Sentient Matrix

Submitted by Sara Garden Armstrong

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Client: The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Alabama-Mississippi Chapter

Location: Birmingham, AL, United States

Completion date: 2014

Project Team

artist

Sara Garden Armstrong

SGA Studio

Medical Research Consultant

Dr. Tara DeSilva

Department of Neurobiology, University of Alabama Birmingham Medical Center

Programing & Hardware

Robert Paradiso

Access Redefined LLC

Corporate Project Coordinator

Trey Clegg

Brasfield & Gorrie LLC

Technical Assistant

John Cress

Artist Assistant

Ryan Waldo

Artist Assistant

Lindsay Sheikh

Artist Assistant

Sonya Huang

Overview

The sculpture is an atrium commission, an abstraction of the central nervous system (CNS), an exploration and translation of scientific information into art. It is based on relationships between different cells in the brain, including neurons—the primary communicative cells of the CNS—and the myelinating glial cells that ensheath nerve fibers.

Sentient Matrix uses an array of materials: abaca and kozo paper fiber, acrylic gel medium, programmable light-emitting diodes, microcontroller, aluminum, stainless steel and PVC.

Within translucent abaca forms, moving lights suggest the linear rhythms of nerve impulses. When the light stops, it represents what happens in multiple sclerosis (MS) when the myelin and nerve are damaged.

Sentient Matrix was commissioned by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Alabama-Mississippi Chapter, honoring Magnus Miller Gorrie.

Goals

The goal was to create a sculpture that spoke to multiple sclerosis. I researched the disease in depth working with Dr. Tara DeSilva at the Medical Center to get an understanding of the deterioration process involved—I posted so many images and notations that my studio looked like a science lab. One goal was for the finished piece to be a conversation tool for MS. According to Dr. DeSilva it was successful in helping many patients gain an understanding of the disease.

Process

The sculpture is specifically based on relationships between different cells in the brain, including neurons, the primary communicative cells of the CNS, and the myelinating glial cells that cover the nerve fibers.

I built a scale model and began to construct parts in my NYC studio. I brought in assistants and consulted experts. Eventually the construction process was moved to Birmingham, where my team continued to grow. I worked closely with UAB’s building engineers and communicated extensively with my corporate sponsors.