Mirror Neurons

A digital artwork of a young girl holding up a mirror.


Until Saturday 3 August

Visitor information

Opening Times

Monday-Saturday, 10am-5pm


Free entry (donations welcome).


The panoramic spectrum of more than 30 artists included in this exhibition create artworks across almost every medium and method, but share one common denominator. Their works recall the writer Lewis Hyde’s idea that “a work of art is a gift, not a commodity ... where there is no gift there is no art”. As Hyde has also noted, quoting Joseph Conrad, “the artist appeals to that part of our being ... which [recognises it as] a gift and not an acquisition – and, therefore, [is] more permanently enduring.” 

For the artists and researchers featured in this exhibition, as well as for Hyde, art is best defined as an unsolicited gift, whether in the form of a material object or an action, a gesture of care, hospitality, or offering. Artworks, therefore, are not just objects but also acts of empathy and expressions of embodied energy. Each artwork is a ‘living laboratory’: an experiment in nurturing our empathetic and collective imagination. In more scientific terms, art's fundamental function is to activate our ‘mirror neurons’: the brain cells that enable us to recognise and understand others. The underlying idea is that these neurons are most fully engaged through acts of gifting, rather than other forms of exchange.
The 30+ artists and academics in ‘Mirror Neurons’ provide an overview of current research by staff and research fellows in Fine Art at Newcastle University at the beginning of the second century of its teaching here. As a radical university committed to innovative teaching and new ways of learning, Newcastle has taught Fine Art for 101 years. It was the first university to place research and the education of artists on an equal status to more traditional academic disciplines by offering the first full degree qualification in Fine Art in the country. Even more unusually, the first-ever graduates were women.  

Image: Rachel Maclean, ‘upside mimi ᴉɯᴉɯ uʍop’, 2021, digital still.