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Looking At Primitives

The participation of members of the public is central to the production of the Looking At Primitives project. Individuals will be invited to create a unique object, a thought sculpture, through the literal power of their brain interfaced with a database and manufacturing technology, a metaphor for augmented mind. Participants will be connected to a digital EEG machine and invited to think of 'nothing'. The resultant live EEG as a response to this brief will interact with a database to produce complex shape information. The longer the participant contemplates nothing, the more complex the generated virtual shape will become. This virtual shape information will then be sent to a 3D printer to be rendered as a solid, physical object.

This project has been inspired by recent developments in brain machine interfaces and acknowledges the burgeoning role of databases across every conceivable sector of society. The neurobiologist, William Calvin recognises that the science and technology of mind may move far more quickly then we can create consensus for; creating another level of stratification between The Enhanced and The Rest. Initially referencing the science fiction staple of wireheads plugging brains into computers for augmentation purposes, Looking At Primitives aims to imaginatively reconfigure this scenario to encompass notions of ecology of mind.

Through the use of a relational database, the project proposes a model for the production of plastic art within a live public context, questioning the notion of public art, the commodification of art within the information society, intellectual copyright, authorship and the role of the artist within contemporary society.

The use of the word primitive in the project title is not a reference to indigenous culture, but rather to the generic primitive shapes - virtual building blocks - within the software tools that design our contemporary environments. The project database, dubbed The Perception Depository, is partially derived from generic primitive shapes used in the construction of a series of single image stereogram imagery.

The single image stereogram has its provenance as a psychophysical instrument in the tool box of cognitive science. Psychophysics is s subdiscipline of psychology dealing with the relationship between physical stimuli and their perception. The progenitor of the single image stereogram was the random dot stereogram, developed by the visual perception scientist, Bela Julesz. In his book, The Foundations of Cyclopean Perception, Julesz explains how this imagery was created to facilitate his research into stereopsis in the brain: how cortical processes fuse the binocular 2D information from the optical nerves to create our experience of a 3D world.

During the research and development of this project, a number of people were invited to studio sessions - Kliniks - to look at stereographic imagery while having EEG recordings made of their brainwave responses. The resultant brainwave files in the database all have the associated primitive shape that was being perceived within the stereogram at the time of recording. The Perception Depository currently has 300 digital EEG recordings from participants who have donated their brainwaves to Looking At Primitives from the UK, Europe and US, lending the project an international dimension.

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