Brain art

Brazilian film director together with neuroscientist create an installation art controlled directly by the brains of the spectators
The time has come when there is no need to grab a brush or even move a finger to make art. Art work made directly by the force of the mind is a reality today. One example is the audiovisual installation art created by the Brazilian film director Fernando Meirelles — acclaimed for
City of God (Cidade de Deus) and Blindness (Ensaio sobre a Cegueira) — together with the Brazilian neuroscientist Álvaro Dias, researcher at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp). They have developed an immersive installation art where the public makes the art happens using their brains connected to electroencephalography (EEG) equipment.  

The installation, called Videowave, is composed of three EEG helmets connected to a computer, a cinema screen and speakers. The EEG records the brain activity of the people who are using it and then send the information to the computer. A software created just for the project interprets the intentional brain signals and, according to its intensity, projects abstract images on the screen and plays instrumental sounds as well. The higher the brain activity, the faster the images appear on the screen and then louder sounds are played.

The videoart only works if three people are using the helmets together. Each person controls one graphic element and one musical instrument. When all of them reach the final level completing the screen with drawings and making the music as loud as possible, the sound of a guitar plays announcing that it is done.

“The technology is important in this project, but more important than this is the deep surrender and commitment that people experience when it is going on”, says Dias. “It is an art work that depends on the social contract. Or everyone is participating actively or it is pointless. If one person is into it and the others are not, the art work doesn’t get finished.”

The installation dissolves the boundary between spectator and participant . The people who are watching it are the ones who make it happens. The neuroscientist believes that the installation art breaks out some art paradigms. “There is a profound discussion about the active participant versus the spectator in the art field”, he points out. “Usually, the installation uses buttons as a way of interaction with the public, but it is a false solution to this problem. Our work requires genuine participation by using the brain.”

For now, the installation art was set only once in the art institute Inhotim, a giant park where art works shares the space with nature in Minas Gerais, Brazil. In the launch day, another Brazilian neuroscientist, Sidarta Ribeiro, professor at the Brain Institute at Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), was one of the first people to try it.

“First, I doubted that the interaction between the biological signs of the brains and a computer would work. But after trying to control the images in the screen and the sounds I was convinced that it was actually my brain that was in charge”, Ribeiro tells. “I felt my whole body pulsating, an entirely new sensation. When the work was finished and the screen was filled, the emotion was so strong that I reached a point of ecstasy and then I cried.”

The science behind the art
The art work was only possible because of the scientific effort of Dias and his colleagues. The neuroscientist says that he spent months studying a way to detect the brains signals linked to intentionality and more months to develop a software to take those signals and correlates them to images and sounds. “The scientific work was huge”, he points out.

According to Dias his installation is the first one in the world to use multiple EEG to make art. “We created a brain-machine interface that is controlled by several people simultaneously. It requires a complex software because one brain signal interferes with another”, he explains. “We have made the first demonstration of social EEG in history.”


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