[-empyre-] Welcome to Neuroaethetics

Michele Barker m.barker at unsw.edu.au
Tue Sep 2 17:27:31 EST 2008

First up, I'd like to say thank you to the -empyre- team for inviting  
me to become a moderator.

The topic for this month is "Pictures of the brain: a look at the  
relationship between brains, imaging technologies and the field of  

The focus for this discussion is going to be on the relationship  
between the arts and the neurosciences. Given the scope of both  
fields, a did few initial parameters were necessary. Of course they  
can be overstepped! The guest artists I have invited for this  
discussion work broadly in the field of new media, and not, for  
example, painting, and so the arts in this discussion will probably  
focus more on this field. However, much of the broader literature on  
*neuroaesthetics*  idiscusses the visual arts and so it's important to  
take this discussion into account.

Much has been written on the relationship between the visual arts and  
neurology – with a large focus, notably from Semir Zeki the prominent  
neuroscientist, on perception.  Much of this discussion has been  
driven by the question of what we see when viewing an artwork and what  
processes take place neurologically in this seeing. Less has been said  
in neuroaesthetics on the implicit and complex question of the role  
perception (especially that of the viewer, receiver or interactant in  
the work) has in the actual creation of the work. These questions,  
however, are of immense importance to media arts and to contemporary  
art practice. So a question I'd like to raise for this topic  is the  
issue of active perceptual engagement with the work of art in order to  
create, compose, receive and *complete* it.  This is what Alva Noë  
from the field of cognitive science refers to as the enactive approach  
to perception[i]. This is where, I hope, new media arts will  
contribute to the debate.

I believe there is a unique, and often problematic, relationship that  
the technologies and approaches adopted by artists working in this  
field bring to discussions about collaboration and engagement between  
the arts and sciences. Throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s,  
new media arts actively pursued a relationship to genetics and code  
and digital art. Examples can be seen in the pursuit of generative  
art, the use of genetic algorithms and metaphors of biology used in  
much art of this period. Now perhaps the time has arrived to look more  
closely at what processes, concepts and metaphors have been deployed   
within the neurosciences. And already an emerging field of new media  
arts practice is actively engaged with neuroscience.

The neurologist Steven Rose has remarked that ‘the very structures we  
observe are brought into existence by the techniques we use to observe  
them’[2]. Here, new media arts’ engagement with the technologies of  
imaging the brain and its functions, in order to reveal issues and  
implications implicit to those processes and outcomes, has become a  
central theme. This engagement can offer tangential and surprising  
results, diverging significantly from the goals of the  
neurosciences.However, the concept of collaborative processes between  
the arts and sciences is integral to this debate. Is it useful and to  
whom – artist and/or neuroscientist?

Importantly, the arts and humanities’ engagement with the  
neurosciences is not new; my aim is to have a discussion that is not  
just focused on new media arts but takes these larger issues of  
perception in and of art into account.   I believe the diversity of  
this group reflects a much larger concern – from art history,  
cognitive and neuropsychology through to philosophies of cognition,  
perception and the media all of which sit alongside practicing artists  
with their own frameworks for understanding neuroaesthetics. I am sure  
we will discover interesting overlaps, syntheses and big differences  
in our approaches, language and understanding of the field.

I'd like to welcome my guest for this month.

–––> Trish Adams  is currently artist-in-residence with the Visual &  
Sensory Neuroscience Group, at the Queensland Brain institute, The  
University of Queensland. Under the leadership of Professor Mandyam  
Srinivasan this research group focuses on the cognitive and  
navigational abilities of the honey bee. http://www.qbi.uq.edu.au/index.html?page=52793 
  . Trish’s first artwork outcome from the residency was the DVD  
installation: “HOST”, University of Queensland Art Museum, 2008: http://www.artmuseum.uq.edu.au/index.html?page=87240&pid=78247 

–––> Lucette Cysique is a neuropsychologist who is currently a post- 
doctoral fellow at the University of New South Wales - Brain Science.  
Her main research focus is the neurocognitive complications of HIV  
infection. Her methods of research includes neuropsychology, cross- 
cultural neuropsychology, longitudinal statistical modelling and MRI- 
based imaging. Her current project is looking at the interplay of age  
and HIV on brain functions.

