Interstitial Stitches

 
 

 

I aim to build work that bridges gaps between the study of human experience in the neurosciences and the creation of human experience in the arts. Art that engenders and organizes self-reflection is experimental phenomenology--thus brain science. In turn, science that lays bare questions which have heretofore been hidden by answers, as James Baldwin said, is art. My work creates spaces where boundaries blur between science and art, reverence and irreverence, the many vocabularies within and without. Pieces that question the futures we are building as scientists and engineers, that perform inquiry that may not yield to objective investigation, and that repurpose technology for play and probing outside the bounds and demands of utility.

Apart from these projects aiming to bridge ideas, I need to bridge peoples and silos: My last year at MIT has involved serving as the Creative Lead of MIT Hacking Arts, the lead Curator for the Algorithmic Justice League at the Boston MFA, the Creative in Residence at MIT's OpenMind:OpenArt Gallery, and the co-founder of an artist's collective linking 6 labs across campus, the HotMilks Foundation. My work has been shown at Cannes Film Festival, SXSW, SF MOMA's Open Space, the National Academy of Sciences, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the MIT Compton Arts Gallery, Harvard's metaLAB, Rainbow Unicorn Gallery, Berlin's ACUD and on 60 Minutes.

 

Dormio

This project, Dormio, exists across sleep neuroscience and performance art: it uses biometrics to track sleep stages and look for moments of increased susceptibility to dream influencing on the precipice of unconsciousness. Using this system, we can put people in touch with their most abstracted, fluid versions of themselves, the state of mind where prefrontal cortex function diminishes and fluidity takes over. We can influence dreams, turn memories into metaphor, turn logic into poetry. We create performances in which dreams are audibly shared between sleeping and waking persons in real time, as with the performance below. We write papers showing inception of early stage dreams, and augmentation of human creativity by extracting dream content. This project allows a linking of worlds, a bridge across interior and exterior, art and science, observer and observed, conscious and unconscious. 

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Digital Divining Rod

This project is inspired by the pseudoscientific practice of 'Divining', or 'Dowsing', in which practitioners watch their own subtle hand movements as they walk to locate deep subterranean water sources. Psychological investigation of dowsers suggests these 'water witches' already know the locations, but unconsciously in their bodies, not consciously in their brains. The practice of revealing micro-gestures in the hand to investigate water amounts to a form of embodied self-examination.  I took inspiration from this practice to create a kinetic sculpture responding to Seymour Papert's famous dictum, "you can't think about thinking without thinking about thinking of something". In it, participants reveal their subtle hand movements as they look up at a tree, creating unique alterations in portraiture even as they claim to hold their hands still. Are these hand movements their embodied understanding of the concept tree, revealed in subtle hand movements? Or simply an artistic fingerprint?

In Digital Divining Rod, science and art intersect allowing new, material inquiries into our subconscious cognition. How can we think about things we know but do not know we know? I create an interactive sculpture for thinking about thinking without thinking about thinking. Here people can encounter their subconscious through physical, digital, and environmental sleight of hand. They can discover their unconscious, embodied knowledge and think about thinking about nothing. An artistic agitation of a scientific challenge.

 

The Blank Canvas

A bridge between the worlds of neuroscience and animation to tell an immersive, accurate scientific story about content ranging from oncolytic virotherapy to optogenetics that transcends scale. The Blank Canvas is a platform for VR science storytelling. Exponential potential for learning about microscopic worlds on an infinite virtual canvas. Biology is inspiring, but often happens on scales so small they are incomprehensible on paper--which is where VR comes in. Our mission was to make science media as cool and illuminating as the science behind it...see it here and learn more here!

Shown at the World Economic Forum, Cannes Film Festival 2017, UniteSXSW, premiered at VR Sci Fest. Powered by Unity, Houdini and two other storyteller engineers Boo Aguilar and Peehalho Magalhaes.

 

Filling What Was Empty

Historically, cognitive science has learned so much about our normal functioning by investigating aberrant brains from the 3rd person perspective. Historically, art has taught us so much by allowing us 1st person glimpses into worlds and sights distinct from our own. Filling What Was Empty, done with the unique brain of Neil Harbisson, bridges both kinds of work.

I brought Neil to give a workshop on the limits of perception, and his history bending those limits incorporating audio into his visual system and curing his color blindness. I got to test that incorporation scientifically, submitting him to the low-pressure sodium light shown below--a reliable way to create the illusion of grayscale in typically-sighted people--that failed with him due to his continuous audio signaling.  

