Human Brains is the result of an intensive investigative process undertaken since 2018 by Fondazione Prada
in the field of neuroscience, driven by a deep interest to understand the human brain, the complexity of its functions, and its centrality to human history.
The Human Brains initiative surveys different fields: from neurobiology to philosophy, from psychology to neurochemistry, from linguistics to artificial intelligence, and robotics. As stated by Miuccia Prada, President of Fondazione Prada, We are increasingly interested in relevant subjects that impact the lives of everyone, even when those topics are difficult to understand. For a cultural institution whose identity is rooted in the field of visual arts, dealing with science is an intellectual and political challenge: how do we make an exhibition about ideas and knowledge?
The exhibition Human Brains: It Begins with an Idea is curated by Udo Kittelmann in collaboration with Taryn Simon. Covering three floors of the building, it is the result of a long and in-depth research process carried out with Fondazione Prada and the scientific board of the project.
On the ground floor, a series of projections introduces the audience to the anatomy, physiology, and imaging of the brain, as well as illustrations of how it develops and functions.
On the first and second floors, more than 110 items encode centuries of attempts to understand the human brain. Including historical objects, drawings, paintings, prints, and books, the items mark some of the most significant stages of a millennia-long journey of discovery while also illuminating otherwise forgotten chapters of the Mesopotamian and ancient Egyptian ages, the Italian Renaissance, the Japanese Edo period, as well as the last thirty years imaging techniques.
Thirty-two international fiction authors have written literary texts in response to the objects, calling forth their latent social, political or personal histories into new forms, expanding the boundaries of our investigative scope. The artifacts stories were written to be performed by renowned audio book narrator George Guidall in short videos directed by Taryn Simon and produced by Fondazione Prada for the Human Brains: It Begins with an Idea project. One voice is projected into multiple stories, languages, geographies, bodies, and realities.
At the center of the second floor, thirty-six neuroscientists, psychologists, neurolinguists, and philosophers from five continents are broadcast in an assembly of thirty-two screens. They investigate neuroscientific experiments, and their philosophical and ethical dimensions. Like the brain, The Conversation Machinevideos, interviews and orchestration by Taryn Simon, produced by Fondazione Prada for the exhibitionis a self-organizing system. It responds to itself, continually constructing and assimilating its own order and disorder.
Taken all together, the exhibition navigates a history of neuroscientific knowledge-making marked by rigor, breakthrough, and discovery as well as error and uncertainty. It traces the outlines of consciousness, the gaps in scientific research, and what is known and unknown in our understanding of the human brain.