An Art Experiment – Stacey Gould, Student of Neuroscience, The University of Manchester
As a neuroscience student interested in art, I couldn’t wait to get involved in the Science Stroke Art 2014 series of events. Working under the supervision of Professor Stuart Allan who researches stroke at the University of Manchester, I discovered that stroke affects millions of people worldwide every year.This leads to millions of deaths and can leave those that do survive with lifelong disabilities. What did I find most shocking about this? That stroke can often be prevented.
I started to think about the numbers of people affected and that’s when the idea for this project began to hatch. It’s easy to imagine 10, 100, maybe even 1,000, but beyond that numbers are just a series of digits on a page. Could I make this abstract series of digits more tangible? Would this make the statistics more relatable?
Eventually the idea evolved into what you see in the foyer of the Manchester Museum (and in the pictures below). This work is designed to make people aware of how many people are affected by stroke and encourage reflection on the fact that there are risk factors involved and measures that can be taken to reduce risk. It might also be cathartic to people who have experienced stroke – perhaps comforting to know that there are millions of other people that have gone through something similar (though after hearing personal stories from stroke survivors, I now know that each stroke is different which means that life after stroke can be very different for each survivor).
The structure has two sides that look like this:
A Perspex screen has quarter of a million tiny grey ovals on. Behind that is another surface with the same amount. This is repeated on the other side making a total of one million. This allows people to see just how vast the number one million is and use that to reflect on some statistics relating stroke.
This is what the ovals look like close up – you can vaguely see the second screen behind the first.
A small window in the centre of the outer screen allows you to see the ovals behind more easily.
The statistics are presented at the front of the installation; this is what the first one looks like:
The idea is for people to imagine that there are 17 people in each of the million ovals on the structure. This makes 17 million – the number of people in the world that experience stroke for the first time each year. Then they can repeat this for the other statistics.
I wanted to make sure I used the most recent statistics so that the work wasn’t misleading. After looking in scientific papers, I decided to contact The Stroke Association who provided me with the most recent figures for the number of people who experience a first stroke, the number of people that die from stroke and the number of prescriptions given to prevent stroke. I focussed the work on the number of people affected because everyone knows what people are. That means we can all relate to the work and empathise with what it might feel like to lose a loved one, or see a loved one suffer. For a bit more context regarding the number of people affected, this website continually updates to tell you how many people there are living in the world now.
Including a statistic about preventative prescriptions shows that experiencing stroke is not a predetermined fate and hints to the viewer that there are some risk factors that we can control. Being a neuroscience student, I couldn’t resist putting in something about the number of brain cells a person loses during stroke. That statistic is taken from this scientific paper where the author predicted the number of brain cells a person loses per second, minute and hour that a large blood vessel fails to provide a region of the brain with oxygen. Strokes caused by blocked blood vessels are the most common form of stroke.
‘Will I become a statistic?’ is written above a QR code on the installation. This links to a website that I set up (with some help from the eLearning team at the University of Manchester) with links to more information about stroke (leaflets from the Stroke Association about stroke prevention are also available to take from reception). This part is designed to get people thinking about stroke; who is likely to be affected, what the causes are and what can be done to reduce the chance of stroke occurrence. There isn’t a simple yes or no answer to the question; the idea is to encourage people to reflect on their own lifestyle and think about whether there is anything they can do to reduce their risk of becoming one of the millions.