” Mirror Neurons: the Empathic Brain 1

Jo is a well known fibre artist, living near Totnes, weaving hand-made tapestries. She also teach Mindfulness Meditation, hence, her work is strongly influenced by mindfulness and neuroscience.

We began by asking her.

What are the main influences upon your work and upon ‘Mirror Neurons: the Empathic Brain 1’”

I came to the tapestry weaving as contemporary art via a post-operative healing journey in which I set about answering the question ‘what burns most in your heart that must be done in this lifetime?’ The answer for me was to return to textiles (a passion from my teenage years) and as a medium to express an embodied ‘knowing’ of human experiences such as suffering, shame, displacement, alienation and the amazing human capacity to heal and transcend these 

I’m about to start a part-time MA in Fine Art and intend to explore the area of creativity and well-being, perhaps its capacity for’ holding the difficult’, or how art can be transformative (for both the maker and the viewer), so will continue exploration of these themes over the next two years.

Playing with light using metallic threads or wires in my work are references to Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with gold. I see this as an important metaphor for us as humans – when we can embrace our ‘brokenness’ (or the impacts of life’s knocks) with grace and humility, we have an opportunity to become more whole, perhaps more beautiful.

Neuroscience research is now revealing much about mindfulness meditation and compassion: mirror neurons are known to be part of our neurological system and give us our capacity for empathy. Synapses, not quite touching, transmit messages that affect our physiology, emotions, thoughts and behaviour.  Mirror Neurons: the Empathic Brain is an honouring of that part of our human nervous system that indicates to us, the suffering of another and, importantly, often prompts kindness in response.


“Bolt from the Blue”

Your hand woven tapestry ‘Bolt from the blue’ is bold and engaging. Can you explain more about this work, the materials, techniques used and the meaning behind this piece?

Yes, the intensity of copper wire makes it truly eye-catching, yet there is a simplicity relating to the limited number of materials used. The piece is constructed from worsted wool and multiple strands of very fine copper wire. The wire is overlaid in one direction of the weave and woven in front of and behind the warps in the other direction of the weave. This is painstaking and intricate due to the nature of the wire and its tendency to knot and kink!

The piece is referring to the insights one derives in an inquiry process used as part of insight meditation (also known as Vipassana meditation). This is a practice I’ve been engaged with over the past twenty years and involves a deeply compassionate journey of learning about one’s conditioning and responding differently to habitual patterns of behaviour, such as patterns of self-critical thinking. You could say that these are ‘aha moments’ when things which have previously been in the unconscious, come into conscious awareness: this, then offers a choice in how best to respond. This also tends to benefit others in our lives as we pause before jumping into reactivity!  Furthermore, the practice supports living from a more authentic perspective.

As a registered teacher of mindfulness meditation, I have developed Mindfulness and Creativity workshops and find it deeply rewarding to witness how and what people create when it is from this authentic place within themselves, focussing on process and not outcome.

“Hard – Wired”

How long did ‘Hard-wired for survival’ take to create?  Can you tell us more about what inspired you to create this work and how you developed your initial idea?

Returning again to neuroscience research and mindfulness, there is a strong suggestion that in evolutionary terms, our brains are vigilant for threats. The brain scans preferentially for ‘negative’ experiences even if most experiences are actually ‘positive’. This alertness is a protection for our survival, but can cause us unnecessary suffering.  We can balance this by cultivating and nurturing a sense of safety and peace though practices such as mediation and self-compassion.

Transforming this idea into a design started with researching images of nerve cells firing electrical impulses and neurotransmitters. I also wanted to indicate chemical messengers in the image. Weaving usually starts at the bottom of a piece, so having chosen a palette, I used long slits in the weaving, joined at random places, and included tentacle-like neurones, with pieces of brass wire included as the work progressed, indicating electrical impulses.

The process of weaving does not go any faster now than it did 2,000 years ago! It is tender, deliberate and engaging – a meditation.  From inception to completion it’s a very slow process: weeks to months, depending upon size and design, complexity in design, decisions about yarns, warping up, complexity of the weave, then cutting it off and finishing.  Also, I am problem-solving as I go.  Each tapestry draws on my personal process, which includes years of meditation, so in effect they take a lifetime to create!  The actual physical weaving of Hard-Wired for Survival took five weeks, in addition to colour mixing, warping up, and taking the piece off the loom, with intricate finishing and mounting.


More of Jo’s work can be seen  https://www.artgallerysw.co.uk/vendor/jo-gosling/





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