The Last Other Data Club session for a while

Our stay at the Center for Neurosciences an Cell Biology is coming to an end. We learned a lot there and our bags (and the hard drives) are full with precious information that we expect to use in MARIONET‘s future works. Even so, for now, the bags are ready to leave. Because of this, next Thursday we’ll present a very special session of the Other Data Club focused on what we took from our for 7 months stay in a lab. The Other Data Club itself is an important part of what we’re taking with us for further use and we’ll talk about that during this last session there.

Please, fell free to join us, here, next Thursday at 11hoo am. It will be nice to have someone who followed the residence through this blog there for the Q&A.

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A higher level

After building and loading our brain, we decided to place it at a higher level, just above our heads.

And there it rests now, fully fed, waiting for the moment we’ll turn it on.

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We Were Here!

Almost saying goodbye.

Our artistic residency at CNC will end this month and we’re already missing the neighbourhood. Such a great time we had accompanying the daily routine of this research institute. We’ve met interesting people, interesting work and points of view, different perspectives about life. We even felt being part of the routine and that was pretty cool, we felt at home.

MARIONET will be 10 years old next October and never had a physical home to this day. CNC was our home for the past 7 months and really felt like that. It was the right environment for the type of work we’ve been developing this last years, with a very close connection to science. This made us think (well, in fact we’ve thought this before) that it would really be fruitful for us to have our company’s premises in a research institute. And, of course, the institute would also collect its fruits. Well, who knows what the future will tell.

For the time being we leave here this map of where we’ve lived for the past few months – right there, between the yellow and the green, we’ve created a yellow cell. An artistic one.

This is what we could see from our window:

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AVC [additional video capturing]

Following our brief but intense brainstorming period, we decided we needed some extra video recordings from daily lab routines to prepare what we intended to do next.

So we started a new series of visits to some experiments going on in the various labs of CNC, and Rodrigo gave us two hands and two eyes with his video camera, his experience and his sensibility concerning video capturing and editing.

Like cells in a petri dish kept at a convenient temperature, the materials we gather from this residency are proliferating at a good rate. Let’s see how we’ll use the superspheres they’re forming.

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We’re growing a brain – part II

After the scientific paper structure was all mounted up, we started to coat it with two inner layers, one made of extractor fan filter, the other made of that plastic transparent sheet we use in the kitchen to cover food and etc. The result was quite interesting, for this two layers gave the brain an irregular translucent appearance, and the yellow scientific papers seen through this dimming surfaces felt just like forming circunvolutions. This really added a more complex appearance to our brain.

Finally, we wrapped all this inside a metallic net coating for a harder look and touch.

Next step: fill up the brain.

We inserted, during its assembly, several pen drives in specific areas of the brain – hippocampus, frontal lobe, parietal lobe, occipital lobe and cerebellum. We then filled this areas of the brain with video materials we’ve been collecting during our whole residency. When doing this, we tried to establish some relations between the images inserted in a specific area and the functions that area of the brain is known to have in its general activity.

In a way, we uploaded to this brain the history of our residency and the life we witnessed at the research centre during our 7 months stay.

And here it is, our shiny metallic brain with its core of scientific articles from CNC research groups and filled with the memory of our residency.

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Considering we are building a brain, why not add some storm to it? Just like Dr. Frankenstein did when he captured the energy of a lightning bolt during a storm to give life to his creature.

In a month and a half we’ll be leaving this premises and we would like to leave them in style. For the past few days we’ve been reflecting an discussing our stay here and all of the information and experience we gathered, and we started to make plans for the future.

Firstly, for the near future, we started thinking about a performance we’ll create to signal our departure and the end of this residency. Next, for the long-term future and considering the knowledge about life in the lab we now have, we started thinking about the materials we would still like to collect to help us create future works on this particular subject.
And in this brainstorming process we ended up discovering some unsuspected links between the different stuff things are made of.

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We’re growing a brain – part I

For about a month now, we’ve been reusing the rumpled yellow papers that were left from The Review Game. We thought: here we have a bunch of papers with scientific information about neuroscience which have a history; they’ve been read, rumpled, cited, paddled over a table by researchers, they were fun to use and interesting to comment on. We felt they had the potential to build something. And so we started to build a brain out of them.

We began to bind one paper to the other and the other and the other, and the different parts of a human brain started to grow. We used some models to get the hang of it.

Then, we bound the different brain parts to form the whole brain. This is, off course, a special brain – it’s a brain built on scientific papers from CNC research groups, who spend their days trying to understand how the human brain works. In a way, they are trying to build the human brain through the knowledge they get from very specific experiments. Just like we did. This brain captures a part of our experience and experiments here at CNC, it’s built with it.

One interesting thing we decided to do was give this brain the same weight of a real human brain (in average, of course). Our brain weights approx. 1.4Kg.

