NEUROAESTHETICS, NEUROLOGICAL DISORDERS AND CREATIVITY

21 02 2009

By HERVÉ-PIERRE LAMBERT

Neurology of the arts or neuroaesthetics is a new branch of neurology especially concerned by neuropsychology of visual artistic production and cerebral localisation of musical perception and musical memory (Seki, 1999; Rose, 2004; Chatterjee, 2004; Bogousslavky & Boller, 2005). Among the different activities the new field of research is gathering, such as study of pictorial representation of neurological symptoms in the art history, diagnosis of artists’neurological diseases, this article will focus on the study of relations between cognitive disabilities for neurological disorders and artistic production by visual artists. Neurological deficits can change the work in content or in style, but can be used also as sources of inspiration, especially in the case of epilepsy and migraine. But some final diagnosis remain controversial as regards for instance the nature of the disease of Ravel, Van Gogh, or Giorgio de Chirico, (Bogousslavky & Boller, 2005) or even De Kooning. According to Anjan Chatterjee (2004) writing about the breakdown of the visual representations: “The work produced by artists who have suffered from brain damage can contribute to our understanding of these representations“(p.1568) and it is also the opinion of Bogousslavky and Boller (2005):

It is also striking to observe how a localized damage to the brain or other nervous structures has led to subtle or dramatic changes in creativity and artistic production in famous artists. The study of how a neurological disorder can alter productivity in recognized artists and other creative people is a largely unexplored field. (p. VIII )

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HERVÉ-PIERRE LAMBERT

21 02 2009

photo 139138

Dr Hervé-Pierre LAMBERT, French, 1959, Member of the Centre de Recherches en Littérature et Poétique Comparées, Université Paris-X Nanterre, www.littérature-poétique.com/, hplambert(at)hotmail.com

Member of SFLGC, CERLI, SLSA, CIEF. Several publications about consciousness studies, bio-art, posthuman imaginary, South/South cultural relations, oriental religions, anthropology, politics and culture.





METROPOLIS: AN EXTREME AND HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT

15 01 2009

by GORDANA NOVAKOVIC

We do not need to go into space, or to the ocean depths, to study cognition in extreme and hostile environments. The digital revolution has changed the nature of our perceptual processes, and this in turn has changed our conscious experience of the physical world, inducing changes in cognition on a scale that is still unknown. The contemporary metropolis is now dominated by aggressive and emissive digital technologies, and has itself become an environment that is both extreme and hostile. This paper will use some recent findings in neuroscience both to examine the mechanisms by which our brains and minds are being affected by this new environment, and also to propose an artistic response.

We already understand many ways in which advanced technologies have changed the city (Castells, 2000; Sassen, 2001). Spatially, a contemporary Metropolis in constant expansion swallows nearby villages and towns, losing its boundaries. Through a virtual stream of data, digital technologies now interconnect metropolises into a Global City, merging time and space, reframing communication and perception. It is a commonplace that yesterday’s themes of science fiction are today’s reality. Citizens united into virtual communities, regardless of their geographical location, work with distant collaborators, communicate with distant friends, make love with distant lovers, work at home for distant companies, socialise by engaging with massive online interfaces. Impersonal digital communication, even between people physically close to each other, produces a different perception of being and time, and new forms of alienation: a virtual world with telepresent persons. A non-linear stream consisting of snap-shots of reality alternating with virtuality produces a vertiginous dual-presence, a paradox of simultaneous presence and absence.

More fundamentally, as inhabitants of the modern city we are in constant interaction, both active and passive, with digital technology. At home, we are surrounded by screens and displays: television, home video, computer, digital phone, cell phone, cooker, clock… Television is telling us what we are supposed to know, how to live, love and think; politics, world catastrophes and advertisements are all fused into a cacophony. When we physically move around the city, we are followed by ghostly images of ourselves on CCTV systems in vehicles and shops. Through RFID smartcards and touch-screens, we communicate with a colossal impersonal network of interlinked data-bases, facilitating dehumanised services, but at the same time collecting our personal data, putting together digital jigsaws to form our virtual portrait behind the captured images. Our access to reality – or rather to a hyperreality as defined by Baudrillard (1995) – is always the screen.

