From stage 1(0) on, the Lab initiates a new cycle, widening the scope of its research field in such a way as to include the organic bonds that connect man with cosmos. Issues raised by the Anthropocena are indeed a strong incentive for man to acknowledge its relative position within the life chain. The dramatic, now unquestionable, shifts in biology, geology and climate, combined with the outcome of recent scientific studies, all point to the necessity of reconstructing a human, and a non-human, world. This growing awareness induces fundamental changes in our relationship to the world: the dual principles behind the Western approach –which consists in tearing man apart from nature, and opposing matter and mind–, give way to a cosmologic pattern, a vision of the world that is no longer anthropomorphic but “cosmomorphic”.
Recent scientific developments (in neurosciences, in astrophysics, in biology, in geology) prompt us to re-examine the boundaries between body, space, time, and brain, and to “broaden” our perception of the environment, somewhere between the infinitely large and the infinitely small. The new lines of research developed by scientists contribute to the present renewal of interest in the bonds connecting us with Earth, the recreation of the ties between matter and life, and the inscription of man within cosmos. After the experiments in “enlarged perception”, we are now led to experience even more intense ones, such as the vital fusion with the elements, the yearning for oneness with the Universe. In the wake of new research on the life chain –as for instance in epigenetics, where the environmental impact on the genome has been measured over several generations, or in astrology, where common ground between Mars and the Earth has been searched for within the scale of the infinitely small- we are inclined to think in terms of coexistence and dynamic links.
From such a transitive, relational approach may emerge the fundamental notions of milieu, passage and motion. A unified apprehension of cosmos arises, after the fashion of Oriental conceptions, deprived of any form of cleavage.
How can creation and research contribute today to this change in paradigm and establish a new way of looking at the world? Could a common responsibility, shared by artists, scientists and intellectuals, pave the way for alternative action?
Nathalie Ergino, October 2016
Initiated by the artist Ann Veronica Janssens and Nathalie Ergino, director of the Institut d’Art Contemporain, this project proposes to work in the field of artistic experimentation and explore the practical and theoretical research enabling us to link the space and the brain. This interdisciplinary laboratory brings together the reflections and experiments of artists and scientists (neuroscience, physics, astrophysics...), and also of philosophers, anthropologists, art historians and theoreticians.
The principle of the brain space laboratory came about through some mutual observations. Since the 1980s, Ann Veronica Janssens has been exploring, and experimenting with multiple approaches to perception, space, confronting loss of bearings and feelings of reality. She calls upon the skills of specialists with scientific leanings in order to devise areas of sensitivity and acuity in a deliberately intuitive way. Today, in the light of the current acceleration in scientific advances, Ann Veronica Janssens has chosen to place the emphasis on experimentation by setting up a huge “work in progress” of investigations and prototypes.
After numerous shows devoted to artists like Rodney Graham or Carsten Höller, and to group exhibitions such as Maisons-Cerveaux (1995) or Subréel (2002), Nathalie Ergino is seeking to assess the artistic issues involved in these various approaches, which would seem to follow on from those of the 1950-70s, and yet already different through their chronological setting during a period of increased scientific application (cybernetics, electronics...) and research. Can one still designate the unconscious as a potential tool of reality; and what does the notion critical perception mean today?
For present day scientific research is renewing our approach to space and its articulation with the brain. From advances in neurophysiology to physical discoveries (quantum physics, string theory, nanoscience...), our apprehension of the world is now tipping over from Euclidian space into an as yet indeterminate space, undergoing mutation. While thought, taking in the perspectivist Renaissance, has always spatialised and constructed the world, can we still speak today of its representation? This project proposes to explore the cognitive and phenomenological extension of thought, through the consideration of the “corps en acte” (1) [body in act] as a constituent element of the world. It makes the assumption of going beyond traditional dualities — objectivity / subjectivity, conscious / unconscious, centrality / decentring, materiality / immateriality...
Rather than envisage the relations of the brain to space, this Laboratory means to rely on space itself. First as a possible synonym for the artistic act, secondly as an extension of the eye, brain and body. McLuhan (2) talked about this worldwide extension, saying that man casts his own central nervous system like a net across the globe which he turns into a huge living brain. Why not now picture the cosmos as a brain?
Art could be an intuitive, mobile operating mode, capable of linking research in neuroscience, physics and astrophysics. From the late 1950s, many artists put into practice new approaches to the relationship with the viewer-visitor. From an egocentred posture, which conveyed their feeling in plastic terms, they moved on to propositions of the “allocentred” type, in which the perception of the world was then as it were given to be shared, following a process whereby the “self” and the other blended together, making room for the emergence of the experience per se. So it is important that the Brain Space Laboratory (Station 1) should decode and re-examine these past artistic approaches in the light of contemporary artistic practices.
Above and beyond the visual effects of optical kinetic art, the often three- dimensional works summoned here have generated a new relation to space through their immersive dimension, the introduction of light and movement as raw materials, and also inducing hypnotic or “waking dream” effects (appliances of Nicolas Schöffer, Brion Gysin...).
In an apparently more metaphysical mode and following on from Lucio Fontana, James Turrell also undertakes the conquest of the infinite, decreeing perception to be a medium in itself. What are the bases and characteristics of research being carried out now by Micol Assaël, Berdaguer and Péjus, Olafur Eliasson, Cerith Wyn Evans, Bertrand Lamarche, Carsten Nicolaï...?
(1) Lecture by Alain Berthoz,"Espace et cognition", November 2005.
(2) McLuhan in 1964, commented on by Arnauld Pierre, « L’œil multiplié », catalogue of the exhibition L’œil moteur. Art optique et cinétique 1950-1975, Musée d’Art moderne et contemporain de Strasbourg, 2005.
PROGRESS OF THE BRAIN SPACE LABORATORY
While the laboratory’s aim is to take part in these upheavals affecting the whole of society, it also involves contributing to the development of artistic research in progress, with no guarantee, however, of ever getting anywhere.
Awaiting a possible exhibition, the Brain Space Laboratory will be developed up in stages, “stations”, in various forms — day seminars, lectures, papers, presentations of works, collating documentation, publications, blog...
As an exploration unit, the Laboratory will thus pass through various “fields”: neuroscience, physics and astrophysics, nanoscience? new technologies, psychoanalysis and neuroscience, parapsychology, hypnosis and telepathy, non clairvoyance, or again shamanism and animism.