Note – this brain is made up of the following scientific articles:
– Agasse F, Bernardino L, Kristiansen H, Christiansen SH, Ferreira R, Silva B, Grade S, Woldbye DPD, Malva JO (2008). Neuropeptide Y Promotes Neurogenesis in Murine Subventricular Zone. Stem Cells 26:1636-1645.
– Álvaro AR, Martins J, Costa AC, Fernandes E, Carvalho F, Ambrósio AF and Cavadas C. Neuropeptide Y Protects Retinal Neural Cells Against Cell Death Induced by Ecstasy (2008). Neuroscience 152:97-105.
– Álvaro AR, Rosmaninho-Salgado J, Ambrósio AF, Cavadas C (2009). Neuropeptide Y Inhibits [Ca2+]i Changes in Rat Retinal Neurons through NPY Y1, Y4 and Y5 Receptors. J Neurochemistry 109:1508-1515.
– Arduíno DM, Esteves AR, Oliveira CR, Cardoso SM (2010). Mitochondrial Metabolism Modulation: A New Therapeutic Approach for Parkinson’s Disease. CNS & Neurological Disorders – Drug Targets 9(1):1-15.
– Bernardino L, Agasse F, Silva B, Ferreira R, Grade S, Malva JO (2008).Tumor Necrosis Factor-a Modulates Survival, Proliferation, and Neuronal Differentiation in Neonatal Subventricular Zone Cell Cultures. Stem Cells 26:2361-2371.
– Bernardino L, Xapelli S, Silva AP, Jakobsen B, Poulsen FR, Oliveira CR, Vezzani A, Malva JO, Zimmer J (2005). Modulator Effects of Interleukin-1b and Tumor Necrosis Factor-a on AMPA-Induced Excitotoxicity in Mouse Organotypic Hippocampal Slice Cultures. J Neuroscience 25(29):6734-6744.
– Cavadas C, Céfai D, Rosmaninho-Salgado J, Vieira-Coelho MA, Moura E, Busso N, Pedrazzini T, Grand D, Rotman S, Waeber B, Aubert J-F, Grouzmann E (2006). Deletion of the Neuropeptide Y (NPY) Y1 Receptor Gene Reveals a Regulatory Role of NPY on Catecholamine Synthesis and Secretion. PNAS 27:10497-10502.
– Esteves AR, Arduíno DM, Swerdlow RH, Oliveira CR, Cardoso SM (2009). Antioxidants & Redox Signaling 11(3):1-10.
– Esteves AR, Arduíno DM, Swerdlow RH, Oliveira CR, Cardoso SM (2010). Microtubule Depolymerization Potentiates Alpha-synuclein Oligomerization. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience 1(5):1-6.
– Pinheiro PS, Perrais D, Coussen F, Barhanin J, Bettler B, Mann JR, Malva JO, Heinemann SF, Mulle C (2007). GluR7 is an Essential Subunit of Presynaptic Kainate Autoreceptors at Hippocampal Mossy Fiber Synapses. PNAS 29:12181-12186.
– Silva AP, Cavadas C, Grouzmann E (2002). Neuropeptide Y and its Receptors as Potential Therapeutic Drug Targets. Clin Ch Acta 326:3-25.
– Silva AP, Lourenço J, Xapelli S, Ferreira R, Kristiansen H, Woldbye DPD, Oliveira CR, Malva JO (2007). Protein Kinase C Activity Blocks Neuropeptide Y-mediated Inhibition of Glutamate Release and Contributes to Excitability of the Hippocampus in Status Epilepticus. FASEB J 21:671-681.


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ODC V – the written trailer

In previous ODCs we had the artists in residency presenting some of their previous work, we heard that work through the voices of CNC researchers and we had researchers presenting discussion subjects they found interesting to share.

In yesterday’s ODC we had two presentations: one (“A small step”) from a researcher, Raquel, who outlined her path since she was born to this moment when she’s about to defend her PhD Thesis; the other (“The big leap”) from one of the artists, Alexandre, who talked about one of his favourite works of art, the “Saut dans le vide” from Yves Klein.

It was very interesting for me to establish connections between the two universes described by them, one scientific, the other artistic. At a given time Alexandre stated that one of the things that made Klein so special was the fact of him being an artist without context, of difficult catalogation at the time given the innovating charateristics of his work. In my mind I associated this idea to the previous discussion we had about Raquel’s presentation when we spoke about different types of research work: on one hand the kind of work a researcher does when he/she starts working already existing data on a previously defined direction (defined, for instance, by the research group you’re in); on the other hand the work when you start a given research from scratch. I associated (in a very losely manner) this latter type of work to the possibly innovating characteristics of an artwork.

Another association my brain did was when we talked about the importance for the value of an artwork of being unique. This came to discussion after Alexandre mentioned there were several versions of that photomontage from Klein. This made me think about the importance of priority in science – being the first to publish on a given subject. Teresa also added the possibility (more like a fact, sometimes) of the same scientific paper being published twice (in different magazines). Which is not a very nice thing to do, they say.

Scientific researchers are commonly valued by the number of papers they publish, most specially when they are the first author. And in the art world? Are you valued by the number of works of art you create?

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What does a particular ODC looks and sounds like?

Ever wondered?