Some of the most radical insights into the essence of the problems arising from the digital revolution come from the controversial media critic Paul Virilio (1995, 2005). Virilio describes the economical and political origins and aspects of the digital revolution, and its socio-political effects, particularly globalisation and global militarization, mediated perception and the new forms of alienation. He paints a dark and accurate picture of the current world, with an even darker vision of the potential future: ‘One day the day will come when the day won’t come’. His disturbing, dramatic warnings about the potential remodelling of humans by means of technology carry a strong message and call for a revolt against the tyranny of real time interactivity and media, questioning the ethics of both the arts and the sciences. But of course, issues similar to these have been explored across all art disciplines, from Fritz Lang’s prophetic Metropolis onwards. An increasing number of artists working with technology, often in close collaboration with scientists, are investigating and experimenting with the phenomena arising directly from the interplay between our senses and technology – for example, Stelarc through his concepts of obsolete bodies and exoskeletons (Marquard Smith, 2007), Char Davis with her pioneering bio-feedback VR (McRobert, 2007), Rainer Linz analysing the physiological aspects of electronic music (Linz, nd), and Margaret Dolinsky using digital art to study cognitive recognition and perceptual shifts (Dolinsky, nd).

Advanced technologies have also contributed to the emergence of an entirely new ecology both within and beyond the visual and auditory spectra. For instance, our bodies are now bathed in and constantly absorbing the emissions from an ocean of invisible waves of different kinds produced by new wireless technologies – mobile phones, Bluetooth, WiFi, WiMax, etc. We know a lot about the potentially damaging effects of urban noise, and perpetual artificial light, but we are still ignorant of the possible effects of so-called electrosmog (Electrosensitivity UK, nd; but see Eltiti et al., 2007). We can put blinds on the windows to stop light pollution, or wear ear plugs to protect ourselves from noise, but our buildings, our bodies, and our brains are still open to constantly increasing levels of non-ionising radiation. We know neither the nature nor the effects of these changes, which are happening on a scale and at a speed that have never before occurred, and we do not yet know for sure whether, and how, they might influence our cognition.

It is clear that we should look to science for the answer to these questions, but with very few exceptions, mainstream science has ignored the possible cognitive consequences of these dramatic environmental changes. For example, the majority of scientists investigating perception, particularly within the discipline of neuroscience, still refer to the ‘real world’ as a constant, an axiom, unchanged through time; however, the present-day real world, saturated by digital technology, differs fundamentally from that of even a decade ago. But there is a further problem within neuroscience itself: the dominant doctrine, recognising slow evolutionary processes as the only way for qualitative changes to happen in a species, has combined with the established view that the brain is a closed and static system with fixed locations for particular functions, leaving no space to consider changes occurring within periods of ten years – or even less. It is thought that we come into this world with a genetically predetermined design for the brain, with exact locations for different functions, and that this structure remains constant throughout our lives. If someone happens to lose the function of one or more of the locations due to illness or injury, this damage and the consequences, quite often devastating, can be expected to remain for the rest of his life.

But there is hope. Over many years, a small number of scientists have been breaking out of this rigid context to show that the brain is not a closed, unchangeable system. 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 remodelling itself through learning and interaction with the environment. The field of neuroscience is now yielding evidence that may revolutionise not only the science of cognition, but also the wider view of the relationship between humans and the environment, and ultimately the role and nature of culture. 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. Rather, it is intrinsically plastic, in a process of constant change and growth through its interaction with the environment, and through a variety of learning processes.

The history of this new strand in neuroscience has its origins in examples of initially tragic personal cases ending with what appear almost as miraculous recoveries, mainly due to combinations of inspired clinical insight and individual determination. It is certainly too extensive and complicated a matter to be reviewed adequately in this brief paper, but we can pick out one or two of the pioneers. The late Dr. Paul Bach-Y-Rita was one of the first neuroscientists to work on what is now called neuroplasticity. His approach was not just theoretical, but practical: he worked closely with technical experts to construct electronic devices that would enable the brain of a patient with severe neurological problems to recover the lost functions. His key method was to provide the patient’s brain with the missing information through a different sensory channel. His earliest work (Bach-Y-Rita et al., 1969) provided blind people with ‘visual’ information by transferring a camera image to the patients’ skin using an array of vibrating needles, and his success led to his widely-quoted concept of ‘seeing with the brain’ (Bach-Y-Rita et al., 2003).

