Shiny waveforms allude to stars and galactic clusters, referencing the common origin in the universe of all things. And surrounded by this we are asked: what is common between us?
In June, EDGE went to explore the light and sound installation BRAINPALACE at State STUDIO Berlin by artist Tatjana Busch. BRAINPALACE is an artistic research project and part of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s exhibition series “Science and Art in Dialogue“ in collaboration with Christian Losert, Daniel Dalfovo and the Fraunhofer Institutes IAO and ITWM.
The audiovisual installation we experienced was a prototype, open for first interactions to gather preliminary data while planning the next project stages and research questions. We were equipped with a portable Muse electroencephalography (EEG) device, which measures brain activity in real time via four electrical sensors positioned around the forehead (as well as a reference and two ground electrodes). The recorded EEG signal can be decomposed into frequency bands to measure rhythmic patterns of brain activity (mostly, alpha and beta power bands). With the Muse sensors recording signals mostly from the frontal brain lobe, looking at this rhythmic brain activity is accessible measure of concentration, focus, relaxation, and perhaps synchrony between two persons.
By inviting several visitors to experience the installation and have their neural activity measured at the same time, the collected data gives a view of group synchronization and social cohesion. The simultaneous recording of multiple subjects is called hyperscanning, and has received increasing attention in social neuroscience looking for the neural basis of interpersonal interactions. Here, in the context of an art exhibition, we experienced the same surroundings, so did we enter a similar state of mind?
To probe this, and explore whether synchrony (or empathy) can be enhanced in certain settings, BRAINPALACE incorporates a technique known as neurofeedback. In the exhibition space, the surroundings responded to our neural activity, expressing our inner mental states for us to reflect upon together. Appearance aspects of the installation, such as the colour of lighting and rotation of the central sculpture, were coded to respond to data streamed from the EEG headsets. Neurofeedback allows for an external point of awareness of one’s own electrophysiological activity in the brain – receiving feedback (e.g., visual or auditory) of ongoing changes of one’s brain activity. In combination with hyperscanning, the observed influence your brain state has on your surroundings would depend on your synchrony with others in the room.
After the EEG calibration, we were invited to sit or lay on pillows on the ground below the hanging sculpture or move through the exhibition space. As we observed the interplay between our thoughts and our environment, another observation was going on around the corner. Our brain waves visualized on a terminal, observers could ask: Are the EEG brain waves synchronous between participants? Are individuals’ mental cohesion enhanced during the collective experience? Does regulation via neurofeedback of the installation help us experience and enhance empathy? Can artistic neuroscientific interventions nurture empathy, social cohesion and togetherness?
EDGE came away serene and scintillated by the aesthetics, impressed by the ambitious ideas, and excited to see what is yet to come of the BRAINPALACE project!
Interested readers may follow STATE Studio’s website for updates on the next iteration of the project at the gallery in autumn.
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