We’ve been posting pics, but nothing like some images moving.

If you can recall, Ciência Viva TV attended one of our previous Other Data Clubs (ODC). Well, now they have published online the whole recording of that session. Here it is.

Feel free to take some peeks, here and there.

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This last few days we’ve been reviewing the recordings we captured during our stay at CNC. The idea is to select those sequences we might use in our future work and to determine if we need to shoot again specific scenes we might find interesting to have with better quality, or with a different perspective, or…

The yellow room has glass walls so whoever uses the corridor can watch what we’ve been recording during our stay.

And no, we haven’t tuned the TV on the world cup. Yet. 😉

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Note on the O D C I V

This Other Data Club had something different. We, the artists in residency, didn’t present a thing. The discussion was provoked by the interventions of two CNC researchers who brought to the ODC some subjects they found interesting to be shared and talked about.

Gabriel brought an article by Peter Duesberg (among others) entitled “The chemical bases of the various AIDS epidemics: recreational drugs, anti-viral chemotherapy and malnutrition” where the authors explore the possibility of different causes for AIDS. What Gabriel finds interesting in the first place is that this scientist is a nice example of someone who doesn’t stop to question things even when everybody else thinks differently.

This made us discuss about conspiracy theories, the difficulty of publishing “away from the track” ideas, the peer review system (again!), the way sometimes some researches might be forced in certain directions for the need to achieve results and previously defined objectives, the very small increments each research adds to the whole picture many times just for the sake of playing safe, and so on…

After this first discussion, Teresa read us an excerpt of “A Discourse on the Sciences“, by Boaventura de Sousa Santos, namely the section entitled “All scientific knowledge aims at becoming common sense.”. His ideas on that brief excerpt made us talk about common sense and “scientific” sense, science communication, and even lead to someone’s reflection about the need for democracy inside scientific labs.

1 p.m. was there and we had to leave. It was really interesting to have researchers lead the subjects of the conversation which tend, very often, and judging also by the experience of previous ODC’s, to the social structure of the scientific lab (and of science as a system) and the essential interference this has on the research being carried on.

And if this subject is so important to them – the scientific researchers – it definitely is important to us – the artists.


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Other Data Club, do you know what’s that?

You don’t? I could tell you it’s a place for ideas not fitting elsewhere. Ideas about Art and Science, mainly but not exclusively. A place mainly made of people, even if till now happened always in the same place, it’s more about people than walls. It’s also a consequence of our artisitic residence at CNC  in Coimbra – you can see more about the residence in this blog.

This time we’ll be opening this Club to external visitors, till now only the scientists and ourselves  had the chance to participate. From now on we want to see you there with your most exquisite ideas.

See you next tuesday on the “Yellow Room” at the Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology, in the University of Coimbra – Portugal.

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The new yellow wall with the doors and the keys

The other day, when I got to the yellow room at CNC someone was there already. A man and a woman were mounting something big. This was quite a surprise. I went to that girl standing at the door for a cup of coffee. When I got back they were still there, mounting. It was no easy task, definitely.

By the time of my second visit one could already have a pretty good guess about what was being built there. It was a big yellow wall with 18 doors and 36 keys (2 for each door). It was a place to keep things safe, a safe place, 18 safe places! And so I felt secure.

It’s interesting, one of the things we’ve being consciously promoting during our stay at the research center is the interference with its daily routines. We aim to interfere and, who knows, make a tiny little difference, trigger new paths. And now we were surprised by an exterior interference. Aha!

The yellow room has been evolving from the distant time when it was called “the aquarium” to the way it was before the new yellow wall. But now, this exterior interference made us adapt to a new context inside our yellow domains. And so we did. And it, most certainly, made us take new paths on the roads of our imagination, that’s just the way our brain works.

In case you’re wondering why that yellow wall suddenly appeared the reason is simple: those lockers were bought some time ago (before we were here, at the centre) and they were finally delivered. And were meant for that specific place, so they had to be placed there.

Now we have a most spacious room with a new yellow wall and 18 doors, 17 closed and 1 with the keys (we now can keep some of our stuff in one of the lockers – try and guess which).

But the most interesting is that this redesigning of the place wasn’t triggered by us, it was triggered by the centre. Will we manage to do something similar with our stay here?

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III ODC – the menu

The MENU of this last Other Data Club:

Appetizers: we had excerpts of LED – inner voyage in a computer, namely a conversation between an electron and the processor and the RAM of a computer and, later, the electron talking with a  transistor.

Salads: we discussed science communication, the general (un)interest of people in science from the personal experiences of the researchers, the barrier that scientific language and terms pose to the communication of science.

Daily soup: we also digested science financing in Portugal and the eventual bad distribution of these resources.

Main course: we started exploring the Cyborg Manifesto by Donna Haraway.

Dessert: once again we were not able to terminate the ODC at the time we had initially determined. It was 50% longer. There’s always this risk when you have noone competing for the room for the next data club. So… “no dessert for you, young man!”