One of his most spectacular recent cases (in Doidge, 2007) was a young, dynamic and successful woman who, because of the side effects of a clinical drug, lost 95% of her vestibular system – the brain area that normally controls balance. This meant that she constantly experienced the sensation of falling – even after she had actually fallen down. This unbearable condition had led her to the edge of suicide when she heard of Bach-Y-Rita and his strange electronic devices. To help her, Bach-Y-Rita constructed a miniature electronic device that provided her brain with replacement balance signals (from an accelerometer) via a thin plastic strip on her tongue. Within minutes, she managed to stand upright. Even more remarkably, the recovery of function persisted for a while after the device was removed! Bach-Y-Rita’s explanation is that the device had also enabled new connections to form in previously unused pathways between the surviving parts of her vestibular system. Of course, the time to fully develop the lost sense without the constant help of the device took many months, but it happened, and the device is no longer needed. What is astonishing here is not only the nature of the ‘implant’, which essentially encourages and enables the brain to rewire itself, but also the speed with which the change occurs.

We also now have a wealth of scientific evidence that shows that the way in which we use and exercise our brains really does matter. Another neuroplasticity pioneer, the neuroscientist Michael Merzenich, argues that learning and practising certain skills can rapidly change hundred of millions of connections in our brain, improving and speeding up a wide variety of cognitive abilities (Merzenich, nd; also in Doidge, 2007). His experiments over the years have delivered strong arguments against the idea of fixed functions in fixed locations in the brain. He has been particularly active in discovering how new learning can stimulate the brain to counteract age-related deterioration, or the effects of serious brain injury, or language impairment in children. Perhaps importantly, he has found that the most powerful way of delivering the learning tasks is through the use of digital technology: the speed and flexibility of his interactive computer-based training scheme enable the delivery of more effective rewards, in turn speeding up the rate of learning.

So what are the implications of all this for our concerns about the digitally-enabled metropolis? As it turns out, the neuroscientists themselves are well aware of some of the potential issues. In his recent book on neuroplasticity, The Brain that Changes Itself, the Canadian author Norman Doidge seems to offer a roadmap for future connections between disciplines grounded in neuroplasticity. In his chapter ‘The Culturally Modified Brain’ he writes:

“As we use an electronic medium, our nervous system extends outwards, and the medium extends inwards. […] Because our nervous system is plastic, it can take the advantage of this compatibility and merge with the electronic media, making a single, larger system. Indeed, it is the nature of such systems to merge whether they are biological or man-made.” (Doidge, 2007, p 311)

In the case of an electronic device playing the role of a substitute for a lost capacity, or as an assistant in its regeneration, our body’s response can take a dramatic form, because the way in which electronic and digital devices transmit information is in essence quite similar to the basic function of our nervous system – the almost instantaneous transmission of electrical impulses. Due to its capacity for plastic changes, our nervous system easily re-wires itself and makes use of this alternative nervous system. In a passage that could have come from Peter Watkins (Watkins, nd; see also Novakovic, 2003), Doidge (2007) notes that it is actually the form of electronic media, and not so much the content, that affects our cognitive processes:

“It is the form of the television medium – cuts, edits, zooms, pans and sudden noises – that alters the brain, by activating what Pavlov called the ‘orienting response’, which occurs whenever we sense a sudden change in the world around us, especially a sudden movement. […] The response is physiological […]”  (p309, italics in original))

Elsewhere, Merzenich emphasises the unprecedented opportunities that now exist for digital technologies to affect our brains:

“The internet is just one of those things that contemporary humans can spend millions of ‘practice’ events at, that the average human a thousand years ago had absolutely no exposure to. Our brains are massively remodelled by this exposure – but so, too, by reading, by television, by modern electronics, by contemporary music, by contemporary ‘tools’, etc” [Merzenich, in Olsen (2005)].

Because we now have this scientific evidence that interaction with electronic media not only affects our perception and cognition, but can produce rapid and irreversible changes in our brains, the extreme and hostile nature of the technology-saturated metropolis confronts and challenges humanity with a set of serious problems. However, as far as I am aware, the true nature and extent of the influence of the modern urban environment, whether private, public, or workspace, has not yet been the subject of an in-depth scientific analysis. We can, of course, exercise choice even in the face of the onslaught of the city – but neuroplasticity also tells us that the extent to which we shape our own lives through the ways we choose to use our brains is far larger than we once thought it was. Both the creation of the city and the creation of our own behaviour patterns within the city means that we bear the responsibility for introducing changes that could lead to the creation of a new kind of human that has never existed before.

