I had a telekinetic experience last Friday night. Past the $3 suggested donation wine, around Danish-born artists Louise Foo and Martha Skou's wall-mounted augmented reality sculpture, Format No. 1, and through the crowd which had formed just four minutes after the doors had opened on the opening night of SYNAESTHETICS, a two-part "trans-sensory" art exhibit at Williamsburg's Reverse Space, my alpha, beta, delta, and theta brainwaves created ripples in 48 shallow pools of water thanks to Lisa Park's interactive installation, Eunoia II.
Seeing Park's work in videos, and even hearing her talk about it (read here and here), but trying it out in person is a world away from watching on a computer screen. The idea behind the installation is that our brainwaves have a direct effect on our physical bodies, which are about 60% water. By interpreting brainwave scanner data as sound and playing through speakers connected to shallow pools of water, Park creates a symbolic visualization of our mind's power over matter. As she pressed the cold metal sensor of the Bluetooth-enabled EEG headset to my forehead and clipped another to my earlobe, most of the bass-driven speakers sprang to life, sending powerful ripples through the 40 of the 48 hexagonally-arranged pools of water that compose the piece.
Try as I might, the last 8 pools wouldn't budge. While my headset wirelessly sent signals based on my brainwaves to the two outer rings of water, a second brain scanner controls the eight innermost speakers, thanks to a new feature Park has been developing at art incubator NEW INC., in the time since Eunoia II's debut. She's changed the experience from a solitary one to something that requires a partner to complete. "I want to try it with couples," Park tells me, explaining the new setup. "If they're on the same wavelength, the vibrations should be the same."
Eunoia II now visualizes the intricacies of a relationship instead of one person's emotional state, but as a stranger donned the second EEG, I quickly learned from our wildly different vibrations how difficult it is to be on the same wavelength. I couldnt help it as I jumped between pleasant thoughts about how cool the installation was and stress-inducing contemplations about how strange it felt to see my thoughts on display for dozens of art enthisiasts I've never met. The vibrations immediately spiked at this thought, and I had to calm myself to get them back to respectable levels.
You can see those spikes, as well as more of my brainwave activity, thanks to another feature Park has been developing, an infographic generator called "Eudaimonia." The EEG is attached to an iPad, which simultaneously sends sounds to the speakers and—through a custom app creative technologist Jihyun Lee designed for the exhibition—visualizes the brainwave patterns I generated during my turn. Above, the resultant image of my data, overlaid over my partner's for comparison, was posted to the Eudaimonia Instagram.
From my experience at the helm of a brainwave controlled machine—even one as abstract as Eunoia II—it seems that there's still a lot of progress to be made in EEG analysis technology: the current hardware lends itself well to amorphous projects like music generation, brainwave visualizers, and beautifully-designed telekinetic switches, but I can't imagine controlling robots or mechanized wearables quite yet. The Emotiv EEG scanners that Park uses are both inexpensive and effective, and the pools of water gave form to my mental aerobics, but I'm sure that more nuance would be possible with more expensive equipment—something that may become scalable in the coming years.
Regardless, I controlled water with my thoughts in 2015, and learned that I should be less stressed about life to boot—people can now tell these things pretty easily. Score one for brainwave scanners, and score two for the art.