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One of the recurrent ideas during our stay at this research centre is the essential importance of visualization to the research being carried on in the field of neuroscience. The labs are inhabited by time/space travelling devices which make possible for our eyes to watch the distant and commonly inaccessible world we have inside of us. Those technological accessories turn researchers into human beings with special powers and, combined with curiosity, open the possibility for a closer and deeper understanding of life.

Along with this extreme importance of technology for the research in this area, science has been giving more and more importance to the communication of its work to the general public (our presence here, at this lab, is definitely related to that need). This is a different need for visualization, it’s about creating to others visualizations of what science does – or, more precisely maybe, of what science sees.

There is a difference between what science sees and what science shows us. When science “communicates” with us it tells us about final conclusions and, sometimes, fabulous possibilities. But the intermediate steps of its work along with the unsuccessful routes taken hardly ever reach the common of us. And, nevertheless, those routes and steps are essential to reach knowledge and turn science’s conclusions more solid for they are informed by the route taken to achieve that knowledge and also by all the discarded paths along the way.

If someone drops me in a specific place, let’s say a café, in an unknown city, it will be very hard for me to get there again having not travelled the path. My point here is that with science knowledge the same might happen with common people (not sciencifically informed). When we are presented with the facts but have no clue how they were obtained it gets harder for us to get to that knowledge again later in the day. We have to travel the path.

And my extra point is: science’s machinery presents us magnificent new ways of “seeing” reality, and those images of reality are part of the path science travels to achieve knowledge. Why not letting us see a bit further? I think we might understand better the final conclusions and fantastic discoveries you get in the end. Are those images not reality? Are they constructed images created to help visualization? Sure! That’s why they can help us visualize too.

Well, this being said, all I really wanted to say is that I bumped, the other day, into The International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge 2009, and found it interesting. It made think about everything I just wrote about, and also about a delicate frontier between science’s utilitary view of communicating through art and art itself with its uncompromised nature. But I’ll have to think and write about this later.

Meanwhile, take a peek into the link of that contest, promoted by Science Magazine and The National (US) Science Foundation. I´m sure you’ll find it interesting. I signal works nr. 2, a  fantastic art piece, nr. 10 “Inside the brain: unraveling the mystery of Alzheimer’s Disease”, and nr. 13, a great photography.

See you soon.

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III Other Data Club announcement

Nest Tuesday,  May 18th, we’ll promote a new ODC, the club for discussing ideas on arts and science. This moments of free and pleasant think-thank are creating some sort of “offline social network”. We don’t really know what to expect from this third edition, but we hope to have at least a discussion as good as in the first and second edition. Ok,  maybe we expect to see some presentations from the scientists with new and unexpected ideas, books, investigations, etc.

No matter what happens, soon you’ll have here the full resume and photos as always.

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Today I walked my way for CNC in vain. The Centre was closed, in fact the entire building was. Only a few researchers seem to be there but with the doors closed.
Why? Cause today is one of the days of Pope visit to Portugal and also the ephemeris for of a supposed appearance of the Virgin Mary to three kids during the 910’s.

I suppose there’s no use for a discussion on the subject but I can’t say I feel fine with this. After all CNC and the University of Coimbra are institutions whose faith should be on modern science and humanity future. It’s strange to see those two, so important, actors of our society, kneel down to the holy pope.

Pedro Medeiros

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Planet RAT

In this recent Other Data Club, Francisca told us about something she would do in a few days time that we might find interesting to watch – laser microdissection.

Friday, 2 p.m., when I got to the room where they have the P.A.L.M., I caught the three researchers playing what seemed like a game about settling Humanity on Mars. They were marking lake-like areas on the arid surface of Mars. Trying to find water? Designing lakes? Cooooooool, thought I. I do like strategy games. I’m not that updated right now, but spent many hours away in Civilization and Settlers. So, what was going on here?

Truth is I wasn’t allowed to play. Mars wasn’t Mars but a vast field of brain cells; and the lakes weren’t water on Mars but the outlining of the sub-ventricular zone (SVZ). Their game was to outline|dissect|collect the SVZ area of a series of slices of adult rat brain placed on several slides.

In a previous post, I mentioned the slicing of a brain in a device called a cryostat. Now they were using P.A.L.M. to pick the SVZ from similar slices to, later, extract the RNA from those areas of that brain.

Really felt like a game: the drawing of the area with the strategy of defining reasonably large areas to collect the largest amount of cells possible; the laser (like a thunderstorm on Mars) cutting the brain along the line previously defined; the high energy injection to make the dissected area pop from the surface into the cap. It felt like a distant interaction, like if we were monitoring a surveyor robot tasting Mars surface. And yet, there it was the slide with the large slices and the cap with the tiniest slices. Size is a kind of distance. Nano-grams and micro-meters are the currency here.

Our brain is Mars in our being. What will we find there? Will it be possible for us to live there?

Here at CNC we are lucky enough to be currently experiencing that exploration. However, the distance to overcome is still quite vast, there’s a lot of travelling to do. And a lot of the surveying is not performed directly on Mars but on a different yet similar planet > planet RAT.