It is clear that as artists we must continue to engage with this theme, although we know that this is a difficult task in this age of immaturity, kindergarten states and the hyperreality of the profit-driven post-digital revolution. For artists, however, there may be problems closer to home. This new understanding of cognitive processes is warning us that experiencing art, and especially electronic art, or technology-enabled art, is far from being an innocently entertaining or aesthetically pleasing experience extending for a limited period of time. The disturbing evidence of neuroplasticity raises the possibility that experiencing particular forms of art may itself affect and mark our cognition – perhaps with irreversible and unknown changes. But of course we cannot abandon technology: we must instead seek a deeper understanding of its effects on humanity by looking at all its aspects, positive, negative, and unknown. And here, the dramatic shift in neuroscience brings with it a fascinating opportunity to explore and analyse the effects of electronic media through scientifically informed art, which could give rise to an entirely new art form: neuroplastic art. The concept of neuroplastic art opens a future for scientifically articulate artists and artistically articulate scientists to work closely together, with a full awareness of both the potential and the danger that emerges from the parallels between the nature of our nervous system and the characteristics of digital technology and electronic media. It may be possible to structure art works according to new scientific evidence, and to fuse scientific knowledge with imagination to exploit the nature of electronic media to create platforms for experiences that have never existed before. Bringing together the scientists’ knowledge about the brain, and our knowledge of the properties of electronic media, we can envisage art works that will become in a way tuneable complex instruments, serving both art and science. Only then will imagination and creativity transcend today’s mere fascination with state-of-the-art technology, and use both technology and brain science as a means to express ideas. Perhaps this will even uncover new and benign ways of linking our brains with, and through, technology…

Whatever we do as artists, the ever-developing Metropolis will continue to represent an extreme and hostile environment for humans. We cannot reverse or stop the process, but we can certainly contribute to an informed awareness of the issues, and we may be able to develop techniques for reducing at least some of the damaging effects. Finally, as a last comment on our responsibility and opportunity to engage in this issue, we should perhaps recall the  prophetic words of one of the most frequently analysed philosophical texts on technology (Heidegger, 1954):

“…essential reflection upon technology and decisive confrontation with it must happen in a realm that is, on the one hand, akin to the essence of technology and, on the other, fundamentally different from it. Such a realm is art.”

 

Acknowledgment: I would like to thank Owen Holland for his help with the scientific literature, and for many discussions of these ideas.

 

Bibliography

Bach-Y-Rita, Paul, Collins, C. C.,  Sauders, F., White, B., and Scaden, L. (1969) Vision substitution by tactile image projection. Nature, 221:963-964.

Bach-Y-Rita, Paul, Tyler, Mitchel, and Kaczmarek, Kurt (2003) Seeing with the brain. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 15(2):285-295.

Baudrillard, Jean (1995) Simulacra and Simulation (The Body in Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism): Tr. S. Glaser. University of Michigan Press

Castells, Manuel (2000) The Rise of the Network Society: (2nd edition) Oxford: Blackwell Publishing

Doidge, Norman (2007) The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Viking

Dolinsky, Margaret (nd) from http://dolinsky.fa.indiana.edu/ 2007

Electrosensitivity UK (nd) from http://www.electrosensitivity.org.uk/electrosmog.htm

Eltiti, S., Wallace, D., Ridgewell, A., Zougkou, K., Russo, R., Sepulveda, F., Mirshekar-Syahkal, D., Rasor, P., Deeble, R., and Fox, E. (2007) Does Short-Term Exposure to Mobile Phone Base Station Signals Increase Symptoms in Individuals who Report Sensitivity to Electromagnetic Fields? A Double-Blind Randomised Provocation Study. Environmental Health Perspectives (in press)

Heidegger, Martin (1982), The Questions Concerning Technology, and Other Essays New York: Harper Perennial

Linz, Rainer (nd) from http://www.rainerlinz.net/NMA/articles/altering.html

McRobert Laurie. (2007) Char Davies’ Immersive Virtual Art and the Essence of Spatiality. University of Toronto Press

Marquard Smith (Editor) (2007) Stelarc: The Monograph. Boston: MIT Press

Merzenich (nd) from http://www.positscience.com/science/global_team/merzenich.php

Novakovic, Gordana. (2003) Electronic Cruelty. NOEMA. from http://www.noemalab.org/sections/ideas/ideas_articles/pdf/novakovic_e_cruelty.pdf)

Olsen, Stefanie (2005) from http://www.news.com/Are-we-getting-smarter-or-dumber/2008-1008_3-5875404.html

Sassen, Saskia (2001) Global City, (2nd Edition). Princeton University Press.

