THE BRAIN AT WORK
The DoSeum’s latest artist-in-residence uses data, sculpture and light to examine dyslexia
BY KATHLEEN PETTY
Sarah Sudhoff’s The Reading Brain exhibition was crafted with all visitors to The DoSeum in mind, but it’s her 8-year-old son’s reaction that she wants to see first. “I want him to walk in and say, ‘Oh my goodness, look at all of these colors,’” says the mom of two. “It is based on data from a dyslexic brain, and I want him to see that it’s exciting and beautiful and it’s still firing, it’s still lighting up, it’s still processing and working.”
On display Oct. 10-Jan. 3 as part of The DoSeum’s Artist-in-Residence program, Sudhoff’s piece will run in conjunction with the visiting Beautiful Minds: Dyslexia and the Creative Advantage exhibition. In her art, Sudhoff uses sculpture and MRI data to show visitors how the different regions of a child’s brain with dyslexia react when presented with tasks like reading or processing letters.
Now based in Houston, Sudhoff began her career as a photojournalist, working for publications like Time magazine, and says when she earned a master’s in fine art photography, she worked to integrate her journalism training into her art, relying on facts, data and research to drive her projects. “I still really love photojournalism, but then I wanted to expand my artistic practice,” says Sudhoff, a former instructor at Trinity University, Art Institute of San Antonio and UTSA and a past Artpace San Antonio resident artist.
With a son who lives with dyslexia, Sudhoff has some familiarity with the learning disability so she was immediately intrigued when she saw a call for applications from The DoSeum for an interactive art exhibit that would address the learning disability.
As she began her application, she dug into more research about dyslexia, eventually stumbling upon an article that mentioned Dr. Guinevere Eden, a professor in pediatrics at Georgetown who has been honored for her research in the changes the brain can undergo following intervention for dyslexia. As part of Eden’s research, she conducts MRIs on children while they’re completing reading simulations and records data that shows which part of the brain is activated by the activities.
Intrigued, Sudhoff sent Eden an email, never expecting a reply. Eden called the next week and after hearing Sudhoff’s reasoning for the data request, said she was in. “I told her, ‘I want to celebrate dyslexia and I want to celebrate that my son thinks and reads differently, but he can still accomplish his goals,’” Sudhoff says.
Sudhoff got to work over the summer, working with orb sculptures that represent a map of the brain. The orbs will hang from the museum’s ceiling and different regions of the neural network will light up to show real-time data mapping of a brain with dyslexia. When a child stands underneath one of the orbs, a robotic camera overhead will activate and speed up the orbs in that particular region. Data is being translated into the piece with the help of a computer programmer.
“Eden’s research shows that very intense reading interventions show very apparent growth in the brain,” Sudhoff says. “I wanted to show that but make it playful and interactive and something that required some decoding because dyslexia is about decoding.”