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No scientist showed up

Like I previously said, it was yesterday.

We were somewhat anxious to see if anyone would show up at our second Other Data Club (ODC). We know, by now, that there’s always some experience going on in the labs and it’s not possible to be certain of who will show up at our meetings. If anyone!

Well, for starters the two of us, me and Alexandre, would be there. Teresa, the scientific coordinator for our residency at CNC, is a regular, too. Adittionally, yesterday we knew we would have the visit of Ciência Viva TV (Ciência Viva is one of the promotors of the residency program) who showed interest in attending and video-capturing one of our ODCs. We also knew that Tânia, a MA student on Anthropology which is currently accompanying our residency for an assignment, would also be there.

Ok, great. And now, anyone else? Any scientists?

The fact is researchers play an essential role in our ODCs as we imagined them. These are intended to promote the discussion and reflection about science (in its various aspects) amongst those, with us in between throwing them some unscientific provocations.

This week our provocation was an excerpt of ‘The Nose‘, a play we created and presented in 2003. In a tweet: it’s the story about a guy who loses his sense of smell and Science and Theatre both try to solve his problem. The excerpt we chose had some interesting dialogue between these two alegorical characters that we thought might trigger discussion, after.

The characters lines were read by some of the researchers who were there. One interesting thing about these readings of our previous work is that, in the context of our current residency, they gain new meanings related to the scientific environment we’re at and this creates interesting motifs for the discussion to come.

After the reading and inspired by it, we talked about the ways of representing science as a character – someone suggested science should wear jeans; we talked about theatre as therapy in cases of Tourette syndrome; also about the fast pace of today’s research which leads to less reflection about the experiments; and about the importance of the lab equipment in the research carried out in the centre as an essential means to transcend our limited senses; we started imagining “and if there was no technology? what about science?”; we talked about reflection as an important component of scientific work; we discussed the differences between the use of the terms researcher and scientist. All this amongst other topics.

Everyone there considered him/herself a researcher, not a scientist – that’s why we had no scientists in this second Other Data Club.

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Do you feel like a brain, today?

This morning we attended our very own Other Data Club. We found out that some of the researchers who attended the previous ODC would not come today because they had a course on animal experimentation at the same time. I’ll talk about this ODC in another post.

In my head, I related the fact they were attending that specific course with some (not so) recent news about the creation of a new vivarium in Azambuja, the controversy it raised,  and the recent announcement by the government of the refinement of the European Union laws for the protection of lab animals. This is not a so distant subject for me now considering I’m currently spending part of my days in a research centre where using animals is a common and essential practice. It’s daily routine.

And they’re so important for the research being carried on because they’re so similar to us. They’re almost family! (in a Darwinian sense, if you’d prefer) That’s why this is not an easy subject – for anyone. And that’s why researchers and politics alike tend to address it with lot’s of care. It just came to my mind a very interesting theatre play by a Canadian author which addresses this theme of scientific research using animals (primates in that case) and the political implications and high public impact of the subject. It’s title is ‘Chimera’ and the author is Wendy Lill. (here’s a review of a Canadian production of the play) I’m sure that you researchers out there would love to read it.

I also mixed up in the spinner my mind as become these few days an article about an eventual “brain drain” of Portuguese scientific researchers to other countries. Today, at the Other Data Club, the researchers who were there would not agree with such a thing being true. Nevertheless, it this coincidence of subjects in my mind just sparked the image of Portugal’ scientific research system being a huge vivarium of scientific brains later to be used elsewhere. And then I asked the scientists present in the forum: “Do you feel like a brain?”.

And now, here, I extend my (quite harsh) question: “Do you feel you’re being used by Science just like a lab rat is?”

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II Other Data Club – the offline Social Network

Tuesday, 27th of April, 11hoo a.m. at CNC, yellow room

More details soon!

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To whom it may concern

Ever heard of World Science Festival?

This year it’ll be in June 2-6. In New York. It can only be interesting, check it out here:

And this production sounds promising: . In case you’re wondering, it’s already sold out.

Today it’s sunny (the sun coming from the real window on the left), I’m writing this post, I’ll download to the harddisk the most recent pics and vids from the camera, and then I’ll view and catalog them.

I won’t be able to attend to that festival in New York, but, to whom it may concern, I wouldn’t mind!

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Science is only human

Yes, finally a post about last week’s Other Data Club. And today, for something completely different, I suggest the following as the soundtrack for this post > Human

What can I say, it was just fantastic to see people coming over to the yellow room for a different club experience. Yes, someone did show up! In fact, severalone showed up, we were 15, all the chairs taken. Here and there someone would get up to check their experiences going on in the lab and then return to the premises.

We decided to start the club with the reading of some excerpts of texts we previously used in some of our performances to act as catalysts for the discussion that would follow. We read two small texts from Daniil Kharms we had used in our 1st production ‘Three Lefty Hours‘, and an excerpt from ‘Revolution of the Celestial Bodies‘, our 2nd production and the 1st one to consciously address science as a central theme.

