Neural Knitworks: Craft a healthy brain

Textile artist Pat Pillai’s idea to knit and weave hand made brain cells was dubbed the winning pitch at last year’s Ultimo Science Festival Art & Science Soiree in Sydney. With encouragement from the Soiree’s organiser Sophie Weeks, Inspiring Australia (NSW) and fellow artist Rita Pearce, the idea for a travelling neural art exhibition soon took hold.

Neural Knitworks is a collaborative art/science project about mind and brain health that will present its first exhibition in August at Hazelhust Regional Gallery as part of National Science Week. With many embracing the idea, this brain awareness project has the potential to create a national neural network as people all over Australia hold Neural Knitworks in their own communities.

Neurons are electrically excitable cells of the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves. The billions of neurons in your body connect to each other in neural networks. They receive signals from every sense, control movement, create memories, and form the neural basis of every thought. Pat is now working with Rita Pearce and others to create hundreds of textile neurons that can be woven together for Australia’s first big woolly brain installation.

“Art, including simple, everyday craft like knitting, can be a powerful tool to promote health and science,” said Pat, who says the concept of Neural Knitworks appeals to the general public and scientists alike.

Pat has been overwhelmed by enthusiasm and support for the project, not only from craft practitioners, schools and community groups but also from professional scientists from a range of disciplines.

Careful to ensure that their neurons are created with scientific rigor, Pat and Rita have met with neuroscience, microscopy and stem cell experts including Professor Kuldip Sidhu from UNSW’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing and the Society for Brain Mapping & Therapeutics. This connection led to Pat and Rita being invited to display their creation at the 11th Annual World Congress of Brain Mapping and Therapeutics in Sydney earlier this year.

“We were honoured to have the opportunity to show our work to neuroscientists from around the world who agreed the project was a great way to explain aspects of neuroscience to the general public,” said Pat.

Brain surgeon Dr Charlie Teo was among those who enjoyed talking to the artists about their craft at this event.

Image of Knitworks

Textile neurons created by Pat Pillai and Rita Pearce were displayed at the 11th Annual World Congress of Brain Mapping and Therapeutics in Sydney

Many scientific researchers have provided access to inspirational microscopic images used as the basis of patterns, while Inspiring Australia (NSW) has secured support and assistance from key partners including the Brain and Mind Research Institute (University of Sydney), the Society for Brain Mapping & Therapeutics and Centre for Healthy Brain Aging (University of NSW), ANSTO and Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation.

National Science Week’s adoption of Neural Knitworks as a community art project will also extend its brain health messages to communities across Australia and beyond.

“I’m so grateful to all those who have helped bring this big woolly project to life,” said Pat.

Get involved!

Neural Knitworks is now inviting volunteer artists to create textile neurons that can be joined together with others to weave soft sculptural representations of the brain.

“We need to amass an enormous number of hand made neurons to create our first installation at Hazelhurst in August, ” said Pat.

Scientifically informed knit, crotchet and knot patterns are now available on the National Science Week website, along with DIY instructions for how to host a Neural Knitwork.

No knitting experience is required and people of all ages can participate – there is even a no-knit pattern that people can try. All are encouraged to get involved and reap the brain health benefits that yarn craft, with its mental challenges, social connection and mindfulness, can bring.

All welcome to a free workshop where you can learn how to create neurons.

When: 10 am, Sunday 4 May
Where: Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre, 782 Kingsway Gymea

For more information, join the Neural Knitworks community on Facebook. You can also check the National Science Week website