Above: First Public Neuron, Schenley Park Bridge, Pittsburgh, 1980
Above: Boundary Street Neuron at Forbes Ave. Bridge, Pittsburgh, 1981
Above: Details of Boundary Street Neuron, Pittsburgh, 1981
Above: Schenley Park Neuron, Pittsburgh, 1981
As an art student at Carnegie-Mellon University, Ebon Fisher had a strong disinclination to create artifacts for stone buildings with brochures and gift shops. He began looking for an imagery, and a mode of dissemination, which was more raw, weird and, quite literally, nervous.
In 1980 and 1981, taking a cue from the graffitti artists he grew up with in Philadelphia – Cornbread, Earl and Pulaski Town – Fisher began spray-painting diagrams of neurons throughout Pittsburgh. Neurons were an elemental part of the scientific view of the human spirit. And science, for better or worse, was the reigning system of belief. It transcended all the world religions, cultural genres and theories of art. If Martin Luther would have the Bible translated out of latin and into his native German, why not pull the concepts and imagery of science out of the labs and textbooks and place them into our everyday life? And why ask permission to do it?
Having noticed that the science students he was meeting were more excited by the world they were discovering than the cynical art students, Fisher decided to follow the scientists into their own cosmos and see if he could introduce a few warps into their worldview. The graffiti mode was not yet established as a fine arts practice and Fisher had no idea that 400 miles away in New York, galleries were beginning to take an interest in the works of Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf and Futura. Haring, another Pennsylvanian, had been moved by the same "first generation" graffiti artists as Fisher.
Fisher and Haring were finally brought together by one of Fisher's professors for a beer on Forbes Avenue in Pittsburgh. Haring gave Fisher a button of an irradiated baby. Fisher discussed his theories of science and popular culture. That was their first and only encounter. Haring was a bit older than Fisher and was driven more intensely towards the galleries. Fisher followed his instincts more deeply into the world of science by studying at MIT a few years later. He brought his fascination with neurons into his later work with information systems and network ethics.