This piece is part of our Dimension Defying Series, in which we explore artists who, like the Marvel character Doctor Strange, transcend physical, dimensional, perceptual, and conceptual limitations.
Recent revolutions in technology have made it possible for scientists to gain unprecedented insights into the human mind. Yet despite all of the remarkable advances in neuroscience, the brain remains as magnificently mysterious as ever, and few are better equipped to examine this paradox than artists. Creative individuals possess the curiosity and the drive to investigate the implications of scientific breakthroughs, using mechanisms of the brain not just as subjects in their art practices, but also as tools with the help of the electroencephalogram (EEG).
Luciana Haill's early experience with viral meningitis led to an intense interest in gray matter, and her use of the EEG as a creative medium spans more than two decades. Through digital and analog installations as well as the traditional discipline of drawing, Haill investigates the brain's activity during the state immediately preceding sleep, and looks at how EEGs can reflect various states of consciousness.
Haill’s work is deeply influenced by surrealism and Beat philosophy, in particular, William S. Burroughs' friend and colleague, Brion Gysin. Gysin invented the Dreamachine, a cylinder with holes cut out and equipped with an interior light bulb. The device rotated atop a turntable while audience members closed their eyes and experienced the pulsating emanations of light, which transformed into an all-encompassing, near-hallucinogenic visual symphony. Haill has taken Gysin's experiment further by recording the neural oscillations of participants experiencing the classic Dreamachine.
"I can’t predict what levels of EEG speed and amplitude I will record from the brain of someone in the audience or in one of my sleep sessions," Haill tells The Creators Project. She has measured unusually high brain activity during exercises that were designed to be therapeutic, for instance—just one of the surprising things she says she loves most about working with brainwaves.
New York-based visual artist Lia Chavez has created a method by which viewers can witness the interrelation between their own brainwaves and the vibrations that create sound and light. For her interactive and multidisciplinary installation The Octave of Visible Light: A Meditation Nightclub, Chavez directs electrical impulses in the brain to engineer fully immersive sounds and fleeting light works. Inspired by the visions of paradise in Dante's The Divine Comedy, the atmosphere is an homage to Sir Isaac Newton's frequency theories, as well as an exploration of the therapeutic effects of bioresonance.
Audiences wear headsets designed to record brain activity as Chavez provides guided meditation. The EEG headsets translate and transfer the signals to an A/V system via Bluetooth, which then reflects the intensity of the brainwaves through color and sound. More relaxed brainwaves yield a broader span of vibrations. The Octave of Visible Light isn't the first time Chavez has examined the interrelation between the senses and visual art: she’s painted while blindfolded, wearing earplugs in her project Carceri, and most recently, composed a sequence of optics that represent her visions while in deep meditation in Light Body.
Suzanne Dikker is a cognitive neuroscientist and Matthias Oostrik is a computer artist and software developer who also specializes in interaction design. Together, the two have worked on projects that use neuroscience to investigate the evasive nature of human interaction. Their collaboration, the Mutual Wave Machine (MWM), is equal parts experiment and artistic installation, seeking to understand the mechanisms behind the successful synchronization between two people's sets of brainwaves. A pair of individuals is confined to a modular space, with an audiovisual concert of concurrent brain activity. Increased synchronization is reflected as more colorful and clear, whereas discordance is displayed in a comparatively dark and unpleasant manner. Meanwhile, audiences can sense what's happening with the machine through sounds and by viewing the silhouette of the exchange between the two people through the capsule.
"We enjoy our collaborative art/science practice because it is inspiring and challenging, and it enriches our individual work in our respective fields of expertise," Dikker tells The Creators Project.
Doctor Strange is in theaters November 4. Get tickets here.
This content was paid for by the advertising partners and was created in collaboration with VICE creative services, independently from The Creators Project editorial staff.