Thursday, November 1, 2018

Double Feature @ the NLM and USC

I am honored and humbled to have had another opportunity to write for the National Library of Medicine's Circulating Now.  The new piece, Communing and Giggling with Cajal, expands upon my work as a Fulbright España Senior Research Scholar investigating the Legado de Cajal located at the Instituto Cajal, Madrid.  The article specifically focuses on my examination of his first sketchbook from Valencia.  Below is a highlight feature from the article:  

"What can one discover about Cajal beyond visual aesthetics through the task of drawing?  Through drawing, one can engage in “active looking” which is another level of perceptual involvement.  How and who we are with and in our work matters.  It determines how we conceptualize, realize, understand and share.  Toni Morrison wrote in The Bluest Eye “Love is never any better than the lover.  Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly…”  Line qualities within a pictorial composition are behaviors that have ideographic subtext.  When retraced, they reveal the content of the maker’s reasoning and ideology beyond technique.  The eye always seeks quality in the perceptually drawn line. The line’s merit invariably betrays the artist through the sight of the other. Study someone’s drawings, and you can study some of their components as a person, value system as a maker, or at a minimum the underground agenda with their work.

On the pages of Cajal’s histology sketchbook, it appears as if his imagination is synchronized with popular concepts in 19th century Fantastique literature.  Strewn with jottings and drawings examining the inner workings of rabbits, mice, cows and pigs, his sketchbook, like Alice’s world has no real order:  it is upside down and backward, there are different points of time in departures, varied research themes, inconsistent goals, plus blank and missing pages.  Alice metaphorically falls down the rabbit hole; however Cajal’s sketchbook is the rabbit hole.  On the page marked “medual conejo” (rabbit marrow), he enters the matrix with unquestioning, commanding lines while sketching the cells of a “fresco” rabbit all the while taunting himself with a “Cheshire” like face hidden in a cell with the words “absolutemente maligno” written beside it.   This cellular Easter egg was a delicious discovery I made one day while recreating that page.   I, and others, had looked at the page previously, but the process of active looking through drawing refined my observation in a manner that allowed me to notice this blast from the past and share a private giggle with Cajal."

I am so flattered to have my project about Santiago Ramón y Cajal featured on the University of South Carolina's College of Arts and Science web site, Sojourn to Spain.  My experience in Madrid was thrilling, and the access to the Legado de Cajal exceeded all of my expectations.  I am so honored to have this opportunity to share my experiences with colleagues and others within the USC community and beyond.  Thank you Mary-Kathryn Craft and Peggy Binette. 

“Heroes and scholars represent the opposite extremes... The scholar struggles for the benefit of all humanity, sometimes to reduce physical effort, sometimes to reduce pain, and sometimes to postpone death, or at least render it more bearable. In contrast, the patriot sacrifices a rather substantial part of humanity for the sake of his own prestige. His statue is always erected on a pedestal of ruins and corpses... In contrast, all humanity crowns a scholar, love forms the pedestal of his statues, and his triumphs defy the desecration of time and the judgment of history.”  

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Advice for a Young Investigator

Monday, January 15, 2018

Drawing the Experience

"I am an artist, and I draw every day.  It is how I know and understand the world.  One day back in 2012, I was looking up neuroscience terminology to supplement an article I was reading on the claustrum, I stumbled across Cajal’s scientific drawings.  In the midst of trawling visuals on the web, I was swept away within “gesturely expressive” cellular images drawn in implied space.  I was dwarfed and transported into Cajal’s microscopic world.  Other neuroscience drawings were in the image cache, like those of Camillo Golgi.  However, I was not as taken with them, because Golgi’s illustrations were surrounded by a border that created closure and containment and possessed a topographical mannerism.  Based on those visual qualities, I felt Golgi’s drawings were “designed,” and that construction revealed a particular point of view regarding the role of drawing in his work:  that drawing was a vehicle to guide, transcribe, and organize nature in a manner that demonstrated a theory.  Instead of creating drawing from a designer’s perspective, Cajal’s work in comparison is drawn with a type of perceptual observation, one in which the inherent design of nature is discovered through sighting.  Drawing was a tool to observe, discern and recount microanatomy structure.  Cajal’s drawings are filled with actual lines and drawn with implied space.  I believe they demonstrate a philosophy that he was at the service of nature—recording and reporting the truthfulness of sight’s journey." - Dawn Hunter, November 2017

The above quote is from my piece "Drawn To, Drawn From Experience" written for the National Library of Medicine's, Circulating Now, blog.  It is the first of a three part series I am writing for them about Cajal, the latter two are forthcoming in 2018.

I completed my Senior Research Fulbright Fellowship at the Instituto Cajal, Madrid, España in December, 2017.  It was a remarkable privilege to commune with Cajal on a daily basis through studying and drawing his scientific illustrations.  There is information in those works that can only be accessed by active observation:  drawing.  Drawing provides a type of interaction with the works and entry into information about the maker and his theories that is not possible through passive observation.  Cajal proved to be a great teacher, and my "apprenticeship" yielded a fruitful scholarship of knowledge.  More, of course, is yet to come.  In the meantime, below are a couple of examples of my drawings of his drawings, as well as, information on my writing for the National Library of Medicine.

For more information about my past works on Cajal please visit my web site: or previous posts from this blog.  There are numerous posts about my Cajal project on this blog, here are a select few and some of my favorites to choose from:  Cajal Inventory, Cajal Inventory:  Head Heart and Spine, Sometimes Summer is All about the Work, and Started in the Middle.  

Dawn Hunter's study of Cajal's scientific drawing of pyramidal neurons, FRONT, 11" x 14," marker and pen on paper

Dawn Hunter's study of Cajal's scientific drawing of pyramidal neurons, BACK, 11" x 14," marker and pen on paper

Unfortunately, nature seems unaware of our intellectual need for convenience and unity, and very often takes delight in complication and diversity.

- Santiago Ramón y Cajal from his 1906 Nobel lecture 
"The structure and connexions of neurons."