Neil's antenna is an illustration of the constant sense-making and new pattern incorporation that the brain excels at. I wanted to give an experiential, artistic sense of this experience. The brain, in the absence of stimuli, attempts sense-making of nothingness, so we hallucinate patterns and can see mechanisms of sense-making--allowing people to perceive their own mechanisms of perception. People subjected to uniform empty light fields, called the Ganzfeld, begin to see pattern emerge.  A darkness darker than dark. An emptiness filled only by the brain.

I worked with Oscar Rosello to turn the Ganzfeld into a performance piece at Media Lab, taking 30 people through the experience. For Berlin's Transmediale Festivale, Oscar and I created a projection art piece below documenting this performance. Shown at Harvard metaLAB, Berlin's ACUD and Rainbow Unicorn Gallery. See show here.

Purposeful Play

Bridging multiple programs and 7 different MIT labs, I founded an artist's collective building installation art and performance art around Cambridge and Boston: The HotMilks Foundation. Since our inception 1 year ago, we have been commissioned 6 separate times by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, building pieces linking science and the arts, as well as building uncommissioned pop-up performances around MIT. Projects Affective Spa, Partition and Cat Café detailed below:

The Affective Spa

A performance piece, The Affective Spa, in which neuroscience and art converge to transform the art experience. We skip the unpredictability of the aesthetics and instead induce the art experience directly with emotional induction techniques from brain science. We are, after all, quantified selves, measured and measuring. Affect and artistic aura are not immune to mechanical reproduction. And yet the many techniques used to create certain emotions in neuroscience laboratories, to study fear, joy, nostalgia and more, have never left the laboratory to engender emotion in an art context. Here we create and perform a future in which vibratory, auditory, light-based, tactile and embodiment-based neuroscientific induction techniques make us feel the way art feels without any need for the art object itself. Read more here. A Menu and Manifesto for The Affective Spa is shown below. Piece commissioned by the Boston MFA, and co-created with the Hotmilks Foundation. 

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Partition

The body knows so much. Inaudible infrasound vibratory communication <20 Hz is a method of communication throughout the animal kingdom, and infrasound vibration is known to have pronounced emotional effects on humans. What can vibrations shake loose within us? This piece folds this nascent science question into a performance, asking a question of relation and empathy, to audience and one another. How can we make each other feel, go beyond language to pure embodied emotion, how can we communicate entirely honestly? 

Sit on the bench and be shaken by a friend's heartbeat. By laughter, and sobbingSit across from a lover, and whisper secrets into the microphone. Each will be translated into vibrations in real time. Your partner will feel whatever you cannot bring yourself to say to them, what they cannot hear but nevertheless can understand. Make them feel. Many thanks the Hotmilks Foundation and Council for the Arts at MIT for making it happen, and the Boston MFA for commissioning and hosting us. More here and here.

Partition: Vinyl, benches @ 90", Buttkicker transducer sonic shaker, MaxMSP, microphone, participants, secrets

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Uncanny Cat Café

An exploration of the uncanny notion that memories in the brain are entirely malleable, that history is more workable material than static foundation. A cat café populated by robotic cats and waitresses from the future, where childhood toys (veridical memories) are cut into parts by attendees and reassembled into chimeric, animatronic futures (remembered memories). A menu full of options like switches, pacer motors and programmable voice boxes to animate these forgotten toys. Make your own memory monster, just as we daily unconsciously make our own memories. See here.

Attendees made their own futures, rewriting old toys' histories together. As the MFA openly tries to transition from a place of preservation, of memory, of static frames, into a space for community and dialogue and futuring, so must the objects within transform from memories into material again. Many thanks to the Hotmilks Foundation, the MFA and CAMIT for making this project possible.

This piece was re-commissioned, with alterations, to coincide with the the Boston MFA's opening of Takashi Murakami's work, shown below. Hotmilks Foundation again are co-creators here. 

Cat Café
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MIT Hacking Arts Signature Hack

Fictional Animals Operated By Thousands of People Online

A series of engineered animals, one a robotic swarm and another a single organism, controlled by the invisible workers behind Amazon Mechanical Turk and Twitter sentiment analysis, respectively. Animating ambiguous, emergent life forms from the immaterial. A kinetic sculpture investigating the questions raised by semi-conscious AI, by humans hidden behind an internet facade, by technology that is increasingly integrated with our bodies and minds. What is conscious, what is collective, what is organic, and what is purely technological?

For the Signature Hack of MIT Hacking Arts 2018 I assembled a dream team of friends from MIT to work with the amazing artist Agnieszka Kurant and execute this project overnight. See it all here! Read more about our team and work here! Shown at Nicolas Bourriad's La Panacée, SFMOMA's online collection, and at Harvard metaLAB's AI + Art Group. Living on in the ether evermore. Many thanks to CAMIT for their support.