Virilio, Paul (1995) Open Sky. London: Verso

Virilio, Paul (2005) City of Panic. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

Watkins, Peter (nd) from http://www.mnsi.net/~pwatkins/Intro_MedCr.htm





GORDANA NOVAKOVIC

15 01 2009

novakovic

Gordana Novakovic, UK, 1950, Artist-in-residence, University College London, Department of Computer Science, gordana.novakovic@gmail.com. Originally a painter, with 12 solo exhibitions to her credit, she has more than 20 years’ experience of developing and exhibiting large-scale time-based media projects, such as Infonoise and Fugue. A constant mark of her work throughout her experiments with new technologies has been her distinctive method of creating an effective cross-disciplinary framework for the emergence of synergy through collaboration. Alongside her artistic practice, Gordana is the founder and convener of the Tesla Art and Science Group at UCL.

http://www.gordananovakovic.com





BARBARA RAUCH

15 01 2009

barbara

Barbara Rauch, b.rauch@chelsea.arts.ac.uk, is a research fellow in FADE (Fine Art Digital Environment – Surface, Layering, Memory), a joint research project between Camberwell College of Arts and Chelsea College of Art & Design. She is the deputy director of SCIRIA (Sensory Computer Interface Research & Innovation for the Arts), University of the Arts London. She is a senior fellow at the McLuhan Program, FIS, University of Toronto. Her research focuses on new technologies and how they alter our current understanding of human consciousness. The research provided the basis for her PhD thesis entitled ‘Natural and Digital Virtual Realities – a practice-based exploration of dreaming and online virtual environments’.





DEW HARRISON

15 01 2009

dew-harrison-photo

Dew Harrison, British, 01-09-1952, dew.harrison@wlv.ac.uk, is the Reader in Digital Media Art at Wolverhampton. Prior to this she has been a research fellow and lecturer in interactive art, multimedia and new media theory. Within her research she undertakes a critical practice exploring Conceptual Art, non-linear narrativity and multimedia mind-mapping and outcomes continue to be shown internationally. She also works as a co-director of PVA. MediaLab, an artist-led organisation which initiates and supports new media art projects, now renowned for its Labculture Ltd., residency programme. Her papers have been published and presented at conferences as diverse as Art History, Gaming, Museology and Consciousness Studies.

http://www.wlv.ac.uk

http://www.pva.org.uk





THE ART OF CREATING MOMENTS OF STILLNESS IN A VOLATILE WORLD

15 01 2009

by DEW HARRISON and BARBARA RAUCH

INTRODUCTION

As researchers and practicing artists we are currently collaborating in an area where our interests merge – the associative thinking apparent within the dreaming and the conscious mind.  With Rauch as Ms Dream and Harrison, Ms Real, we have explored a conceptual co-joining into one mindset through a number of projects, including Physical_Chat 1 and 2, and are currently working on Physical_Dream, which involves the possibility of ‘flocked’ thought trails and dreamscapes. We are interested in weaving together the conscious and the subconscious, the rational and the emotional, the awake and the dreaming brain using computer technology in our attempt to compound a creative mind.

Contemporary understandings within our separate interests have enabled us to meld these binary mindstates via the interim position of the ‘daydream’, in which one is neither awake nor asleep. We see daydreaming as the dovetailing of dreams and real-take into an holistic understanding of a compound thought arena. It is a conceptually suspended duration of time, a liminal space at the threshold between consciousness and unconsciousness. A stillness of being, an interruption in our daily life flow of focussed activity that can be paralleled with Virilio’s ‘moment of inertia’ and state of ‘picnolepsia’. We would like to put to you that the techno-daydream is a ‘stillness of duration’ and argue that it could be a necessary and positive attribute to modern life in our volatile world. Specifically as a safe, convivial place for an artist to engage with an audience.

