Open the door, step through the heavy, black drapery, and you will enter a world of the unknown. A set of eyes projected on a canvas hanging from the ceiling stare back at you in awe. Five seconds later, these eyes morph into another pair, this time bearing a look of desperation. Only then do you notice that there is also a projection of a face on the floor that changes simultaneously with the eyes—this other projection has no eyes other than those on the canvas. In these disconnected images, Windows of the Soul by Phil Buehler explores the idea of madness by displaying the eyes of psychiatric patients. We are forced to see these eyes as paths to their derangement, paths to their minds, and paths to their common senses.
“Brainwave: Common Senses” at Exit Art investigates the brain’s capacity for perception, memory, emotion, and logic by exploring creativity and interpretation while responding to current neurological advancements in unraveling the brain’s many mysteries. “Common Senses” is one of six New York-based events participating in a New York cultural festival exploring how art, music, and meditation affect the brain.
Using ConceptPlus, a curatorial model that publicizes the idea for a show on the Internet, Exit Art received over 300 proposals from all over the world in response to ideas connected to the current exhibition. Anyone from anywhere in the world could propose a conceptual or ready-made idea that investigated aspects of the brain which drive creativity, such as memory and perception.
Devorah Sperber’s After the Mona Lisa 4 is a true homage to the ideas presented in “Common Senses.” At first glance, colorful spools of thread are randomly arranged together in a frame, but with a look through the accompanying magnifying glass, you realize that the spools of thread are actually a perfect representation of the Mona Lisa. We, as human beings, can only focus on one image at a time, so when the image is distorted to such a high pixels, our brains go haywire. We suddenly see our brains as entities that can lead us to completely false conclusions, and visual experience becomes something utterly subjective.
Although Exit Art presents a stimulating display of artwork, the layout of the exhibit is somewhat disorganized. Starting the exhibit in a circular, clockwise direction with Mechanism for Innocent Obscenities is probably your best bet.
While formally trained, many of these artists gradually incorporated scientific, mechanical, and neurological ideas and processes into their work long before the existence of the show’s concept. “Whenever we deal with these issues—like the brain, or genetics, or the environment,” co-founder and co-curator Jeanette Ingberman said, “it’s always so fascinating to me to find artists who’ve been really working in this way for their whole life.”
In Andrew Carnie’s Forest, located at the center of the space, viewers are able to step into a wonderful union between art and the brain. The seemingly tree-like structures projected on three voile screens are actually three cycles of neuron growth, stained different colors to create a mesmerizing and deceitful effect. This “forest” of neurons represents the blurry line between art and science.
Fernando Orellana’s Sleep Walking (in collaboration with Brendan Burns) is the culmination of a journey that the artist began as an undergraduate student. The tiny, metallic robot of Sleep Walking uses EEG to record brainwave activity during rapid eye movement sleep, the fifth stage of the sleep cycle during which dreaming occurs. This recorded activity is then replayed (literally replaying a dream) as the robot sits, walks, and even dances in response to the brainwave activity. The robot can actually replay its own dreams—something that a human would never be able to do.
“The scientist tries to understand his/her reality in a certain way, and the artist tries to understand his/her reality in another way,” Orellana said, “but the tools that they’re using are similar and their goal is similar—trying to sort of understand what’s going on in their physical world.”