Science and Technology Dance group capacitor's performance "Synaptic Motion" presents the brain on dance
By Joe Ferguson
Ever wonder what creativity looks like? I'm not talking about art, or a dry video clip of an artist sitting at a desk, staring pensively out a window, but what the creative process actually looks like inside the brain. That’s exactly the question that Jodi Lomask--Artistic Director for the science and technology dance group Capacitor--asked for her latest work Synaptic Motion—presented in September at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.
Lomask has been collaborating with scientists since 2000. “We formalized the process a bit into something we call the Capacitor Lab,” she writes. “I use this process because it makes sense to me and it makes creating new work easier. The art is a side effect of trying to understand something outside of my area of expertise.”
To answer her specific question for this project she worked with neuroscientists at UCSF’s Neuroscape Lab who employed four advanced neuroimaging techniques:
• functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to create a representation of the surface anatomy of her brain
• Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), was utilized to capture the topology of her white matter tracts to create a 3D wiring diagram of her brain
• She wore a prototype high-density wireless EEG cap to monitor her brain activity while creating and performing choreographed segments of the work
• Customized mathematical models were employed to render an artistic visualization of her brain activity, called the Glass Brain technique
Reflecting on the process, Lomask writes, “I found it interesting to see my brain imaged. It seemed so small compared to how it feels.”
With the assistance of several media collaborators, Lomask then set out to transform her new data into an immersive, multi-sensorial visualization of the creative process called Synaptic Motion. The world premiere of this engaging performance took place at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on September 18th.
For four nights audiences were greeted with SciArt lectures in the grand lobby--scientists, engineers, and artists presented their takes on science, technology, and the creative process. As the performance hour neared, the audience filed into the theater to find a larger-than-life “neural forest.” Giant neurons, animated with changing neurological and geometric images, framed a central performance area. Seating was intentionally limited, and viewers were encouraged to move around and change perspectives frequently during the 70-minute performance. A unique cast of dancers, acrobats, contortionists, and aerialists performed the artistic interpretation of the brain during the creative process, how the brain experiences memories, of mirror neurons in action, and how we project our future selves. A particularly dramatic moment during the performance was when a work-specific acrobatic device was lowered from the ceiling and one of the performers climbed into it and, suspended in the air, demonstrated the concept of tensegrity—the structural principle based on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous tension.
At a post-show discussion, one YBCA-regular commented she felt she better understood how the brain worked during the creative process. What more could one hope for from a SciArt performance?
To see a video clip on the making of “Synaptic Motion” click here.