MS DREAM AND MS REAL

Within our research collaboration we are exploring the extent to which new technologies allow us a space of consciousness where we can meet and engage with our audience in an unthreatening arena of activity, the free-associative liminal state of the techno-daydream. The daydream can be seen as an in-between position where thinking is liberated and allows for free-form connections. The body is awake and active but the mind is open to drifting dream-like thoughts on the threshold of being fully one or the other. Neither dreaming nor awake the ‘daydream’ is a state of consciousness where the awake and dreaming mind can meet and allow for leaps of thought which maybe unobtainable through logical thinking and computer programming. Both the associative thinking of the awake mind and the thoughts of the dreaming brain are non-linear and can therefore be sustained through digital technology.

We are currently working in partnership with the Virtual Landscape Theatre at the Macaulay Institute, to create a daydream experience. Individually we continue to follow our own specifics. Rauch (Ms Dream) researches into the neuroscientific model of the unconscious brain and the non-linearity apparent within dreaming narratives and has recently been morphing 3D scanned facial expressions marrying the emotive sleeper to the awake and rational. Harrison (Ms Real) remains interested in holding complex inter-connected ideas electronically in line with the human mind, which stores concepts through the semantic association of idea and thought. This has elicited a preliminary contribution to the daydreamscape research for ‘Physical_Dream’ of 3 digital non-linear films dealing with the memory of daydreaming through a spectator sport. The next work currently underway takes the form of a moving painting of self-organising ‘flocked’ thought trails around a specific subject, offered for contemplation and deep thought with minimal physical action required of the viewer.

The first section of this paper, ‘Associative Thinking’, goes some way towards positioning the techno-daydream as a valid space in which such art can happen with reference to the ideas of Virilio, and Adorno’s understandings of leisure or ‘free’ time. The second part, ‘Emotional Thinking’, takes a deeper look at what the mindstate of daydreaming is, a combinatory area of emotional and rational thought.

ASSOCIATIVE THINKING

Technology is reconfiguring our relationship with the world and our own sense of being and consciousness, our thinking. Harrison & Rauch prefer to work with collative methods, often collaborating to find an interstice within the formally constructed social spaces where art can happen and engage with its audience. The daydreamscape should proffer such a space. According to Nicolas Bourriaud “The Aura of contemporary art is a free association” (Bourriaud 2002, 61), he is referring here to Relational Aesthetics and so makes a case for social engagement within an art practice. This free association is a wider contextualisation outside the gallery spaces and into the everyday which can be seen as “Parachuting artists into given situations.” (Doherty 2003), a conditional result of the globalisation of art. The free association can also be taken as an extension of the semantic net-worked artwork continued out into the daily lives of its viewers. New technologies can come into play here and position artists within social niches and specific sties to find new audiences. However, our audience may now be looking for us the artists in unobserved places as a way of participating in Guy Debord’s “free creation of events” (Debord 2002, 244) thus finding the escape route within their free time. Ms Dream and Ms Real  aim to meet them in their constructed daydream space where they can rest, still for a while at their own leisure.

Within this project ideas of daydreaming have arisen with regard to Paul Virilio’s work on inertia and picnolepsy. His argument for the acceleration of modern life, the immediacy of information and an understanding of distance as time, led him to the statement “Now everything arrives without any need to depart” – “Polar inertia” (Virilio 2000, 20). Virilio observes that the arrival of dynamic vehicles carrying people or information such as the car, has been replaced by the arrival of multimedia items into static vehicles. Telecommuncations have brought in the era of “staying on the spot” or “housebound inertia” (Virilio 2000, 22). This is reflected in car design where speed is a selling point even when over the lawful limit. Within racing car performance the ultimate extreme, according to Virilio (Virilio 2000), is to make the starting and finishing line coincide, and this can be paralleled with the idea of teleportation into the architecture of the intelligent home. It is this understanding of “movement without moving” (Virilio 2000, 25) facilitated by new technologies within our ordinary everyday life, which has informed the making of the three digital non-linear films.