A discussion about science followed, driven by the scientific researchers. Several issues were addressed like, for instance, the imperfections of science as a system. The grapes were refreshing. We also discussed the conservativeness of science and its dogmas. And I most definitely prefer the walnut cake. I can also recall the researchers mentioning the essential importance of technology to carry on their research. Can you hand me that bottle, plz? And several other issues like, for other instance, the recent tv advertising campaign of a Portuguese supermarket chain. Have you tried this carrot things yet?

What about you? You girls and guys who were there too, what do you think about the OTD? About the stuff people talked about? About the cake?

And you, you who couldn’t attend the club last Tuesday, beware, we will return!

[p.s. amazing soundtrack, wasn’t it? ;)]


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That girl standing at the door

I got to CNC today thinking about writing a post about yesterday’s Other Data Club. But things often aren’t what we thought they would be. And today, routine killed my plans.

[Routine? Which routine?] Well… everyday when I get to CNC I stop by the coffee machine right at the entrance, insert 35 cents, press ‘long coffee’, and wait for the daily surprise. The truth is it’s getting harder and harder for that machine to surprise me. She (it’s a she) always delivers less than I expect. The surprise only happens when I get everything I supposedly 35cented for. Let me list some of the verified anomalities so far:

– no spoon

– drop sugar before cup

– no cup

Odds are that one of those 3 always occur. Let me analyse those ocurrences – no spoon is like no sugar, if I can’t stir the sugar laying at the base of the cup it’s just like if it wasn’t there; drop sugar before cup means I get a small white pile under the cup being filled which, appart from being visually appealing, means no sugar IN the coffee, and then the spoon falling in the cup feels like an ironic statement; no cup gives you an image like if the machine is peeing over a small white pile of sugar – sometimes I get the urge to put my hand under the pee to prevent that waste of caffeine (but never did it, so far).

Today I got no spoon. And I really need the coffee. I grin when I drink coffee without spoon. She makes me grin, that girl standing at the door.

Coincidences are fun. Sometimes they are mind-openers, in science as in life. While I was grinning my coffee up and reading the daily local news I stumbled upon the following article about today being the International Coffee Day and, moreover, about the edition by a research group from CNC of a special number of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease about the benefits of the consumption of caffeine (and coffee) in cases of Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases and depression.

Here’s the article (in Portuguese). And here’s the link for the referred publication (in English).

Well, reading the newspaper article and some of the abstracts of that special issue on caffeine made me imagine that that girl standing at the door is involuntarily preventing those diseases to install in my brain. It felt warm and with sugar. It’s good to know there’s someone working to know us better and, possibly, extent our path here where we’re standing.

But then again, one other thought formed in my mind – not even in the Internati0nal Coffee Day I got the complete 35cent deal, caffeine, cup, spoon, sugar and all!

I think I’m beginning to hate her, that girl standing at the door.


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A new living room

We’ve just redesigned the yellow space to gain some space to the data clubs we are about to promote there. We entitled them Other Data Clubs and the idea is to create inside the research centre a place for the reflection and the discussion of the work carried on there. Naturally, the modus operandi will be a provocative one and grounded on previous art and science interactions as well as in our own experiences at the centre during the /= X project. And, of course, we were obviously and strongly influenced by the form of the data clubs regularly happening in the centre. So, there will be food there. And I’m not talking about brain-food!

Tomorrow, Tuesday 13 Apr 2010 at 11 a.m., will take place (and time) the 1st Other Data Club.

Here’s the formal announcement we published on several walls of the centre and in the mailboxes of the researchers > 1st ODC

Be there! See, tale, tell!


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Go with the flow

Counting the cells and determining the phase of their life they’re at, each one of the tens of thousands hovering in a given solution.

This is so possible, just saw it the day before yesterday. And I’m still thinking about it. Inês found us in our yellow domains reading out loud a science-themed theatre play and invited us to watch her working with the flow cytometer. We did so. And then she gave us a neat explanation about her research, the functioning of the apparatus and also about cell’s life cycle.

Once more, it’s all about life.

Now I’m imagining 50.000 people in a football stadium and some laser beams coming from the sky, surveying the spectators area, lighting with primary colours the faces in the crowd and letting me know, in the briefest moment, the precise number of souls and the stage of  life each one is at.

Wow. What to do with this extended capacity, this technology?

I think the sky is the limit. And our creativity is the sky of our minds.

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While we were out

I left the room we are using at CNC for an hour to attend a Data Club. It ended after lunch time and I was starving but still returned to the room to get a coat. The following images register how I found the space.

After the surprise I realized two or tree things. One, the window was left open and provoque this. The other, it was all possible to fix but I would not have lunch in the next hour, at least. At last I recalled a serie of works from other artists, one, about animals that entered is studio every night and messed things up, I can’t remember that artist the name (maybe you know who I’m talking about) and two others with different intentions but really similar results, from Jeff Wall (see here) and this one down by my friend Francisco Queimadela.

