Brain Drain Project
Based on the reading you will brainstorm on narratives and scenarios for your installation. You will then be asked to submit a text of 1000 words in which you will propose the narrative of your installation and the main theoretical concepts that you intend to explore. You should aim to identify the parts of the following schema for your installation:
stimuli >> artist’s brain: EEG headset >> representation of the data/feedback
My focus on this project is directed on the visual effects that are an outcome of the artist’s brain activity, while being at a certain emotive state. To my opinion the visual metaphor is a very important element in an installation like this, where the aim is to demonstrate the activity of the brain, a human body part that is not external and its function is very complex to understand with other scientific tools and technologies. The visualisation of the brain activity can be represented in several ways and the emotive state of the performer is a very good territory for artistic implementations.
To create a visual metaphor we first need to understand the way the brain’s activity is translated through mobile electroencephalography (EEG) technology and of course how this technology works. The EPOC emotive headset is a multi-channel, wireless device that is used for interaction between human and computers. It uses a set of 14 sensors plus 2 references to tune into electric signals produced by the brain to detect the user’s thoughts, feelings and expressions in real time. When the brain is under a specific emotive state, the neurones communicate with each other, exchanging a signals which produce a significant amount of electrical activity. This activity can be detected by this technology, by measuring electric waves from specific areas of the scalp. The brain waves are known as: Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta. Each of them are emitted when we are at a specific emotional situation. The software that is accompanied with the device, translates this waves visually in an electroencephalogram. In addition it connects to the processing software which is the main tool for visualising the brain activity in a more creative and aesthetic way.
Having this knowledge in mind it is clear that the visual metaphor will consist of 4 different transitions to make obvious the emotive state of the performer at real time. So the visualisation will have to change is some way when the performer stops feeling in a certain way, for example at the beginning he is excited but when he goes from excitement to engagement, the visualisation will change as well.
The change of the emotions can be represented in several ways. The main effect is the behaviour of the object/objects displayed on a screen and it includes many kinds such as rotation, threshold(expanding-shrinking), vibration and change of location. This kind of behaviour can be changed by certain variables such as displacement, average speed, average velocity, instantaneous velocity, average acceleration, acceleration, etc. Another behaviour is the number of objects increasing or decreasing according to the value of a specific emotion. Colour is another effect that can display quite obviously the state change. However, in some cases, like having a colour-blind person in the audience, it might not be effective.
Even though a transition can help us understand the change of the emotive state, it is important to choose an effect that will be representative and suitable for each emotion. For example, a slow and steady motion of an object cannot be very suitable for emotions like excitement or frustration. Most of us would associate such feelings with an intense effect, quick motion and specific range of colours. Especially in the case of colours, there are many theories that can help us have a reference on which colour is more representative. If we take a look on Kandinsky’s colour theory for example, we have the following option for the emotions we are working on:
Having this theory as a reference point we used these colours in some of our visualisations to indicate the emotive change. In our first attempts to visualise the brain activity We used mainly the colour to show the transition from one state to another and the motion was the same for every state. However, in the end we decided to focus more on the behaviour of our visualisation, rather than the colour.
Another thing to consider in a visual metaphor is the shape and if it will be symbolic or abstract. As the project is based on the brain activity this gave us inspiration to create visualisations that flow, that include objects expanding-shrinking and that are close to the neural activity of the brain. At the beginning we wanted to create something abstract because we thought that simple geometries would give an effect that would not be very interesting. The result was interesting and pleasant to the eye, however it didn’t show very clearly the change between the emotions. In many cases, the emotions were mixed together and it was not clear at all. After that we decided to work on changing the motion and the behaviour of objects that were more simple as geometries.
Finally, another important aspect of the visualisation is the dimensions. Throughout our project we worked both in 2D and 3D. To my opinion, having a visualisation in 3 dimensions is definitely more impressive and realistic and can give to the creator more potential to enrich the behaviour of the object/objects. However, it is more difficult to create very unique and abstract geometries in 3D.
In general, working on visualisations is a very interesting and creative process. First of all, it gives to the creator the chance to explore theories of colours, shapes and many other art theories. Secondly, it a good chance to learn more about psychology and how to express yourself through a visual metaphor. It gives the chance to the audience to connect with the performer and literally see what is going on inside his head. In the future I would like to create a visualisation that will be based on original artwork from my personal portfolio to give a more personalised character to the installation. I also expect to see my visualisation accompanied with sound effects that will be also influenced by the performer’s brain activity.
“Empire of the senses”, the sensual cultural reader, By David Howes, Oxford, New York.