They are films of social sporting activities, cricket, swimming, cross-country ski-ing, representing the leisure time of a small community in rural N.E. Scotland without access to a cinema or theatre.  As a spectator, there are moments of concentrated focus on the event, on the action, and lapses of interest where the eye meanders around the scenery – daydreaming ensues until brought back to the action.  The films exist as faithful memories of events where leisure and daydreaming are encouraged as legitimate forms of time out and therefore allow us a “disappearance” (Virilio 1991) from the everyday. They are part of a series of Digital Action Paintings comprised of digital looped films which remain more painting than film in that they are each seen all-at-once and projected at painting scale in painting positions. Each film is a collation of over-lapping still environmental images incorporating two QT movies of human action, all of various transparency levels combined into one piece. The collage effect is enabled by new lens technologies and combinatorial software for the interweaving of moving and still images. The work therefore bridges new media and traditional practice in that they are digital but address the conventional values apparent within flat surface picture making designed to move the eye around the canvas.

green

Figure 1: Green. Digital Action Painting No: 2. Copyright: the author. 

Our leisure or free time is our official stillness from our everyday activity of work but continues to be organised for us by the culture industry, now firmly in the hands of global corporations. Corporate globalisation rather than art or philosophy determines our culture and lifestyle and also directs our everyday life by designing our work patterns and allotted free time. Theodor Adorno’s pessimistic predictions on the culture industry’s goal of homogeneity (Adorno 1991) still play out today and in particular with regard to the phenomena of free time or life outside work, our work-less time. His critique addresses the work ethics of wage labour with its distinct work and free time, and highlights the dilemma within “And yet, in secret as it were, the contraband of modes of behaviour proper to the domain of work, which will not let people out of its power, is being smuggled into the realm of free time.” (Adorno 1991, 164) He focuses on the inanity of leisure activities and in particular the hobby supplied by the leisure industry for profit while keeping people as amateurs. If labour power has become a commodity then the expression hobby amounts to a paradox where “Organized freedom is compulsory.” (Adorno 1991, 165)

We are given time for leisure and relaxation in order to work more effectively afterwards, without distraction or the need to lark about, but we are then provided with activities to prevent total inaction which would lead to boredom and objective desperation.  Those activities are never too demanding i.e. Sunday cricket, or they would become work, can be essentially passive i.e. watching T.V., or quasi-active i.e. recent spectator sports which, according to Henri Lefebvre, (Lefebvre 1991) allows the supporter to attend, participate and play sport via an intermediary.  Lefebvre sees leisure and work as the interlocked elements of everyday life and insists that we cannot step beyond or escape the everyday in its entirety “the marvellous can only exist in fiction and the illusions people share…And yet we wish to have the illusion of escape as near to hand as possible.” (Lefebvre 1991, 39) However, leaving us on a more optimistic note, Adorno suggests that individuals will continue to resist contrived free time and find ways of approaching freedom proper (Adorno 1991). To some extent more flexible working hours and changing lifestyles are merging work and social time allowing for shorter, more frequent pockets of free time. Computers in the work place allow for gaming and online social interactions under cover of work and although we may feel constantly under surveillance in our Big Brother world, we are aware of deviant ways out. Employing daydreaming as a private method of escape from work is commonplace. Extending this through art and the constructed techno-daydream experience offers a means of disappearance from even officially allotted leisure time and in so doing may offer true stolen episodes of stillness in the chaos of contemporary life.

EMOTIONAL THINKING

The second part of this paper offers insights into the mindstate of daydreaming and how this usually considered leisure time is in fact also the time for positioning diverse thoughts. In particular, it seems, the brain carries out an emotional balancing of various thoughts. New connections are probably being made during the daydreaming process.

Research into daydreaming has relied on retrospective reports and reflective introspection. Like with dream reports, this is a backward recall of thoughts where one verbalises a stream of thought as it occurs. Daniel Dennett does not refer directly to the term daydreaming but he explains how human beings developed a habit of “’replaying events in [their] minds’ over and over” (Dennett 2005, 169). He suggests further that this behaviour provides the important source of episodic memory and cannot be considered wasteful or useless at all: we rehearse, repeat, train, to later recall the lesson or episode. This instant replay and reverberating, he explains, is needed to store episodic events. Furthermore he elaborates that this explains “infantile amnesia” where the child was too young to use verbal language to replay events. This act of self-conditioning that relies on self-stimulation is not available in animals. Dennett explains this condition as “echo-capacity”, a situation that facilitates long-term episodic memory. To finalise this thought train: replay and rehearsal mean reflection on several levels. In this respect, it relates to a methodology explained by Alvesson and Sköldberg as reflexivity. (Alvesson and Sköldberg 2000)

