshops, talks and debates."
Elaine Snell, Chief Executive of the British Neuroscience Association, added: "The Wonder season is the perfect way for us to capitalise on the progress in brain research being presented at the conference. It will allow the scientists and visitors to capture the fascination that we all have with the brain, and to discuss with each other what we know and what we have yet to discover about our most complex organ."
The full programme of events and information on how to buy tickets can be found on the Barbican website.