Elena Keller

My topic this semester is…?

I want to illustrate the way our human network works with special focus on the phenomenon pain.

Which medium/material thrills me?

  1. drawings: making drawings that explain and make the topic heedful.
  2. dynamic mediums, simulation, animation: not only showing things frozen, but showing the process behind it.
  3. working with real materials: imitating abstract concepts with a concrete objects, using a scale in contrast to the original
  4. Interaction (e.g. Mirror): let the visiter experience the phenomenon

The possible outcome can be…?

A drawing, an animation, a GIF, a simulation (digitally or physically), an interaction…

How do I proceed?

  1. Step: Making good drawings, that make people excited about the subject “pain”
  2. Step: Working physically, experimenting on my own (Mirror,..) or experimenting with objects
  3. Step: Filter

1. Network

The underlying structure of life is based on a network, so I decided to look at it more closely. Society, knowledge, nature, organisms, the universe – everything is connected as a network.

The networks we’re confronted in our daily life pretty much differ in their structure:  _MG_0242_kl _MG_0243_kl_MG_0241_kl


2. The nervous network

The network that affects us the most is our own human network, the nervous system. It coordinates its voluntary and involuntary actions and transmits signals to and from different parts of its body.

An interesting aspect about this topic is, that we look at it on the one hand as an outside observer and on the other hand are so much involved with it – since the process of observing and perceiving already requires our huge network consisting of tons of nervs.


3. The resting potential

A complex process within the transfer of information in our neural network is the Resting Potential. “Resting potential” – the potential difference between the two sides of the membrane of a nerve when the cell is not conducting an impulse.

I used cotton bud, paper and my camera to visualize a sequence of what happens in and around the membrane.


4. Imitation Game

Are there other processes that can be dynamically visualized with these elements? I played with those materials and through their movement created the impression of something living and organic, though the material itself is not organic.


This illustrates the structure of DNA and how much its information has to be compressed to make it fit in a cell.


5. Signal Transmission

5.1. Afferent and efferent nerves

Afferent nerves is the connection from your senses to your CNS (central nervous system). For example when listening, your ear detects volume, pitch of voice, speed (and much more information) which is immediately transmitted to your CNS. Only in case this connection works, you perceive.

Once the signal reached your CNS, it works with this information and transmits it via efferent nerves directly to the parts of the body called to move. And voilà, the muscles that should move, move!

This process is done very quickly. It’s repeated infinitly… Sense > afferent nerves > CNS > efferent nerves > muscles > sense > afferent nerves > CNS…


5.2. Myelin

Since those signals are transmitted by an electric pulse, the nerves themselves need to conduct. Just like cables, they do so the best, if they are isolated properly. In our biological cable system this isolation is Myelin.Myelin_klein

Without Myelin signals are only slowly transmitted or not at all. The impact it has on daily life you can see with people suffering from MS (Multiple Sklerosis).



6. Pain

The thing that thrills me the most about our human network is the way it is connected to all our body, even to the tip of our fingers.

A sector where this gets especially tangible is pain.

1. Mechanischer Reiz

teig2_750 teig3_750

  1. Somatisch vs. viszeral


  1. “Phantomschmerz” – Umorganisation


Won’t you hurt me!

Final Concept in three parts

Part yellow

Used items with their meaning:


When defining the anatomical structure, the body can be divided in two main areas: visceral and somatic. Visceral refers to internal organs in the body – those around the chest, the heart, those within the abdomen such as the liver, intestines and pancreas.


Somatic is the part of the body that is in the periphery consisting mainly of skin, skeletal muscle and sensory organs. It is the part of the body in contact with the environment surrounding it.


Pain perception is caused by brain activity. It is first provoked by an intense chemical, mechanical or thermal stimulation of sensory nerve cells called nociceptors.


The produced signal travels along a chain of nerve fibers via the spinal cord to the brain.


Human Alarm System
We perceive pain, if we interpret a certain stimuli as a sign for damage, a sign for danger. Without this alarm system human beings could not survive without because it enables us to prohibit or avoid damage. At first a stimuli reaches the nociceptors, the nociceptors transmit this signal all the way just to the brain where it is turned into pain. To the feeling that is created by brain activity a place is assigned automatically: We perceive it at a certain area.


System Error
However, signals can be misguided and cause the alarm system to fail. Therefore pain can not be regarded as a reliable source of information about what is happening in the body. It is a false assumption and the leading cause of ongoing pain for most people.

One aspect where pain is giving a wrong picture of what is going on in the body, is phantom pain. Therefore we need to know first, that every sensory part of the body has an equivalent area in the central nervous system that grows or shrinks depending on how much senses are stimulated on this part of the body. When a leg has been amputated, the equivalent area processing the stimuli in the brain is not being used anymore – so the other synapses relocate themselves. Therefore it’s possible, that if there is damage to your hand, your brain assigns the stimuli not to your hand but your leg and cause your leg to hurt.

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