–––> Alan Dunning has been working with complex multi-media  
installations for the past two decades, using the computer as a tool  
for generating data fields and, most recently, real-time interactive  
environments. Since 1980, he has exhibited in more than 100 shows and  
has had more than 70 catalogues and reviews published on his work. His  
work has received numerous awards including grants from the Daniel  
Langlois Foundation, SSHRC, the Canada Council and the Alberta Art  
Foundation. He is represented in many collections including the  
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa and the Museum of Modern Art, New  
York. He currently is the Head of the Media Arts and Digital  
Technologies Programme at the Alberta College of Art and Design in  

–––> Paul Woodrow has been involved in a variety of inter-disciplinary  
and multi-media activities since the late 1960s, including performance  
art, installation, video, painting and improvised music. He has  
collaborated with many artists including, Iain Baxter (N.E.Thing Co.),  
Hervé Fischer (The Sociological Art Group Of Paris), Genesis P.  
Orridge (Coum Transmissions, England), Clive Roberstson (W.O.R.K.S,  
Canada). He has exhibited extensively in Japan, France, Italy, Sweden,  
England, Belgium, Russia, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and the United  
States, including the Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm and The Tate  
Gallery, London. He has received numerous awards from Canada Council  
and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. He is currently Coordinator  
of Graduate Studies, in the Art Department at the University of Calgary.

Alan Dunning, Paul Woodrow and Morley Hollenberg (http://www.ucalgary.ca/~einbrain/ 
) are the main participants in a team of scientists, artist and  
technologists developing the virtual reality and bio-electrical work  
the Einstein’s Brain Project.

–––> Tina Gonsalves (http://www.tinagonsalves.com/) is currently  
honorary artist in residence at the Institute of Neurology at  
University College London and visiting artist at the Affective Media  
Group, MIT.
Combining diagnostic imaging, biometric sensors and mobile  
technologies, her installations, films for television, and software  
investigate emotional signatures both within the body and among  
interactive audiences. Since 1995 her work has shown internationally  
at venues including Banff Centre for the Arts (CA); Siggraph (US);  
International Society for the Electronic Arts 2004; European Media  
Arts Festival; Institute of Advanced Media Arts and Sciences (JP);  
Australian Centre For Photography, Sydney; Barbican (UK); Pompidou  
Centre (FR), Institute for Contemporary Art, London; and Australian  
Center for the Moving Image, Melbourne.
–––> Andrew Murphie (http://www.andrewmurphie.org/blog/) is the editor  
of the open access, online journal, the Fibreculture Journal (http://journal.fibreculture.org/ 
) and Associate Professor in the School of English, Media and  
Performing Arts, University of New South Wales, Australia. He works  
on: theories of the virtual; post-connectionist and poststructuralist  
models of mind; Guattari and Deleuze (and others - he’s not quite a  
card carrying ‘deleuzean’); art and interaction; electronic music  
(especially in Australia); critical approaches to performance systems  
and what he calls ‘auditland’; biophilosophy and biopolitics;  
innovation; education and techology; contemporary publishing.

–––> John Onians is Director of the World Art Research Programme in  
the School of World Art Studies at the University of East Anglia, and  
is the author of a number of books, including Classical Art and The  
Cultures of Greece and Rome, published by Yale University Press. He is  
the founding editor of the journal Art History (1978-88) and the  
editor of the Atlas of World Art (2004). Johns most recent book is  
NeuroArtHistory: From Aristotle and Pliny to Baxandall and Zeki (Yale  
University Press).

–––> Barbara Maria Stafford (http://barbaramariastafford.com/) is the  
William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor, Emerita, at the  
University of Chicago. Her work has consistently explored the  
intersections between the visual arts and the physical and biological  
sciences from the early modern to the contemporary era. Her current  
research charts the revolutionary ways the neurosciences are changing  
our views of the human and animal sensorium, shaping our fundamental  
assumptions about perception, sensation, emotion, mental imagery, and  
subjectivity. Stafford’s most recent book is Echo Objects: The  
Cognitive Work of Images, University of Chicago Press, 2007.

[i] Alva Noë, Action in Perception (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press,  
2004), p 2
[2] Steven Rose, The 21st Century Brain: Explaining, Mending and  
Manipulating the Mind (London: Vintage Books, 2006), p 146
Dr Michele Barker
Senior Lecturer
Postgraduate Coordinator
School of Media Arts
College of Fine Arts
University of New South Wales

PO Box 259
Paddington NSW 2021
Tel: +612 93850761
Fax: +612 9385 0706

CRICOS Provider Code: 00098G

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