The large rooftop mural by French artists Ella and Pitr atop Science North contains a subtle nod to a divisive Laurentian University researcher.
The giant mural the artists created for the recent Up Here Festival depicts a figure sucking on his toe while wearing a yellow helmet.
Upon closer inspection, the helmet is a clear depiction the “God Helmet”, created by Laurentian University psychology professor and neuroscientist Michael Persinger, and Laurentian technologist Stanley Koren.
The helmet gained the pair international attention when they used the device to stimulate peoples' temporal lobes with weak magnetic fields as part of research that attempted to induce paranormal phenomena such as religious visions, near-death experiences and ghost sightings.
But Persinger has also courted some controversy along the way.
In November 2006, he called the school's administration “draconian” and “fascist” when they refused to allow a television crew to film a demonstration of his research with the “God Helmet”.
More recently, Laurentian's administration forced Persinger to stop teaching his first-year psychology class in December 2015.
The university said it dropped Persinger from the class because he asked his students to sign a “statement of understanding,” warning them they would encounter some words and language they may find offensive.
The purpose of that unit of the course, Persinger said, was explore the power we imbue in certain words by exposing students to profane or even “silly” terms they encounter in their daily lives.
“We live in a world where words are becoming more and more important,” Persinger said.
As for the Science North mural, Persinger confirmed with Sudbury.com the French artists visited him at his laboratory while they were in Sudbury.
“When an artist incorporates science, or a technology into their expertise, that's a great compliment,” he said. “I have great respect for artists because they are truly the canaries of the mind.”
Persinger said Ella and Pitr have asked him to write a preface for an upcoming book they're preparing to showcase their latest work, including the Science North piece.
Science North CEO Guy Labine said he jumped at the chance to support the Up Here Festival and its founding director, Christian Pelletier, by making the rooftop available for a mural.
“I'm not sure how many science centres in Canada or North America have a piece of art on their rooftop,” he said. “It's big, you can see it from a high elevation. I think it's bold.”
Pelletier said he encouraged the artists to have a connection to Sudbury and science in the piece.
To that end he provided Ella and Pitr with documentation about Greater Sudbury, including the city's re-greening efforts and the Apollo training missions around the local rocky landscape.
They gravitated toward the 'God Helmet'.
“It does touch on science and on some really cool research that's happening right here in Sudbury,” Pelletier said. “What he (Persinger) is really studying is human creativity and where it exists in the brain. I think that's an element they really connected to.”
Pelletier said the mural follows the quirky style Ella and Pitr are known for around the world.
“It's a little bit weird, but that's okay,” he said. “It's part of what they do.”
As for his own interpretation of the mural, Persinger said it seemed obvious to him.
“It is a humanoid figure contained or severely bounded within a tight opaque space without access to all that is beyond the limits of that space,” he said. “One could suggest this is the analogue of every human being who is defined by his or her brain that is contained within a tight opaque space: the skull.
“There is no means to discern what is really outside of that contained approximately 1350 cc of brain volume. However with technology, in this case the God Helmet (the Koren Helmet), the person in the box (the human being) may be able to access what is beyond the box (the brain). With the technology the human being may be able to escape the restraints and explore the unknown.”