[ISEA97] Artist Talk: Alan Dunning – Einstein’s Brain

Artist Statement

The paper presents an overview of the Einstein’s Brain Project, a work that examines the idea of the world as a construct sustained through the neurological processes contained within the brain. What is suggested is that the world is not some reality outside ourselves, but, is the result of an interior process that makes and sustains our body image and its relationship to a world, and that the investigation of virtual reality and its accompanying social space is an exploration of the construction of consciousness. Einstein’s Brain is a collaborative work that explores the notion of the brain as a real and metaphorical interface between bodies and worlds in motion. The work comprises several developing projects, including CD-ROMs, film and most particularly immersive VR. Each version has at its core landscapes digitally generated from neuro-physiological and topographical maps and dxf models of the human body and brain which are rendered and organized so as to provide familiar, yet unnamable, highly-detailed naturalistic navigable landscapes. This presentation will focus on two aspects of the project:  the development of the worlds as states rather than objects, and the use of VR as an illuminating perceptual filter.

  1. Active elements and external data sources change the worlds.Time elements age the worlds, matching the passage of real time—at night it is night, in Spring the worlds are Spring-like. Passage through the world is recorded — a twig breaks when a passerby comes too close, footprints are left in the sand, rocks are worn away by the steps of a traveller. Affected by feeder streams of data, by passage through the worlds and by an elusive and changing perceptual apparatus, indexes of labour, thoughtlessness and thoughtfulness, sensory deprivation and impairment, cleverness and stupidity effect dynamic changes throughout the system altering the body and topography of the worlds. The worlds reconfigure themselves dynamically depending on what happens moment to moment, locally and in the world at large.
  2. We are most aware of the brain when one of its functions is impaired. In absence the function exposes itself and draws attention to the remaining perceptual and communicative operators. A soundless or visionless world is noticeably so. Inside a virtual space we are almost blind, have little or no sense of touch, our hearing and sense of smell are enfeebled and inconsequential. Our sense of others is abbreviated or entirely absent. We are thrown back upon and into ourselves to sustain our sense of ourselves as being in and of the world. Through its deficient rendering of the world virtual reality allows us to perceive our perceptual apparatus and the representations that construct the world. It suggests that the world is a virtual construction; that the development of consciousness, selfhood, is a function of its capacity to represent the world’s contents symbolically in the face of a constantly shifting and exponentially multiplying material world. The natural, the normal are cultural constructs.
  • Alan Dunning (Canada) is a Professor at Alberta College of Art and Design. He has been working with complex multi-media installations, large-scale photographs, artist-books, and hypertexts for the past two decades, using the computer as a tool for generating textual fields and real-time interactive environments. He has exhibited in more than 70 shows since 1980, including solo installations at The National Gallery of Canada,The Banff Centre and Rutgers University, New Jersey. His Internet city, The Lost Dimension, was part of the international exhibition The Digital Village at the University of Maryland. Recent presentations of the devel­oping Einstein’s Brain Project include those made at the 4th St.Petersburg Biennale, Russia; Consciousness Reframed at CAiiA, Newport, Wales; and at the First International Conference on Virtual Reality in Valencia, Spain. He is repre­sented in many collections including the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He currently teaches interdisciplinary and media courses within the Painting Programme at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary.