Thumbs up for a fruitful meeting of two cultures

Fiona Rattray finds plenty to admire at a new exhibition in which young artists explore the science of the mind
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The Independent Online

As any A-level tutor will tell you, art and science don't mix. One is analytical and precise, the other instinctive and abstract. But as a new exhibition at the Natural History Museum reveals, the differences between artists and scientists may be less acute than we think.

As any A-level tutor will tell you, art and science don't mix. One is analytical and precise, the other instinctive and abstract. But as a new exhibition at the Natural History Museum reveals, the differences between artists and scientists may be less acute than we think.

Organised by Spacetime Projects, "It's in Your Head" is an exhibition of work made by young artists in response to the subject of scientific brain research. The artists - aged from 16 to 22 - come from arts centres as far afield as Dundee, Belfast and Brixton. Leading scientists and artists - among them Professor Susan Greenfield and Lucy Orta - made up an advisory panel for the project which involved enabling the young artists to meet scientists and find out about their work.

The diversity of the pieces is impressive - ranging from entertaining installations dealing with addiction and identity to visual representations of mental processes. One of the most original is by artists at Wysing Arts in Cambridgeshire. Having visited scientists at the University of Cambridge, the group decided that what fascinated them was the way in which the scientists worked. Their resulting piece is a padded white pod, complete with viewing portholes, inside which is a recreation of a chaotic desk. One scientist is shown on a video screen, describing his research, while the outer surface of the pod is printed with images of old fashioned scientific equipment. The scientists come across as passionate, obsessive, eccentric even - a bit like artists themselves. The shape of the pod represents a split brain cell - the area of these scientists' own research. It's a neat piece of sculpture - visually intriguing and well put together - and it operates as a revealing window on a closed world.

Art has always been better than science at understanding madness and many of the artists have responded with considerable sophistication to the themes of malfunction and mental illness. Seconds Out, Nadia Damouni's video installation, deals with the subject of obsessive compulsive disorder, as experienced by one of an identical set of twins. Two TV sets sit side by side. On one screen a woman washes her hands over and over again. In the other a woman makes her journey to work. Two handsets - one for the left ear, one for the right - provide the accompanying soundtrack. The sound of the water crashing onto the stainless steel sink is deafening.

In The Killer Brain, a large sculpture and video piece by Allison Kramer, you stare down the barrel of a gun at footage of a violent killer. A text describes the mental process that results in extreme aggressive behaviour. It's a bold, graphic piece and it makes a point about our lurid fascination with killers' minds and their crimes.

Altogether quieter, but deeply moving, is John Green's untitled piece about his childhood membership of a cycling club. On the wall is a giant map on glass of the intricate roads of Yorkshire. Behind it are pencil lines, direct onto the wall, which trace the routes covered by the cyclists. In a text panel we learn that the map was kept by one of the club members who has since suffered brain damage as the result of a road accident. Green's piece deals at once with the victim's lost memory and his own affection for the past.

Whether this show contains work by the next Damien Hirst is impossible to say, though Barry Scott, whose piece Untitled features plaster heads, projections and a sample of his own DNA, shows a nice air of barminess which will be interesting to watch. There is a big difference between the ages of 16 and 22, so it is not surprising that some work is weak or poorly presented. But there is quality here, too, and if the museum's dingy Jerwood Gallery does little to help, you can be sure that at least some of these artists will be coming to a gallery near you soon.

'It's in Your Head': Jerwood Gallery, The Natural History Museum, London SW7 (020 7942 5000) to 30 September

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