Weaving New Webs of Art, Science and Innovation: Inaugural Essinova Salon Explores Neural Insights in Multiple Dimensions

October 10, 2016 § Leave a comment


Written by: Timothy McCormick

Essinova’s inaugural salon and popup gallery on Sept 29 was a great success! A capacity crowd of over 100 guests from widely varied backgrounds gathered at SAP’s AppHaus in Palo Alto, to see the groundbreaking work of neuroscientist/artist Greg Dunn, and to hear talks by Dunn and by Janaki Mythily Kumar, SAP’s VP and Head of Design & Co-Innovation Center.


Greg Dunn’s original artworks on display at Essinova Salon and Popup Gallery at SAP Labs. Click to view event photo album.

We were honored to share with new audiences the extraordinary work of Greg Dunn, PhD, Philadelphia-based neuroscientist and leading art+science pioneer, who explores novel and visually stunning methods to depict and explain brain structure and functioning. The salon featured a variety of original works and prints by Dunn, including his latest and perhaps most ambitious work to date, “Self Reflected,” which the artist describes as the most detailed and complex artistic depiction of the brain ever been created .”Self Reflected” was funded by National Science Foundation and is on permanent display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

BeiBei Song introducing Essinova Salon and the evening’s program

The event program was led of with an introduction by BeiBei Song, Founder of Essinova interdisciplinary creativity agency, in which she described a recent serendipitous encounter in Finland with “lights hunters” who travel to view and record Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) displays. Describing a scientist, adventurer, executive coach, artist and photographer she befriended there, Song suggested how science, art, design and innovation are driven by related mixtures of passion, curiosity, delight, and a determination to question, understand and explain. Understanding these diverse and mingled drives and roles can open us to richer discoveries across all fields, personally and as a society; and give us the more holistic understandings needed for both business and society to evolve sustainably and creatively, she suggested.

Greg Dunn speaking to the audience about his art illuminating consciousness, mindfulness and the emotional brain

Next, Greg Dunn gave an insightful talk on the staggering complexity of the brain, popular misrepresentations or inadequate representations of how it works, and his ambition to create the most beautiful but also most powerfully explanatory visual representations of brain function. He described his development, in collaboration with Dr. Brian Edwards, a physicist and engineer, of novel mathematical and engineering techniques to photo-etch surfaces in such a way that a viewer walking around the work sees a scientifically accurate representation of neurons “lighting up” — like a 3D postcard which changes appearance as you tilt it. The effect is quite unexpected, dramatic and magical when you see these works in person.

It turns out that the etching techniques utilized by Dunn are part of a centuries-old science-art tradition with particular relevance to Silicon Valley. Metal working, etching, and engraving are ancient techniques of both artistic expression and industrial production — e.g. armaments, coinage, and printing of currency and visual material. Techniques like Dunn explores for multi-layer photo-lithographic etching, in particular, applied to semiconductor substrates such as silicon, are the basis of microchip production upon which much of Silicon Valley’s development has been based.  Dunn combines these techniques with aesthetic approach he terms ‘neonaturalism,’ rooted in understanding of traditional representational, minimalist, & Asian art principles. We find his art has a unique power of viscerally and effectively communicate the unseen beauty of our mind and human experience.


Janaki Kumar starting her talk about human empathy and design-thinking with an audience participatory warmup exercise

After Dunn, Janaki Mythily Kumar spoke about empathy, neuroscience-based understandings of how humans relate and interact, and how these may guide and be harnessed in design processes. She began with a warm-up game in which the audience was divided into pairs and mirrored each other’s gestures, inviting us to observe how we are “wired” in certain ways neurally and how this informs our social behavior and how we might more naturally and productively collaborate, for example in conducting user research, prototyping, and designing.

After the talk, guests were invited to ponder and sketch or note answers to an age-old question, newly urgent in the age of artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics  —  “What makes us Human?”

A good time was had by all, and we left with renewed awe at the complexities of the brain, and the intense ambition of scientist/artist/designers like Dunn and Kumar to map, explicate, and harness neural science for better understanding and creativity in many realms of life.

More collaborations, salons, and popup galleries are to come from Essinova – the discovery and delight is just getting started!


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