"Human Brains: It Begins with an Idea” took place at Fondazione Prada’s Venetian venue, Ca’ Corner della Regina, from 23 April to 27 November 2022, on the occasion of the Venice Art Biennale 2022.
The exhibition was curated by Udo Kittelmann in collaboration with Taryn Simon. This project is the result of a long investigation process undertaken by Fondazione Prada in the field of neurosciences in 2018 to understand the human brain, the complexity of its functions, and its centrality to human history.
On the first floor of the exhibition, more than 110 items—including historical objects, drawings, paintings, prints, and books displayed in vitrines—that encode centuries of attempts to understand the human brain were presented in a new light. Each artifact’s story was written to be performed in a short film narrated by George Guidall, the most prolific audiobooks reader in the English language. One voice, one body, one brain, and one experience is projected into multiple stories, languages, voices, geographies, bodies, and realities: an intractable framework problem foundational both to how the brain works and to how the history of neuroscience has been constructed.
At the center of the exhibition was The Conversation Machine—an assembly of 32 screens broadcasting 36 neuroscientists and philosophers from 5 continents. The participating scholars, among the most distinguished international figures, illustrate their recent studies by answering specific questions related to neurobiology, psychology, linguistics and computer science as well as reflecting on larger human questions. Clips from over 140 hours of footage are intricately woven to generate unexpected adjacencies and dissonances among individuals. Participants in The Conversation Machine appear to listen and respond to each other’s statements. Objects of their work appear in flashes, and speakers migrate across the screens, while others sit in sustained, active silence. The Conversation Machine’s mechanical principles mimic those of the brain.