Plastic brains in the post-digital world by Gordana Novakovic/ I Found These Guys Inside of My Brain: My Self-Guided Tour of AIDS, Art, and Neuroscience by Sandra Langley/ Place in Mind: Towards A Dynamic Memory Palace by Adrianne Wortzel and Damon Loren Baker/ The neuro-logic of software art by William Hart/ Structuring Somnolence: sleep science technology as a medium for drawing with the body at rest by Lisa Carrie Goldberg/ Eliciting Compassion by Tina M Gonsalves
Saturday, 17 September, 2011 - 14:45 - 16:45
Chair Person: 
John McGhee
Gordana Novakovic
Sandra Langley
Adrianne Wortzel
Damon Loren Baker
William Hart
Lisa Carrie Goldberg
Tina Gonsalves

Plastic brains in the post-digital world

by Gordana Novakovic

The concept of neuroaesthetics has recently attracted attention, and this paradigm has opened an entirely new area in which both artists and neuroscientists look at the neurobiological basis of creating and experiencing the plastic arts. Mostly working within the scientific concept of the visual brain, neuroaesthetics is strongly focused on vision and static objects. But the area of contemporary artistic practice that neuroaesthetics leaves unexplored is that of multi-sensory experiences within the growing body of process-based arts enabled by digital technologies, in particular interactive art. These art forms, engaging multiple senses, operate in an entirely different conceptual, aesthetic, and methodological framework from traditional plastic arts by substituting objects with processes, and introducing a fundamental shift by replacing a passive observer with an active participant in the act of collective creation in network-based artistic concepts, or in an active role in the final unfolding of an art work in an interactive installation.

A possible new direction could be found within the science of brain plasticity, the study of the ways in which the brain can radically reconfigure itself under certain conditions. This has conclusively shown that the brain can no longer be regarded as a fixed, closed, passive receiver of information from the senses – a mere processor for the information that is controlling our body through a kind of one-way communication. We are now seeing the recognition of growing scientific evidence that the brain is in fact almost nakedly open to external influences, and is capable of rapid and radical change by these insights to be extended and explored in the context of art, perhaps in the ways outlined in my Manifesto for Neuroplastic Arts (Novakovic, 2007). But will neuroscience bring the final answers to all perception-related questions, including those arising from digitally enabled artefacts?

I Found These Guys Inside of My Brain: My Self-Guided Tour of AIDS, Art, and Neuroscience

by Sandra Langley

I am a social scientist by nature and training.  My work involved understanding and improving mental health, life experiences, and education.  I believed that science could advance the well-being of individuals and of societies. Two decades into my career and nearly as long since I was diagnosed HIV+, I started to notice changes in my behavior and in my abilities.  These were subtle and difficult to pinpoint and I kept them to myself; I told myself that if I tried harder, I could get my brain to function the way it always had.  I also knew that I couldn’t try harder; that was one of the problems:  I didn’t care or worry or remember as I should.  Or I did care but I could not will myself into actually taking action or completing what I set out to do.  I also began, uncharacteristically, to write unstructured prose and taking photographs of ordinary things I never noticed before.  I became less competent at managing my life.  I was ashamed and I was terrified. 

In this paper, I tell the story of how I pieced together what was happening in my brain through studying recent neuroscience journals. And I explain the comfort and resonance I found in some of the vocabulary of neuroscience (e.g. ‘inflammatory cascade’ and ‘dendritic pruning’ and ‘disinhibition’ and ‘prospective memory’).  And I explain how I studied images of my brain in trying to find what was wrong and how I found myself making art and seeing in new ways.

Place in Mind: Towards A Dynamic Memory Palace

by Adrianne Wortzel and Damon Loren Baker

What is the form of memory? Is it a place? Can we go there? What canwe bring back with us from this journey?

We propose to  devise a dynamic mnemonic structure that serves as a functioning model for visiting and re-visiting short and long term memory. The project is  being developed in collaboration with the Artificial intelligence Laboratory, University of Zurich, Switzerland and StudioBlue, NYC College of Technology, Brooklyn NY. This memory habitat will be based on morphology in nature related to robotics research in the AILab, and  a spatial mnemonic device, texts will be retrievable through virtual travel through the spaces in every direction, affording a journey through a sequence of texts that are responsive to their “neighbors.”  The machine would be built both as virtual in the AILab’s pre-existing Wonderland 3D virtual environment plus the Spatial Hypertext Editor under development at StudioBlue and also as a physical scaled architectural model.  .The content of this structure  will be diverse original and preexisting text fragments with relationship to their contexts. Language has become abbreviated, and as digital matter, broken down into tweet or text pulses. Our minds, histories, and imaginations situated in memory can potentially put forward a plethora of stories evolving over time. Fragmented texts, or phrases, will be re-purposed as “avatars” dynamically moving in relationship to each other and to the environment devised for them.

This paper will discuss interdisciplinary work on memory between psychologists, biologists, roboticists, neurologists, linguists and discuss archetypical models gleaned from those disciplines. This will include historical memory palaces, neural networks, linguistic structures, and biological systems.

