Wednesday November 8, 2017 | by Joseph Modica

Imaging the Brain: David Gappa's installation at the University of Texas uses glass and light to illustrate synaptic firing

A synapse is the structure that connects neurons in the brain, linking then together so that electrical signals can be transmitted to create thoughts, memories, and experiences. A single synapse can fire 50-times a second, a sequence that is multiplied for hundreds of trillions of times during the normal synaptic functioning in the brain. If this is hard to conceptualize, artist David Gappa created a visual tool to illustrate. The result of Gappa's efforts is Introspection, a massive light fixture illuminating the room with a vibrant luminescent display, Each flicker, pulse, or flash of light in the over thousand hand-blown glass objects shows the viewer what a group of synapses does a billion-times an hour. His largest creation yet, the monumental work was unveiled on October 12, 2017 at the University of Texas' Brain Performance Institute. 

A massive 40- by 50-foot suspended glass structure made up of 1,050 hand-blown glass vessels and 175 pulsing 5-1/2-foot glass spires illuminated by LED, the work is the largest-scale Gappa has achieved. Situated in the appropriately named "Ellipse Room" at the brain institute, it provides an architectural focal point that stimulates discussion and celebrates the work going on at this research center. The lights that characterize the piece represent the energy of and the communication of nerves.

“This particular installation was two-and-a-half years in the making, from conceptual design to actual fabrication.” said the artist in an email exchange with Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet. Gappa worked with a large team of of glassblowers, metalworkers and lighting experts to bring the idea into fruition. He credits the freedom given with the Introspection commission, and says he was told to puruse his vision as long as it dealt with the brain in some manner.

Gappa has been working with glass for 18 years, and has been working in architecture for 10 before going full-time into glass art. Prior to dedicating his time to glass-blowing, he was designing buildings from minimum-security prisons to retail stores to animal shelters. His background in architecture has given him the tools to tackle large projects like these, otherwise, “it would not have been possible.”

The title Introspection, is an act of reflection on the self on both a spiritual and physical level, which is in keeping with the subject of Gappa's sculpture, the seat of human consciousness, and his strong faith.

“What better witness to the power of God‘s creation then having the opportunity to create works of art that mimic nature or an installation that represent the beauty and complexity of our creative minds?” Gappa asked.

Born in Fort Hood, Texas, he began pursuing art at a young age when his mother noticed his talent. While earning his Masters of Science in Architecture from the University of Texas, his curiosity about glassblowing grew into a passion, and he began to blow glass professionally in 1999.


David Gappa,
University of Texas
800 W Campbell Rd, Richardson.
Dallas, Texas

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