The Brain Project - Rick Hansen

The Telus Brain Project is a large-scale, outdoor exhibit that encourages public conversation about brain health and Alzheimer’s disease, and raises funds for the Baycrest Foundation, a global leader in brain health and aging. In 2017, The Brain Project invited celebrated Paralympic athlete, Rick Hansen, to be one of its iconic Great Canadians, and I was honoured with the commission to interpret and render Rick’s brain for the project.  Rick’s philosophy of “Many in Motion” - that dreams can be achieved when people work as a team to bring about change - inspired me throughout this project. 


I interpreted Rick’s “Brain” in the shape of the world he encircled during his 1985-87 Man in Motion world tour.  The trunk is shaped like a spinal cord, referencing Rick’s spinal cord injury sustained as a teenager, which left him paralyzed from the waist down.  Reading Rick’s book, Man in Motion, gave me such insight into who Rick is, his life and work, and the struggles and successes of his tour. As I worked with my own hands to interpret his brain, it struck me how the person Rick is today grew out of his spinal cord injury and paraplegia. The branches that emerge from this trunk-like spinal cord are like hands, holding and nourishing the world.


In creating icons and symbols for the brain, I included references to wheels, referencing Rick’s Man in Motion Tour and all that he continues to achieve in his wheelchair. The wheel implies action/action/ability – the motion of Rick and the RHF, and the motion of his tour. The silhouetted images depict the healthy abilities of all bodies. In the wheeled path that cycles around the earth, I included silhouettes of Rick, his friend and Canadian hero athlete, Terry Fox, and images of people of many physical abilities in action.


Rick’s love of nature and his philanthropic work committed to the planet’s ecological health is evidenced in many ways in this brain. The globe grows from the roots, branches and trunk of an Arbutus - an iconic Canadian West Coast tree.  I wanted to communicate a notion of “inclusive diversity” – interpreting Rick’s belief that the planet is one synergistic ecosystem that holistically connects people, land, oceans, animals and fish - animals associated with the West Coast of Canada – Rick’s home.  


The colours of the Earth-shaped brain are bright, energetic and beautiful, but it has areas of light and shadow, symbolizing how both are realities of life. Sadly, Alzheimer’s Disease -- and the loss of loved ones -- is one aspect of life’s darkness.  Rick, however, wanted to focus on the world’s positive light which emerges, like a wheel – from the sunlit point on its surface.

Artist Statement

I was commissioned by The TELUS Health Brain Project to work with the Rick Hansen Foundation to interpret and render a sculpture of Iconic Canadian, Rick Hansen’s brain.  


Rick Hansen, Canada's "Man in Motion" wheeled for two-years around the world to raise awareness about people with disabilities.


The Brain Project is a large-scale, outdoor exhibit that brings health, art and imagination to the streets of Toronto. The Brain Project encourages public conversation about brain health and Alzheimer’s and raises funds for the Baycrest Foundation, a global leader in brain health and aging.


© 2020 Shary Bartlett.  All Rights Reserved