"space for improvisation" series - 120mm photography


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cite = excite

We’ve been challenging the researchers to try the REVIEW game and they have been responding to our challenge. This whole week, the premises we occupy are theirs to practice the game and to compete with each other. The score wasn’t an essential feature for us at first, but it sure ignites competition making the game more exciting.
Excitement – here’s another state of mind which plays an important part in science.
Yes, the researchers get to be excited when playing the REVIEW game. Achieving a citation by the other player has given us some delightfull moments of excitement, allowing us to write the following equation: cite=excite.
Although we have some articles to provide for the games, we are encouraging researchers to bring their own articles (or their group’s) to the game field, for it’s a lot more exciting when it’s your own paper you are trying to pass to the other side of the table.

Researchers are usually very critic in the way they address any subject (soccer being the exception), and so we had to listen to their comments about the game and its rules. This has been an important feedback for us to improve the rules of the game. And now the rules rule!
The REVIEW game rules!


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prelude, part one of some

At the moment I start typing, my partner in this enterprise as in many others before, Mário Montenegro, already wrote enough posts to justify the name “diary” for this blog. I’ll adopt an alternative  strategy and start by writing some texts as a prelude for the next months symphony.

Our residency at CNC started more than two months ago, time enough to meet people, spaces and habits. The time to destroy our previous plans, empty our minds and empty the space we’ll be using for the work in progress. Even the time to start filling ourselves and the space (known as aquarium) with collected information. Fortunately  I was far from knowing we would find here most of the things and procedures we saw till now. Even if we had many experiences with science and art interaction and even with some of the scientists here, living with them changes everything.

Something I would like to clarify immediately is the english language usage. We’re both portuguese and we use portuguese language in our work most of the time, except when researching or interacting with artists from other countries.  This time we’ll be posting in english as a reaction to the use of this language as a kind of international language in Science and in Arts. Here in CNC we read papers in english, we attend  conferences in english and even some discussions are in this same language. so it will be this blog. I have no idea yet how it may affect the final work and memory of this residency.  I know I will be as much critic as I can to it cause I believe language influences cultural diversity and artists should care about it.

Enough for now. the second part of this prelude will be about the yellow colour.

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“Mr. Hirst took this reversal in stride and reportedly found it hysterically funny.”

So did we. 🙂

As you might imagine, the papers used in the games at REVIEW started to accumulate in the floor. We had predicted that fact (wow) and decided it would be interesting to let the papers do precisely that, accumulate.

Last tuesday we arrived at our yellow place to find out the result of the games played so far had vanished. It wasn’t long till we discovered the cleaning lady had collected all the scientific papers’ pages lying crumbled on the floor and had bid them goodbye. She looked through the hole in the yellow wall, found the place a mess, asked someone for the key of the room, and prepared that nice surprise for us. The place was really really tidy, now.

She ment well. And no harm was done in the end. The scientists didn’t get mad for having their papers trashed (:P), we had the chance to rediscover we really wanted the remains of the games to remain on the floor, and all we had to do was a couple of games to have the place “filthy” again.

This episode reminded me of some similar interactions (given the appropriate distances) between the cleaning staff and the art world. The citation in the title of this post is from this article about the trashing of a work of art from Damien Hirst by a janitor, in 2001. The ‘american good ol’ way’ style of the last paragraph is quite funny, and recalls the always difficult boundary of establishing what is art and what is not (or, eventually, what is garbage).

A similar story in Portugal and in Portuguese can be found here.


p.s. in case you’re wondering about all the paper we are using “just” to play with it, we also gave it a thought before start printing and crumbling the articles. We decided it was important for our work to do things this way and also decided that, after using the paper, we were going to re-use it and then re-use it and then re-use it and in the end recycle it.

(except, of course, for those specimens caught by the cleaning lady)

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Brain Awareness Week

Is your brain aware?

We just wouldn’t miss it. The CNC plays an important role in this week’s activities.

There are, from the 15th to the 19th, daily visits to the centre, mainly from schools, who attend a lecture about the centre and the work being developed here and then take a tour through the building and its scientific rooms and routines.

We managed to get our space in the route of the visitors and just waited there, prepared to present them with some REVIEW games and ready to grab their curiosity.

Visitors found this artistic cell inside the scientific body of the CNC to be of great interest and amusement. Some even got to experiment playing the REVIEW game with the scientific articles of some of the researchers of the centre.

This was our way of contributing to the Brain Awareness Week, with our brain awareness of the brain explorers. Our brain aware of our brain aware of our brain aware of our.. you got the idea.

Here’s a panoramic view of our performing system – the REVIEW game

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Curiosity caught

First we blanked (yellowed, to be precise) the space. Then we left it like that for about 2 weeks. We imagined people would start to wonder what was going on inside what used to be a completely open space. We were relying on that growth of the general curiosity to catch it later, when we would open the space once again. And we just did it.

What is curiosity? A mood? An emotion? A transient state of the mind? A permanent one?

One interesting thing about curiosity is that it contains the potential for action. And it’s one of the human’s [states of mind?] that drives science. Makes it move.

