Brainmap: The Primordial Enigma, a Painting by Kathy Toma, The Mystery of an Artist’s Brain: An Interplay of Chance, Necessity and Intuition?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 - 12:00 to 13:00



The Primordial Enigma is a smaller-formatted replica of the monumental Polyptych (4.4m x 4m x 0.50m) of the same name commissioned by the Director of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano for the forthcoming EXPO 2015 at the Duomo of Milan. At the initiative of Professor Bruce Rosen this replica came into existence and is displayed at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging.  

The work is the culmination of an extraordinary adventure marked by Le Hasard et La Nécessité (Chance and Necessity), to quote the title of Jacques Monod’s famous essay: Chance -in my fortuitous milanese encounter with the Director of the VFDM that brought it to life, and Necessity -in its convergence with so many dreams and past compositions shaped by my profound interest in scientific discoveries in Astrophysics (quasars, exoplanets, dark energy, black holes…), Molecular Biology, Paleontology, and Philosophy (Teilhard de Chardin ), Psychoanalysis (Jungian Archetypes), Spirituality (the remarkable Rhenish abbess HIldegard of Bingen), as well as an abiding passion for masterpieces of the art world (Grünewald’s Issenheim Altarpiece). At the heart of this fascination lies the essential role of human intuition that led to this particular venue. Indeed, in initial sketches of the emerging Primordial Enigma in April 2013, inspired by The Legend of the True Cross based on Jacques de Voragine’s The Golden Legend, the thematic Tree of Knowledge immediately and strangely took the form of a gigantic brain. How moving to surprisingly discover a posteriori the existence of magnificent images of neuronal brain connections obtained by Human Connectome Project teams that scientifically validated my intuition: one of these images -in its original state- inevitably had to be integrated into my painting, because somehow it was expressing my concept: it was “my” Tree of Knowledge, the brain of the universe, the gigantic “Wak-Wak that converses with the comets!

Examples of Myth that anticipate science through intuition as in The (Premonitory) Portrait of Apollinaire by Giorgio de Chirico (1914), The Self-Portrait by Victor Brauner (1931), Afasia Rossa by E. M. Paraito, and The Primordial Enigma, demand our utmost consideration. Perhaps scientists experimenting on the brain have already found tentative explanations to this mystery. The fact remains that an artwork continues to be an enigma, not lending itself to simple responses despite the artist’s attempts to shed light on concepts that brought it to life and processes used in its completion; herein lies the pertinence of Duchamp’s teaching that it is the spectator’s role to recreate it. 

About the Speaker

Kathy Toma lives and works in Paris. Since her childhood she has dedicated herself to painting while completing university degrees (MA) in French Literature and Art History at the University of Strasbourg and PhD at the Sorbonne University, Paris, and theater and music studies at the Conservatory of Strasbourg.

Her pictorial works, shown in many exhibitions mostly in Italy and in France are using the synthesis of a semi-figurative language and Body Art: rooted in myth and memory, it brings into play different media that incorporate into classical painting Super 8 film, photography, video, manipulation and transformation of “lost-and-found objects” in sculptures, jewelry (some of them have been used for the film series I Medici, the Masters of Florence) and artist books. Her artistic production encompasses the monumental fresco, small scenographies, Teatro d’Artista and Show/Performance. Her work often develops in thematic cycles that involve an identification process (Eros/Thanatos; Eurydice; Narcissus; The Lady and the Unicorn; Heloise and Abelard; Saint George and the Princess; The Dioscuri; The Angels of the Annunciations; The Musicians of Gesualdo) sometimes with the staging of her own body.

For more than twenty years she has devoted herself to a work of creation and research on the composer Carlo Gesualdo, a contribution that elevates the theme of the Prince of Venosa to mythic proportions, with the 2002 production of paintings for the Arch of the Church of the Addolorata in the city of Gesualdo of which she is an honorary citizen.

The artist is also committed to didactic and research activity as a participant in conferences and publications (Lecturer at the Centre National d’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1977-2009).