Beneath the Surface and Inside Out: exploring neuroscience through art

The connection – and potential disconnect – between the brain’s internal and external worlds is explored in artworks that combine textiles and neuroscience.

Textile artist Chrys Zantis has worked with neuroscientist Associate Professor Marta Garrido and her team since May 2019, first at the Queensland Brain Institute and now as an Artist in Residence at the University of Melbourne.

Associate Professor Garrido investigates how the brain processes sensory information and predicts future events. The brain creates predictive models of the outside world and updates them continuously. These models help the brain deal efficiently with the huge volume of incoming information. They also help the brain react quickly and flexibly to unexpected events, as it does not have to start from scratch each time. But in some conditions, such as anxiety and schizophrenia, the brain’s predictive processes are disrupted. Investigating how prediction works could help researchers understand how or why some mental health disorders arise.

Zantis regularly visited the Garrido lab to observe the team at work. She took inspiration from the electroencephalography (EEG) electrode cap used to measure brain activity when studying predictive modelling. The cap makes it easier to fix EEG electrodes to a person’s scalp.

Using old, broken EEG caps, Zantis created a headdress that combines anatomical features of the brain with haute couture. Beneath the Surface is a collection of photographs of a model wearing the headdress. It illustrates the sensory and social disruptions that people with mental health issues experience in everyday life.

The photographs in Beneath the Surface depict the sensory and social disruptions that people with mental health conditions experience every day.

a woman and man sitting across from each other at a kitchen table

A second series of textile and photographic works, Inside Out, pairs the headdress with other wearable art. Zantis incorporated gold fairy lights into a knitted bodice and embroidered skirt. This work conveys what she sees as a gold rush of scientific discovery.

Artwork from both series was displayed at the 9th Annual Scientific Meeting of Biological Psychiatry Australia, held at the Melbourne Brain Centre in 2019. It was also exhibited at the Australasian Neuroscience Society’s annual conference in Adelaide in 2019.

Beneath the Surface and Inside Out will be part of the artist’s solo exhibition at Logan Art Gallery in Brisbane, Queensland, in December 2022.

Next steps

Chrys Zantis received funding from the Queensland Regional Arts Development Fund to produce a documentary on this collaboration. Filming will begin in late 2021. The artworks will also form part of a dance project organised by Professor Carol Brown from the Victorian College of the Arts. Mental Dance will involve workshops, a performance and a talk. It is part of the MENTAL exhibition at Science Gallery Melbourne.


ARC Centre of Excellence for Integrative Brain Function (CE140100007)

Queensland Regional Arts Development Fund


Zantis C (2019) Beneath the Surface [headpiece, photographs]. Artist’s collection, Brisbane, Australia

Zantis C (2019) Inside Out [headpiece, bodice and skirt]. Artist’s collection, Brisbane, Australia

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Images: Chrys Zantis/Photography by Nova Blooming

Banner image: The headdress in Beneath the Surface from artist Chrys Zantis integrates anatomical features of the brain and nervous system with elements of haute couture.

First published on 30 March 2022.

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