[ISEA2016] Artists Statement: Minka Stoyanova & Lisa Park So Young — Performing Hypolinguistics

Artists Statement

Installation and performance 2016. Performance has multiple 5 mins performance sessions

“Performing Hypo-Linguistics”. Language is, perhaps, the most ancient mediating technology -one which, for some, is practically indistinguishable from thought, itself. Furthermore, the advances that humanity has achieved would not have been possible without the efficient means by which language allows us to translate perception into communicable media. For many, it is this reality that makes language our most important, most valuable evolutionary advantage. And yet, language remains an imperfect medium. As a mediating technology, it necessarily prefigures the realm of possibility, molds sense experience into its own logic and remains incapable of allowing us to transcend the alterity of “the other.” As a result, we remain obsessed with the possibility of transcending language as exampled by the popularity of mind-reading, mind-melding, and body swapping in popular media.
Moreover, contemporary neuroscience continues to give us radical and exciting insights into how our brains work, mechanistically as well as systemically. The phenomenon of “mirror neurons” is one such insight. Mirror neurons are neurons which (some scientists believe) drive our ability for empathy by replicating (electrically, at the level of neural impulses) in our own brains the perceived neural activities of another. Marina Abramovic explored this concept in her 2013 project, Mutual Wave Machine, wherein participants were asked to simply look at each other while their brain waves were recorded and displayed. Over time, and likely as a result of our natural mirroring ability, the brainwaves of the individuals would synchronize, mirror each other.
Abramovic is not the only artist to work with brain waves. As consumer grade sensors (such as the Muse™) become increasingly powerful and increasingly affordable, many artists have begun to explore the possibilities of interactivity through the reading of brain wave data. Muse™, like other consumer sensors, uses electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the voltages being passed between neurons in the brain. These voltages fall across five levels, which seem to be associated with various states of brain activities such as alertness or relaxation. These “waves” are referred to using the Greek characters: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Theta. Fluctuations in each of these wave levels reflect electrical activities that are taking place within the brain, indicating cognitive and physiological changes such as a move from meditative to active mental states, as it renders a nebulous insight into the emotional state of a subject. While direct correlations between the activity across these waves has yet to be articulated, the ability to read and track their fluctuations certainly gives us one snapshot, or one way to access the complex workings of our brains. Hence, artists Minka Stoyanova and Lisa Park So Young have elected to use this data to poetically and performatively address the aforementioned problem of linguistic mediation.
Utilizing Muse™ brain sensors with customized sensory deprivation headsets, artists Lisa Park So Young and Minka Stoyanova have created a system through which they can perform subconscious communication. Both artists have written code which translates their individual brain rhythms into visual animation or auditory soundscape; Lisa, the visual and Minka, the auditory. By wearing a headset which limits her senses to either hearing or to seeing and through which all sensory stimuli from outside the system is blocked, each woman is subjected to a sort of sensory deprivation -in this way, the only sense she is able to experience is the auio/visual simulation being created by the code of the other. Thus, the viewer (Minka) sees only the video being generated by Lisa’s code while the listener (Lisa) hears only the sound being generated by Minka’s code. As the code responds continuously to streaming brainwave data, the system opens a channel for subconscious and hypo-linguistic brain-to-brain communication.
Performing Hypo-linguistics is a performance using this system wherein the audio-visual communication being generated is broadcast via projection and sound to the viewing audience. Thus, the audience is able to experience the feedback loop in realtime, and in a way that neither performer can experience individually. For the artists, the performance becomes completely subconscious -a non-performance –whereas the audience becomes a third-person participant, eavesdropping on the exchange. Additionally, as the audience is able to see the two seated artists, each wearing headsets and facing away from each other, the absence of communication outside of the audio-visual feedback system is continuously reinforced.
While Abramovic’s, Mutual Wave Machine illustrates the way in which individuals, engaged in nonlinguistic communication, will harmonize their brain waves and eventually enter into a synchronicity, Performing Hypo-linguistics, illustrates the potential dialogues created by neurons reacting to each other across a field of mediation. Performing Hypolinguistics hopes to create harmonious discourse as opposed to stable mimicry, highlighting that it is not as much our potential for imitation but for collaborative evolution that distinguishes the homo-sapiens.
Through the use of technical, audio-visual stimulation, Performing Hypo-linguistics suggests a mode of relation beyond those actions which are natural to the human-as-animal -such as eye contact or facial expressions. Is there a potential language below language? …below consciousness? …beyond the sign? What are the post/para-human potentials for language beyond linguistic signification, below the level of consciousness? What can the subconscious communicate, and what might such communication look like?
Performing Hypo-linguistics considers these questions through its proposition of a technologically mediated, cyborg communication and collaboration system. In this system, traditional linguistic concepts/objects/materialities are impossible to relay. Furthermore, neither performer can enact conscious control of the system. Thus, each performer must rely on the instinctive reactions of their subconscious state to provide ambiguous, but instantaneous, positive or negative feedback to the other. Hence, the system proposes a communicative feedback loop beyond (and below, more visceral than) the consciously mediated realm of linguistic representation. Neural Science, through the discovery of mirror neurons -neurons which mimic in our brains the mental state of the other -allows us to imagine the possibility of a para/hyper-linguistic system that is perpetually engaged, but inaccessible to our conscious minds. As we see in Abramovic’s Mutual Wave Machine, these neurons drive a perpetual process of synchronization. However, they also imply a form of communication -a constant state information transfer occurring just below our sense-experience. It is this communication that we seek to hijack and to hack. As such, we hope to create a harmonious discourse that reveals our distinctly human potential for collaborative evolution. Performing Hypo-linguistics proposes an alternative enunciation of a pre/post-linguistic signification system that is realize-able only through the human-as-cyborg.

  • Minka Stoyanova is an artist-thinker and philosopher-maker. Her “internet-informed” practice consists of code-based image manipulation; installations, sculpture, and performance using micro-controllers and small-scale electronics; and internet applications/net-art. The work uses recursion, repetition, and appropriation to investigate the intersection of the virtual, the physical, and the social. She has received bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science and Fine Art Photography from Tulane University and the University of New Orleans, respectively. She completed her Master’s of Fine Art at the Glasgow School of Art in Glasgow, Scotland and is an alumnus of the United States Fulbright research grant program, where her research was focused on strengthening and documenting the relationship between artists and technologists in Varna, Bulgaria.  scm.cityu.edu.hk/doctoral-researcher/mstoyanov2-c
  • Lisa Park So Young is an interdisciplinary artist living in New York City, USA and Seoul, South Korea.  thelisapark.com

Full text and photo (PDF) p. 256-259