This week I have been familiarizing myself with some of Diaa’s work. In a really cool paper, Diaa describes an interactive piece that allows a participant to interact with a manifestation of their own brain activity, in order to solve a puzzle. The experimental setup translates recorded electroencephalograph data to a combination of LED light frequencies in real time. The LEDs controlled in this manner illuminate holographic plates that only reveal their content when the frequency of the light matches the frequency used to record the hologram. By observation, participants realize the role of their brain activity and control it to reveal the holographic image, thus solving the puzzle.
This is a brilliant use of neurofeedback: Diaa’s procedure ensures that an artwork is viewed in full only if the participant is in the right state of mind. In a more general and abstract sense, it is a nice example where interaction with a representation of one’s own mental state alters the “reality” experienced.
Attempting to interpret Diaa’s work in physics terms, one could say that there is a physical system (the participant) comprised of a single degree of freedom (the participant’s mental state) that is quantized, i.e., allowed to take three values (corresponding to alpha, beta, and gamma waves) in a one-dimensional state space (the space of brain wave frequencies). Since the artwork aims to reveal a holographic image, there is an implicit bias towards a particular ground/target state (the gamma wave state). Through the activity, the physical system is expected to relax to its ground state stochastically (via a trial-and-error process).
In this language, Diaa’s puzzle becomes a stochastic optimization problem. Such problems are ubiquitous in science and range from trivial to extremely complex. One common complicating factor is the presence of many degrees of freedom. For example, in Diaa’s setup, this could be a second monitoring process of, say, the participant’s pulse. The participant would then have to not only be in the right mental state to reveal the hologram, but also in the right physical state. More interesting are cases where there are more than one participants in such a process. A simple example is Mindball, a game where two opponents aim to “out-chill” each other to win, as shown in the video below.
It is intriguing to think about collective phenomena that can emerge when the number of degrees of freedom (e.g., the number of participants) is further increased. This leads to many questions. In the context of art, could one perhaps design collective experiences or “realities” by feeding a real-time representation of the collective mental state to the participants? On the scientific side, can one perhaps exploit such collective phenomena to solve problems, using some sort of “parallel” gamification? Could interaction with some representation of one’s thought process while solving a problem accelerate the solution? These are examples of things I am looking forward to discuss more with Diaa.
At last our skype meeting, Stefanos and me raised controversial questions regarding the meaning of reality. Thus in this week I am going to draft some points must be considered;
From a perspective of a contemporary Artist, Kristina Ask wrote:
“Art is tested at the boundary between reality and truth. From an aesthetic perspective, a falsehood can contain more truth than reality. For art, reality is an uninteresting phenomenon where concretizations and crisscrossing connections occur willy-nilly. Art can be said to exist in the sphere of truth, in defiance of reality.”
Within the context of her quote, Kristina Ask shaded light on a very radical question about the differences between “reality” and “truth” - as they can represent two sides of a knowledge band- and how the Art ranging between these two sides.
Although Kristina raised this statement in somewhat general sense, I would like to reinterpret her quote within the context of my accurate specialization (Sciences of visual Arts and New-Media Arts).
The hidden statement in this quote may damage credibility given to the old assumption that “the first purpose of art is to reproduce nature and life,” in which very old and traditional artistic trends were aiming to mimic visual reality within pictorial sense.
On the other hand, it lends credibility to the assumption that “the first purpose of New-Media arts and experimental arts is to investigate, examine, and reveal the truth of all aspects of our nature and life.”
This is considered a core shift from mimicking reality to investigate the truth of that reality, while the first refers to the field/sphere/realm which you visit in order to check an empirical statement, the second is an attribute to a statement - the information that this statement can or has been verified.
Within this context, Interactive, generative, or experimental artworks shift their focus from the visual entity of the artwork to the processes themselves used in order to produce this artwork.
Since this shift has been adopted, the artistic practices-based research became veiled to be used, on the other hand, within scientific investigations.
At the royal academy of the Arts London, the exhibition entitled (From pencil and paper to virtual reality: working from life today) shows how today’s artists are rethinking of reality in innovative, unexpected ways, in which artistic creation processes are rebuilt virtually.
For me, I have been integrated in several scientific inquiries in order to build neural, physical, and biological setup systems that can examine several scientific concepts and the truth of their reality instead of only its reality. In this way –like my residence mate Stefanos wondered - I believe that one can embed the solution of some hard science problems into the processes built through artistic practices-based research.