Alex Schlegel made these two neuroscience-themed self portraits based on a model of his actual brain cast in bronze.


Alex writes:

This self-portrait is a life-sized, anatomically-correct bronze cast of my cerebral cortex. Embedded on the surface of the cortex is a cluster of 60 flickering, yellow LEDs resembling the statistical parametric maps used in neuroimaging research to present analyses of brain activity. The LEDs play off of the metaphor of ideas as light bulbs and of the concept of self as a product of mental activity. Viewers can turn the LED cluster on and off with a vigorous puff of air, as if blowing out (or on) a candle.

The bronze cortex measures 8″d x 4″h x 6″w and began with an MRI scan of my brain; I used research software to reconstruct a three-dimensional model of the cortex and printed that out as a ceramic object using a Z-corp 3D printer. I made a silicone mold of this and used the lost-wax method to create the bronze cast. Finally, I embedded the LEDs and breath-detection circuitry.


This portrait is also a life-sized bronze cast of my cortex. Emanating from it is a cortex-like tangle of argon-filled glass tubing that emits a purplish glow and flickers like a neon sign. This again extends the metaphor of light bulb as idea, the purple neon “idea” in this case suggesting a popular notion in cognitive science that the conscious self is epiphenomenal–that it emanates from and reflects the physical brain but has no influence over it.


Becky Stern

Becky Stern

Becky Stern ( is a DIY guru and director of wearable electronics at Adafruit. She publishes a new project video every week and hosts a live show on YouTube. Formerly Becky was Senior Video Producer for MAKE. Becky lives in Brooklyn, NY and belongs to art groups Free Art & Technology (“release early, often, and with rap music”) and Madagascar Institute (“fear is never boring”).