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Commissioning proposal for Human Cell Atlas by Davy & Kristin McGuire 2020


The Idea

We would like to create a scintillating, filigree paper sculpture that reimagines the activity of a human neuron network through paper craft and projection mapping. The detail of an intricately crafted paper model and its animation with dazzling digital projections will draw visitors in to examine an exquisite physical structure as well as the intangible display of energy dancing through it.

We envision this sculpture within a framing of scientific interpretations that will contextualise our fictional neural structure and therefore catalyse an engagement with the structure and activity of actual nervous systems.

In order to demonstrate and test the feasibility of the idea for this proposal, we have undertaken a series of small scale experiments in which we translated pictures of neural webs found online into intricate paper craft elements. We were then inspired by the workings of electric impulses in neurons to test a variety of projection ideas that resulted in an artistic, fictional emulation of brain cell activity. The pictures and videos on this page are the documentation of this experimental process. 


For the development of these experiments and creation of the commission sculpture we would like to do the following:

1. Engage with researchers in order to understand the structures and the activities of neurons, dendrites, synapses etc. and the electrical impulses within them and create either a relatively accurate or a fictional but logical re-imagination of this tissue. The size of the final sculpture will depend on the information we receive from the researchers but we are aiming for around 1 cubic meter. For this process we hope that the HCA team will be able to introduce us to researchers working with brain and nervous systems tissue.

2. Engage with workshop participants in order to brainstorm and develop projection visuals and the mental processes/narratives that they could represent. Although we are excited about the visual potential of a more abstract piece of art for this commission, our work is generally story driven and we expect this to influence this creative process as well. 

Following Covid-19 guidelines we can either create a live workshop environment in which participants work with pre-cut, physical paper crafted elements and projectors, or a virtual workshop in which we invite participants via Zoom into our studio where they can collaborate with us in a series of studio experiments by commenting, interpreting, questioning and suggesting ideas in real time but from their homes.


The art work would eventually be created in our studio by ourselves and the help of a small team of collaborators. We would also either always install the piece ourselves in each new venue or we will send a technician to do this for us. 

Over the past years we have gained significant experience in building robust, reliable installations using a variety of materials and equipment that require little maintenance and negligible effort or training for unskilled staff members to operate and set up each day. We will ensure that this is the case for Synaptica by providing easy to follow, written instructions and training.

We have produced and created a wide variety of commissions for museums and galleries ( e.g. Ophelia's Ghost, Starkers, The Dark Dolls House), we have toured and installed our work internationally (e.g Floating City, Precious Moments, The Icebook), we have delivered projects on a spectrum of budgets and we have worked with local communities to create large and small scale installations (e.g. Micropolis, Hologram Jukebox). 

Please follow this link to our biography.

The Icebook.jpg

Production Schedule

November 2020:

- Introduction to researcher(s) working with brain and nervous systems tissue  

- Host 2 participatory workshops

December 2020:

- Develop initial concept and prototype based on the outcomes of workshops and research resources 

Spring 2021:

- Attend Art-Science Making Labs and present concept and prototype 

- Create final art work based on feedback from researchers, community groups and lab participants. The final creation stage will take approximately 6 weeks.



Equipment (projectors, speakers, media players etc.): £755

Materials & Media (paperstock, wood, acrylic, stock footage etc.): £710

Design & Fabrication fees (paper design, editing/compositing, carpentry, sound design etc.): £6,750

Exhibition install/de-install: £3,200

Hire & Overheads (laser cutter etc.): £1,800

Transport, Travel & Accommodation: £1,900

Contingency: £1,512

VAT: £3,325

Total: £19,951.80

You can find a more detailed spreadsheet here.

For any other questions regarding this proposal please get in touch with us at

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