The neuro-logic of software art

by William Hart

Fifteen years ago being and artist and the ability to program were considered mutually exclusive by the mainstream art establishment.  Now the study of the tools and techniques of software art are a standard part of the curriculum for many undergraduate art degrees.

Some artists have always been interested in expanding the boundaries and potentials of art by adopting new technologies, which at the time, have been treated with initially suspicion and then acceptance by the mainstream, and software art appears to be no exception.  However, in this paper, it is argued that art in which expression occurs through constructing code is a more significant shift in kind than the adoption of technologies such as photography into mainstream art practice in the 20th C.  This makes it worthy of greater scrutiny; developing a practice of software art is more involved than acquiring logical programming skills in one or more “creative” software environments. 

Art, in the context of this paper refers to processes by which materials are transformed to communicate experiences.  The relationships between “formal” and “natural” language; conscious agency and the creativity of the unconscious; free expression and near infinite permutation – are complex and difficult to define, but issues that lie at the core of any practice of software art.  Essentially, can “art” arise from within a well-defined ontology?

This paper draws upon readings across multiple disciples of linguistics, neuroscience and philosophy to sketch out an “open ended” unbounded approach to the expression of nebulous concepts through computer coding.  Touched upon are the Integrational linguistics of Roy Harris to reconsider the relationship between formal and natural language; the neuroscience of Antonio Damasio to conjecture about some of the mental processes used in art and coding; the “expanded mind” hypothesis of philosopher Andy Clark which extends the boundaries of cognition beyond the brain / body to include external artefacts, such as computers and artworks.

The author has an extended perspective on programming covering 30 years experience firstly as a physical scientist and for the past fifteen years as an artist, and in 2008 completed a PhD in software art. 

Structuring Somnolence: sleep science technology as a medium for drawing with the body at rest

by Lisa Carrie Goldberg

In December 2010, three volunteers participated in a two-week sleep study conducted by artist and experiment designer, Lisa Carrie Goldberg and administered by a certified sleep technician. It was through these nocturnal events that the process of employing the body and the mind during sleep as a means of art making was realised. Through her studies in sleep biology and sleep technology, Goldberg has found a disparity between the quantitative and qualitative analysis present in current sleep science practice, a field heavily driven by technological devices. Through the process of repurposing these sleep-measuring devices as drawing tools, Goldberg intends to subvert the sterile laboratory environment. This paper, therefore, will investigate the fields of sleep science and art. The first intention of this text is to present a brief overview of previous art forms that have used sleep as their central theme. By utilising the instruments and technologies of sleep research, a series of artworks has been created at SymbioticA, the art-science research centre, in conjunction with the Sleep Science Centre at the University of Western Australia. Named the Structuring Somnolence project, the artworks include a series of sleep study performances that occurred in a sleep laboratory in Perth, Australia, as well as a single sleep study performance that took place at Science Gallery in Dublin, Ireland. Within this text, a description of these sleep study performances will be positioned within a theoretical technoscientific discourse. Throughout this paper the nature of art-science collaborations is explored in order to suggest methods for producing drawings through the appropriation of scientific protocols. The paper outlines the procedures followed when embarking on an artistic endeavour within the framework of a research university, one in which, for example, human ethics approval is mandatory. The paper also explores the semantic crossovers between sleep science, art and architecture, as comparisons are made between Sleep Architecture and structural architecture. Structuring Somnolence is a synthesis of Goldberg’s research in sleep science and her artistic practice.

Eliciting Compassion: An artist in Residency at the Max Planke Institute

by Tina M Gonsalves

This paper will discuss my A.I.R, funded by the Australia Council’s inter arts board, at the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive & Brain Science in Leipzig, a prestigious neuroscience research center in Germany where I will be working with the director of the social neuroscience lab, Prof. Tania Singer (research area: role of trust, compassion and altruism in our lives). Among other renowned scientists, Singer also works with the Dalia Lama and his close circle exploring the biological effects of compassion meditation on the brain and body. The residency will follow the developments of longitudinal studies on the effects of compassion training on brain, health and behavior. Singer has been awarded a large European Research Council Grant (ERC): healthy individuals will receive extensive training over one year by professional instructors in empathy and compassion enhancing techniques. I will be immersed in Singer’s group, strategizing the best ways to monitor, document and elicit the psycho-physiological effects of this training using a range of methods (Video capture, sound capture, interviews, biopsychological markers, psychological and behavioral tests, 3T and 7T MRI scanners).

This is an important step in my work. Over the last five years, I have been studying social emotions such as empathy, mimicry, and emotional contagion via cross disciplinary and collaborative methods, creating psycho-physiological interactive art experiences, short films, papers and scientific visual databases. This residency will lead to a deep understanding of compassion and its associated human behaviors while incorporating a more holistic approach to knowledge (modern science and Buddhism). Compassion is a complex emotion as it requires a time investment: It requires a desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another.

The presentation/paper will be structured as follows: I will discuss the research of myself and Dr Singer, then discuss the artworks being produced and how they may work with in Dr Singers research remits. I will then discuss future works and collaborations.