Starting date 2014.03.18
Lyrica Artists Workshops
When dreams take place, brain activity resembles the awakened state, except that the thalamus, an ancient phylogenetic structure in the nervous system, isolates the brain activity from the environment, desensitizing the dreamer to noise and impeding, for instance, walking, if the dream involves walking.
Such isolation is not, however, total, and external stimuli sometimes filter into what happens in dreams. In order to establish a bridge between the EEG chart and the narrative of dreams, Nathalie experimented with the possibility of interfering in her dreams by means of external stimuli: sounds made while she slept. For 80 days, Nathalie charted her brain's electrical activity when dreaming. Roberto developed a computer program, called InDreams, to produce simple, short auditory stimuli, –for example, her own name or those of close acquaintances–, which might induce autobiographical memories to mix into the dream narrative.
Every time a stimulus became part of her dream narrative, an a posteriori correspondence was established between the EEG chart analysis and the narrative. We chose six examples to be represented in works that show the convergence of these two points of view: the objective EEG registry in contrast to the subjective narrative.
We visualized the analysis of each dream as a three-dimensional texture. For instance, the result of the spectral analysis of the EEG reading or the electrical force amplitude was recorded in bas-relief on wood through computer-controlled milling or digital laser cut-out. Along with this analysis, her dream narrative was recorded using digital laser cut-out, precisely showing where the objective and subjective viewpoints coincide.
Thus, each piece evinces the points of correspondence—but mostly the distance—between what the EEG chart analysis allows today’s science to learn about a dream and the dreamer’s subjective experience of it.
In an introduction to a 2010 series of talks on cognitive experiences in the realm of art, Mario Borillo wrote: “The universe of art is the supreme site for mental activity for both the creator and the spectator. An activity whose distinguishing mark appears to be the space devoted to the imagination, to dreams, to memory, to passions, to subjectivity’s flows. This universe, heretofore obdurate or inaccessible to the exigencies of scientific analysis, is beginning to make its way into the cognitive science field of study.”
During the creative process, an artist must, above all, inquire into the subjective experience of perception and—more or less consciously—ask in what ways it enables the construction of our relationship with the world. As Mario Borillo suggests, the study of this process situated at the physical-mental node is a task befitting neuroscience.
Global Mind Project, in Melbourne, Australia, is a multidisciplinary initiative that delves into consciousness and creativity by means of an interface between Emotiv EPOC EEG technology and software, which renders audio-visuals from neural data, going beyond the usual video art to become a real-time (performance) operating system. In 2010, Global Mind Project presented “The Spectacle of the Mind,” with the participation of Australian performance artists Stelarc, Domenico de Clario and Jill Orr.
This interest in the subjective experience as pure neurobiological phenomenon was also the topic of a symposium held in Venice in June 2011 and organized by the Association of Neuroesthetics, Berlin for the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Marino Golinelli Foundation. There, artist Ivana Franke in collaboration with neuroscientist Ida Momennejad, presented “Seeing with Eyes Closed,” inviting the public to enter into the piece by sitting with eyes closed in front of a strobe light for six minutes. The experience is almost hallucinatory, with participants perceiving colourful moving shapes, images that are neither situated on a screen nor properly in the mind. In reality, they are produced by the interaction between the body and the light stimulus. What is perceived depends on the individual, hence, the experience remains invisible, impossible to depict.
Inquiry into the effective content of the subjective experience of dreaming–the most ancient aesthetic activity, as Jorge Luis Borges concluded in his talk “The Nightmare”–is our project’s principal contribution to the field of art. The project aimed at overcoming the barriers preventing the display of the invisible subjective experience by utilizing the dreaming body to aid exterior observation.
Since 1996, Nathalie has been assiduously writing down her dreams, a daily exercise that has steadily increased her capacity to remember them. Just as she describes her dreams sans-interpretation, she subjected herself to analysis by the equipment, to compare the production of mental images rendered in writing with the images of brain activity obtained through the Emotiv EPOC EEG, in order to try to find meaning at the nexus of the two representations.
The work sought to insightfully confront what was revealed by the machine on its chart and the dream narration in its telling. These two accounts eventually ended up corroborating each other, thereby furnishing an enriched description of what occurred in the brain at the moment a new image emerged.
In addition to the artistic purposes, the 80-Days-in-Dreams Project experiment into the nexus between the subjective and objective factors of dreams aimed to make the findings public and available to the scientific community.
The 80 Days-in-Dreams Project was designed to observe dreams and attempt to stimulate them with a simple auditory device. Central to the study was the concordance between two apparently divergent means of displaying or depicting the dream experience for 80 consecutive days. The experience produced four registries:
• An EEG chart and its analysis
• A narrative diary of Nathalie’s memories of the dreams, to be examined as to whether stimuli applied during the sleep state filtered into what took place in the dream, in other words, if they are reflected in her diary account
• A personal diary that gives a succinct yet precise account of her daily activities
• Six bas-reliefs depicting six instances when the computer-produced auditory stimulus became incorporated into the dream plot
In writing about Bruce Nauman, Marcia Tucker describes our awareness of the world as, “the sum of our perceptions and of our physical, emotional and intellectual responses to our surroundings” (Art Forum 9 no. 4, New York, December 1970). In submitting her awareness of dreams to this experience, Nathalie has opened herself up to a new territory of observation.