Mind over Matter

ellaw“Mind Over Matter is a science – art collaboration between Dr Bronwyn Parry, Queen Mary University of London and artist Ania Dabrowska about dementia and the contribution that a unique cadre of twelve brain donors, aged between 84 and over 100, will make to finding a for to finding a cure for this dvestating disease in the 21st century.”

Mind Over Matter, funded by the Welcome Trust demystifies what happens behind the doors of brain bank labs, and in doing so actively seeks to rehabilitate and celebrate the practice of bodily donation in the public imagination. Working through issues relating to autonomy, the legacy of gifting, and the brave new world of biological re-modelling, the Mind Over Matter exhibition and publication draw back the veil of secrecy that has historically surrounded the practice of bodily donation, to reveal the selfless generosity and courage of individuals who have elected to donate their brains after death for neuroscientific research. The authors of the project were privileged to meet some of Britain’s oldest prospective brain donors from CC75 and CFAS studies in Cambridge, who agreed to be photographed and interviewed about their lives and involvement in brain research. For these donors death proves not to be the end of life for their brains, but rather a mere stopping off point in a journey that sees them travel out and beyond their bodily lives to the global research laboratories of the future.

Drawing on themes of memory, death, the transience of the body and ageing, the artist creates the labyrinth-like exhibition site to evoke a phenomenological experience of what it might feel like to lose one’s memory. Ania Dabrowska interweaves photographic portraits, appropriated archival and medical photographs, projections, sound narratives and scientific artifacts to present a layered contemplation about the nature of memory loss, and to trace the new lives that the brains take on after the donors’ death.

Visual representation of organ donors is unprecedented in the UK and the project is groundbreaking in de-anonymising these donors. In reflecting on why bodily donation has always been a strictly anonymous activity, the authors explore what the ethical, psychological, religious and social implications are for donors, their families and researchers in re-negotiating the historical relationship between anonymity, objectivity and the impartiality of science. As some of the donors who participated in Mind Over Matter have now passed away, the project provides a unique record of their philosophies on life, the relationship between memory and identity, death, donation and the ephemerality of the body.

 For further information about the Mind over Matter project please click here. 


Authors:Ania Dabrowska, Artist; Dr Bronwyn Parry, Queen Mary, University of London

Funder: The Wellcome Trust, People Award

Composer and sound designer: Gaetano Serra

Publishers, Graphic and web design: Practice + Theory

Press: Jen Middleton, Wellcome Trust

Research collaborators:

Professor Carol Brayne, Linda Barnes, Dr Jane Fleming, Sally Hunter and Jenny Sparrow for the Medical Research Council – Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (CFAS 1 and 2) and Cambridge City over-75s Cohort study (CC75C), The Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge.

Professor Peter Collins, Rob Fincham, Beverley Haynes, Rick Hills and Angela O’Sullivan for the Cambridge Brain Bank Laboratory, Human Research Tissue Bank, Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.


Participating donors and their families: Mrs Brenda Buck, Prof. Frank Walbank, Mrs Ivy Pettifor, Mr Leslie Whitfield, Mr Eddie Holden, Mr Eric Stannard, Mr Albert Webb, Mrs Beryl Foreman, Mrs Betty Munns, Mrs Lucy Ridsdale, Mrs Ella Wiltshire, and Mrs Irene Overton.
School of Geography, Queen Mary, University of London, in particular Dr Marta Timoncini, Head of Administration.

And grateful acknowledgements to: All the past as well as present research teams, co-investigators, primary care partners, laboratory staff and most especially the study participants and their families for their contribution to the MRC CFAS, CC75C studies and funders.

School of Geography, Queen Mary University of London, in particular Dr Marta Timoncini, Head of Administration.

The exhibition team at Shoreditch Town hall, London.