As explained above, while daydreaming offers replay and rehearsal under conscious conditions, the dreaming brain has been theorised as its unconscious counterpart. Antti Revonsuo (2006) elaborates a Threat Simulation theory (TST) for the function of dreaming; a theory that the world-simulation we know as “dreaming” is specialized in the simulation of dangers and threatening events. In Revonsuo’s analysis (2006, 111) these mental fictive worlds are what make us understand the real world, and even assumes that this function might go back to early stages of human development. He also argues that a model representation is needed for matching real and imagined memories and details. He argues that creativity and flexibility are required in the brain to find possible answers to match old ideas with new incoming data/ experience so as to rebuild the model of the “world-for-me” (Revonsuo’s expression [Revonsuo 2006, 182]). Threat simulations in dreams are activated mostly when they are needed, i.e. when something threatening or stressful has been perceived. In these circumstances we construct an artificial situation within which to rehearse for emergencies. This is to practice, in advance, for any potential threats in the real world. Revonsuo claims that the “world-for-me” is primarily a “navigational device in the brain”. With this theory, Revonsuo offers an understanding of “reality as an illusion” made entirely by the brain. The human body is understood as an interface which delivers a model of this “world-for-me”. He further proposes that a personal view of the world exists in the brain as a model with which we can rehearse dangerous situations, including obviously also social threats; he points out that we are in the end social animals (Revonsuo 2006, 418/9).

Revonsuo (2006, 237) insists that this natural virtual reality model is also used to navigate real situations since we cannot, every time we encounter something in the outside world, reinvent the experience itself. It is easier to build on our existing model as representation of the real. This model, of course, is constantly being updated and I suggest that daydreaming plays a part in the process of updating our model of the world. My research into the dreaming brain (Rauch 2005) led me to the issues of emotion. Dreaming is driven by the forebrain system of the brain, and, as Hobson justifies, it is primary emotion that seems to shape the dream plot. The limbic system and, in particular, the amygdala shown in PET-scans are hyperactive, causing emotional direction in dreaming (Hobson 2001, 77). One of the leading figures in emotion research is Antonio Damasio.

Damasio discusses the error of the Cartesian view wherein scientists studied only the body, while matters of the mind were left to religion and philosophy. Only recently have cross-disciplinary approaches emerged in the area of brain/mind study. Damasio’s concern about this mutually exclusive dualism, where the brain and mind are seen as separate entities, is of interest for consciousness research. “The organism constituted by the brain-body partnership interacts with the environment as an ensemble, the interaction being of neither the body not the brain alone.” (Damasio 1994, 88). Although consciousness arises within the brain it is still questionable whether this therefore situates the mind in the “physical realm” of the brain (Damasio 1994, 94/95).

According to Damasio, mind is an integrated function of an advanced organism arising through evolutionary selection. The developing brain, when it became complex enough, produced mental responses (i.e. thoughts and daydreams) that may have contributed to survival. As he states, “the minded brain minded the body” (Damasio 1994, 230). The survival mechanism can be thought of as a greater appreciation of external circumstances, with a “prediction of future consequences by way of imagining scenarios and planning actions” (Damasio 1994, 229). If, further, we take on board that rationality and emotion are interlinked, and that there is no split between body and mind, we enter Damasio’s hypothesis of the “somatic marker” (Damasio 1994, 173): a dynamic representation of what is happening in the body. The signals given by the body are of emotional value to the person and any future decision-making, even if not consciously acknowledged. “Somatic markers may not be sufficient for normal human decision-making since a subsequent process of reasoning and final selection will still take place in many though not all instances. Somatic markers probably increase the accuracy and efficiency of the decision process. Their absence reduces them.” (Damasio 1994, 173)

Our brief discussion of daydreaming has concerned an outer and inner view of it as a discrete, still place of dynamic thought. We suggest that it exists as a bridge between the rational and the emotional mind, between the awake and the sleeping brain, as a coming together of conscious and unconscious thought. We hope to apply the concepts of daydreaming because it can be argued to be a necessary and positive attribute to modern life in our technocratic culture in that it encourages moments of stillness and inertia.

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