It’s Brain Health Awareness Week, marking the announcement of The Brain Project coming this summer.

This exhibition will curate nearly 100 brain sculptures designed by a diverse group of artists and display them around Toronto at venues such as Nathan Phillips Square, Union Station and Brookfield Place. This project, co-chaired by Ben and Jess Mulroney & Erica and Noah Godfrey, will get you talking about brain health and raise funds in support of Baycrest – one of the best research facilities in the world, with a special focus on brain health and aging.

We spoke with a couple of artists participating in The Brain Project, Erin Rothstein and Polina Teif.

SDTC: Can you describe the focus of your work for The Brain Project? 

ER: As an artist that creates hyper-real paintings of food, I knew I had to work with the idea of ‘food on the brain.’ I love everything that has to do with food culture. You’ll often find me cooking, eating, and restauranting, engrossed in a total culinary experience of smells, tastes and aesthetics. The foods I paint are universally relatable, triggering people’s emotions on a primal level. My work encourages the exploration of still-life painting with fresh and innovative methodologies, and I could think of no canvas more inventive than a large sculpture of the human brain. I have long been fascinated by the relationship between food and mental health, and The Brain Project has allowed me to explore this relationship in a creative and exciting context. My brain sculpture will be covered with all sorts of hyper-real paintings of foods, each melding into the next.

PT: My work for the project is titled “Reflection.” It’s a mirror-like brain and it connotes inner and outer reflection. We can look at it from scientific or spiritual aspects but to me, those are one and the same. My primary focus for the project was to talk about the effects of meditation on brain health, our bodies and lives at large.


Polina Teif

What have you learned over the course of this project?

ER: This project has encouraged me to think about the importance of mental health, which is too often overlooked or taken for granted. The brain’s relationship with food is so interesting, and this project has been a constant reminder to be mindful of the way in which food influences our cognitive well-being.

PT: The Brain Project invites us to reflect on ourselves. When we are able to reflect clearly, we see the world how it is. Reflection as a metaphor plays with that idea. I personally found meditation useful for clearing psychosomatic illnesses as well as decreasing anxiety and stress. As my personal practice deepened, I found that although I still encounter problems, the way in which I dealt with those challenges and the general attitude I assumed improved.

Has this project influenced how you feel about your own brain health?

ER: The brain was sent to me as a blank canvas, and I was faced with the unique task of carefully deciding how to fill it. This task inspired the realization that I should perhaps treat my own mental health with the same careful consideration and purposeful methodology. I am thrilled to be participating in a project that underlines these aims.

PT: Following a bike accident I had last year, I realized how scattered my attention was around that time. I was too busy being busy. The recovery period forced me to take time out and reflect on my life and priorities and learn to take better care of my body. Shortly after that time, I got back into meditating. I often think about the term “practice” both in regards to my artistic practice as well as my meditation practice. The term doesn’t connote an end goal, it simply refers to an activity or habit you do frequently and improve. The practice itself is the goal.

Erin Rothstein

Erin Rothstein

What do you hope others take away from seeing your work?

ER: I hope that my sculpture will encourage people to think about the way in which food influences mental health. Whether it makes people feel hungry or happy or unhappy or nostalgic or guilty or deeply satisfied, food is a powerful language, and the brain project is a tremendous platform for promoting its relevance in a fun and creative way.

PT: It’s 2016 and I am baffled over how overstimulated our brains are. We make sure to check our emails and social media every day but we often forget to check in with ourselves. Our attention is such a valuable tool. For example, when we give our attention to our families and friends, they feel appreciated. When a doctor or nurse checks a patient, they are being cared for. When we turn that attention to our own body and observe it, we begin to understand how it works and it begins to heal itself. That is its natural function. But all this information is mere knowledge until put into practice. I hope viewers of The Brain Project are reminded to take the time and study the inner workings of their own bodies and brains first hand through their own experience to gain a better understanding of the benefits of meditation. To those who know but have neglected to, this project serves as a gentle reminder to come back to it.

Erin Rothstein is a Toronto-based artist. Her latest series, “The Tasting Room,” uses her signature hyper-realist style to portray edible subjects on stark-white backgrounds. Her work combines academic techniques with innovative subjects and compositions in order to showcase hyper-realism as a whimsical and fresh-faced style. 

Polina Teif is a multidisciplinary artist based in Toronto. Teif works across various media, including photography, video, installation and works on paper, using simple and transparent techniques to point out the absurdity of hidden assumptions in contemporary culture.