"EmBodied" is SciArt Center's latest virtual exhibition. Exploring what the body can reveal about the inner self, curator Marnie Benney spoke with participating artist China Blue:
MB: In your view, does one's physicality reflect the soul, mind, or inner self? If so, how?
CB: Almost all human works whether artistic, philosophical, religious, or scientific, are attempts to bridge the physical world that we inhabit with the inner world of our minds. Whether a scientist relies on psychophysics to map the physics of the world onto the psychology of perception or an artist interprets a complex emotional or social phenomenon as pigments on canvas, I feel we are constantly trying to find a map of the world that fits and lets us share our inner landscapes. I use a combination of contemporary technology and traditional artistic techniques to translate my explorations of the workings of the mind into emotional attractors to engage an audience without demanding they share my deeper interest in technology and science.
MB: How have science and technology better informed us in our understanding of who and what we are?
CB: Science is investigating the brain in more complex ways than ever before, yet no one really knows how to answer “who and what we are.” We are now learning how different areas of the brain are interconnected giving us insight into the structure and hopefully, function, of the brain. But even in the coolest, hardest science there is the potential for contradiction and confusion, or creative space for interpretation, depending on how you look at it. Much of the information I reference to learn about and use brainwaves is based on studies that do deep analysis of a few aspects and then rely on complex statistics to try and make it seem like it applies to everyone. But what I’ve learned is that our brains are like fingerprints – everyone has one but they are all seriously unique. Sometimes “big data” studies on how the brain works sadly deepens the confusion about what “I” am. Yet individuality exists, emerging from a complex combination of the physiological, social, and environmental elements which impact each person in unique ways
MB: What do you aim to communicate to your audience through your art?
CB: My pieces Imagining Blue and MindDraw translate and transform what is going on in the brain from data into emotional, sensory and perceptual experiences for an audience. Both works use a wearable EEG device to convert brain waves in real-time into colored light in Imagining Blue and fluxing visual patterns in MindDraw. The visual imagery produced by MindDraw is a real-time visualization of brain wave activity which reflects the brain’s functions, making the wearer's brain an active source of artistic renderings. Imagining Blue lets the users control an LED encrusted sculpture which generates both light and sound, allowing them to become a creator in an aesthetic phenomenon. This work also opens the door to the idea of social cohesion in artistic creation – if three different people were to use Imagining Blue at the same time, their interactions could be coordinated (all trying to produce the same color, hence the title of the piece), or they could try and interweave and coordinate their behavior, changing this from a deeply individualistic art engine of a single mind to a more communal, social interaction. I have seen when people are using both these pieces that, through their playful investigation into brain activity, they realize that they can define and shape their own personal relationship to art. This makes the work compelling because it is both individual and universal at the same time.
MB: What has been your greatest discovery through creating this type of work?
CB: I was surprised I was able to create these pieces. When I first started considering them, I quickly found out that they would be enormously difficult to realize. There is no off-the-shelf software to use. While there are some experimental brainwave visualizers, none of them were satisfactory to me – they all felt like screen savers. So, I had to create it. Along the way, I discovered that brainwaves are always functioning together and contributing to the brain’s collective consciousness. While the works use “discreet” EEG bands, such as alpha waves that represent wakeful meditation or the beta state associated with non-focused activities, brain waves are always working together with some of them dominant and others critically important but transient modulators. In making these art pieces I began to develop not only a scientifically based, but also a deeper personal understanding of the relationships between the brain and the mind.
See "Embodied" on SciArt Center's website: http://www.sciartcenter.org/embodied.html