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After Darwin: Contemporary Expressions has just opened at the Natural History Museum. It's a lot of fun. Based on Darwin's book less-known tome The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals it veers into less obvious territories than some of the other Darwin200 events and exhibitions, looking at the relationship between human and animal expressions of emotion. Among the pieces by Bill Viola, Tina Gonsalves, Diana Thater's video work gorillagorillagorrilla and Ruth Padel's poems about her great-great-grandfather,  it features a mischievous piece of work co-authored by Jeremy Deller; to explain it, though, would be a definite spoiler.

10-after-darwin-contemporary-expressions-24-emotions-by-mark-haddon-copyright-natural-history-museumAfter Darwin: Contemporary Expressions has just opened at the Natural History Museum. It's a lot of fun. Based on Darwin's book less-known tome The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals it veers into less obvious territories than some of the other Darwin200 events and exhibitions, looking at the relationship between human and animal expressions of emotion. Among the pieces by Bill Viola, Tina Gonsalves, Diana Thater's video work gorillagorillagorrilla and Ruth Padel's poems about her great-great-grandfather,  it features a mischievous piece of work co-authored by Jeremy Deller; to explain it, though, would be a definite spoiler.

Instead I'll give you a snatch of a Mark Haddon's work 24 Emotions; each is a simple short-form short story based on one of the emotions idenitified by Darwin, such as disgust, disdain, anger, hatred, love, high-spirits and joy. This is an extract from Haddon's work on the emotion "weeping":

It is one of those horrible, flat days in early January, when all the chocolates have been eaten and there will be no more presents until July. You are seven. Andrew is nine. Driving rain has kept you inside all morning and the two of you are bickering. You call him a pig and he throws Digby onto the open fire. You try to gram him out of the flames but your mother catches you just in time. The fire takes hold of his arm and wraps it in a silky, green flame. His fur goes black and melts. You are crying so hard it hurts your chest. [...] Years later you are parking the car outside an office in east London. You get out and realise that they are burning rubbish in the adjacent lot: tyres, plastic, litter. There is something familiar and terribly sad about the smell. You stand there with tears rolling down your cheeks and have no idea why.

To successfully turn science into art you often only have to play with it, as Deller and Haddon have done. The success of Haddon's work is underlined in an essay by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, who writes about Haddon's short stories, thus completing the science/art/science circle.

In pointing to the evolutionary roots of emotion, Damasio explains emotions as complex "action programmes", constructed over millenia. In evolutionary terms, we may share action programmes with animals, as Darwin suggested. The difference between humans is that we  have a complex brain - and thus a mind - which reflect on those action programmes. Damasio writes:

We do not know that a certain emotional state is being reconstructed, and yet it is there. That is why, as Mark Haddon so luminously evokes in his story >Weeping<, we can stand there with tears rolling down our cheeks but still have no idea why.

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