How do you convey the complexity of a neural network in a single dress?
Our design aims to represent the cerebellum, the region of the brain that coordinates movement. Many distinct layers of different cell types merge and interact to send signals to our muscles, telling us to move. One of our biggest challenges was how to portray this complex structure in the dress.
Our approach was deconstructive. We broke apart the brain’s complexity, starting from the unit or pattern that represents the most basic level, the neuron, to the more complex 3D folding that integrates all the neural components.
Shapes and colors are the simplest level, or “neurons,” of fabric.
That is why we chose to represent the neurons as a pattern of green and blue shapes, inspired by microscopic images of neurons stained in green for a marker of Purkinje neurons and blue representing the nucleus.
The pink dots on the dress add one more level of complexity since they represent a process of cerebellar development called apoptosis, by which neurons that are not able to establish successful connections with each other die. In microscopic images, these cells are stained in pink. These pink dots were hand painted over the fabric that had previously been stained in green and blue to represent the chronological pattern of neural integration and cerebellum formation.
We wanted our fabric to be able to transmit movement. That is why we chose an organic texture that mimics paper, so we could create the illusion of folding and fluidity in our dress. We used silk organza because it is a natural fiber fabric, allowing us to manipulate it and stain it with the desired colors.
We pleated the fabric with an iron press to create a texture that mimics the folds and foliation of the cerebellum. We assembled the dress by gluing the pleated pieces to the muslin in a way that resembles the connections between neurons and the formation of a network.
The back of the dress represents the final structure of the cerebellum. Instead of just giving the cerebellum’s shape to the back of the dress, we used a rigid material that creates a 3D structure. This rigid material generates curves and adds volume, following the most complex level of cerebellar structure.