So, we found it would be interesting to trap curiosity inside the small viewing window we opened in our yellow wall. We recorded, using a videocam, some of the curious minds peeking the content of our yellow cell.

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the REVIEW game

It’s official, it’s open!

Monday morning started with the unvealing of the space behind the yellow. The hole is permanent now, and people crossing the corridor can take a peek and watch us playing the review game.

When developing the game, we were clearly inspired by the way thinks work at the centre (and in science in general). The rules we established were meant to optimize the game’s playability and interest.

It is meant to be played by 2 researchers, one on each side of the table, who will use ping pong paddles to throw each other their scientific papers. The game starts with one of the researchers reading the title and authors of her/his paper and then submiting it with the paddle to the other side of the table, page by page. The researcher on the other side will try to return the paper paddling it through the table.

The game field is marked on the floor and it’s essential to determine the score each player achieves. If you manage to put a paper on the opponent’s field you get one point. If you manage to leave one of your papers on the opponent’s side of the table, she/he will have to cite out loud a part of the paper and then keep it in the pocket, and this will earn you 3 points.

At the end of the game all you have to do is count the papers inside the grid on the floor and in the pockets of the researchers and compute (using your brain) the final score.

The word is out -> REVIEW!

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Beta tests

Ok. Our first experiment here at CNC is about to start.

We spent the week testing a performing system (I just felt like calling it this way) we’ve been thinking about since the first days we laid our eyes and our ears on the research center, and have been assembling behind the yellow ‘brick’ wall.

Today we removed the first ‘brick’ on our wall and had some beta testing open to the public curiosity through that hole.

The parameters for our experiment are almost set and we’re about to begin. Stay tuned!

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Between 12 and 15

That’s the average number of embryos a pregnant rat has in its belly.

The one I saw today had only nine. They were used to collect cells from their brains and make cell cultures.

In the sacrifice room, an alternate view was through the window, to the Sé Nova church.

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Act -> React

Some reactions we heard or overheard:

Someone asks:”What’s this?”  Someotherone answers: “It’s yellow.”

Someone fires: “The artists can’t close this space like this!”

Someone asks us: “Please don’t keep the space closed for a long time.”

We’re there!


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March started with the RESET of the space we occupy at CNC. Bye Bye aquarium, hello stranger!

We wanted to dissolve the previous utilizations and connotations attached to this room and, at the same time, provoque the curiosity about our work at the centre.

We chose yellow.

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Journeying the unkown

We heard several times people asking, when we attend their data clubs, “this must be like chinese for you, no?”.

Here’s my answer: “it’s more like neuroscience”.

Our journey inside CNC is more and more a journey inside ourselves. That’s what’s being investigated here: the way I work.

We’re always a step closer to the next revelation.

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Being inside an open space gives an interesting perspective about the life of the building. The windowall works like a screen where we watch the daily routines of some researchers and other staff. And we’re being watched too, everytime someone uses the corridor. But it seems to me the advantage is on our side – our current daily routine is to watch.

And observe.

Meanwhile, we’re waiting that a printer which is in our room and serves a lot of people in the building, is taken to other premises, so that we can start working on the room without the frequent flux of people in and out. We want to turn this into a special place, liberate it from the daily work routines.

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Brain FFW

And then you need a slice, a good slice, clean and perfect.

You stick the brain, facing you, in a steel base and there he goes, up and down, through and through the blade, stiff in a cabinet at about minus 20 degrees celsius.

They we’re looking for slices from two different brain areas. In between, the images of the brain being fastforwarded from the Subventricular Zone to the Hippocampus.

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Following a BLOT

It’s the ultimate protein race!

The whole idea is to identify the proteins present in a group of cells. You put them on the start line in a track of gel, fire the power of an electrical field, and they’re off!

Lighter proteins move faster and quickly take the lead. The heavier ones are quite tired of always getting beated up: “always the same, damn Southern”.

Southern was the fellow who invented this procedure, but what we saw today was a Western, not a Southern. And there’s the Nothern, too. But those are similar different stories…

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Today I was Superman

What a difference a microscope makes..

Extending the limits of our vision is the main task of several laboratory techniques and instruments. Seeing is believing?

Today our horizon was enlarged several hundred times allowing us to see as far as the individual cells in a slice of brain.

Moreover, allowing us to see in those cells the effects of some human experiment.

Not beeing able to look through a wall, or a cranium, is a kind of blindness. It’s just a matter of degree.

Today I was Superman.

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Where do brain cells come from?

Yes, from the brain.

Today we observed (it was a first!) the process of collecting brain cells from a mouse.

Sacrifice | chop | open | detach | open | identify | detach | slice | isolate.

The collected cells are then kept for some days in a warmer (as in: the opposite of a freezer) – a Cell Culture.

Did you know cells have to be fed?

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Data Clubs

We attended our firsts data clubs of the research groups we are accompanying. The library/meeting room/lunch room is one of the most desired places monday morning.

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The Aquarium

CNC adventure just started. We visited the premises and got to know the place we’ll be inhabiting for the next months – a room known as the ‘aquarium’.

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