“Movement in Void” is my artistic investigation of the brain wave sensing technology, a reflection of my personal yoga, meditation practices, and a tribute to Nam June Paik’s famous artwork – TV Buddha. Through this artwork, I extend the popular notion of embodiment in interactive art, by abandoning all gestural interactions and resorting to pure mental, and meditative activities. The interactive installation engages the participants in constant awareness of their mental activities and which may echo the mindfulness practices in Buddhism. The work also accumulates the brain wave data of all visitors to generate the collective patterns that manifest through the mechanical movement of the reactive environment.
This project is an artistic investigation of the brain wave sensing technology, a reflection of my personal yoga, meditation practices, and a tribute to Nam June Paik’s famous artwork – TV Buddha.
Electroencephalography (EEG) has been in the medical research and applications for a while. Not until the recent popularity of consumer grade brainwave sensors, the applications are limited to usage in laboratories and research institutes. Companies such as Emotiv, Neurosky and OCZ have released brainwave sensing consumer products. Most of them are designed as human computer interface, such as game controller. Besides the detection of eye blink, the products are capable of measuring the degrees of relaxation and concentration. Such measurement demands a certain amount of user training. The use of the products as human computer interface, at the moment, cannot compare with the graphical user interface that we are used to, in terms of the precision and effectiveness. As a result, applications are developed mainly as games. One of the early attempts was the Brainball from the Interactive Institute Smart Studio.
Discussions on media arts often mention embodiment as an essential feature of interactivity. It implies the active engagement of the audience’s bodily activities, such as physical actions and perception, in relation with the artworks. The objects of perception and action are often outside the confinement of the physical bodies that were delimited by our skin. Little has been investigated what happens within our bodies. The use of EEG is an affordable measure to detect the subtle changes happening inside our bodies when confronted with the sensation aroused by the external artworks.
My first encounter with the brainwave indicated that successful control of the devices might demand a certain level of reflexive and introspective awareness of one’s own bodily conditions. Using the brainwave interface to replace the graphical and gestural interfaces may not be a promising direction. Its operation requires training or at least adaptation. Since I have been learning Yoga, Qi Gong for a short period, I would expect a piece of artwork that relates the brainwave measurement and those body-mind regulating activities can work well together. Instead of the common embodied interaction found in media arts, I encourage the participants to sit still and reflect on those ever-changing, ever-flowing thoughts and emotional states within their mind and bodies, in relation with the piece of work.
The layout of the artwork is a tribute to the famous TV Buddha from Nam June Paik.
A ‘meditating’ participant wearing a brainwave-sensing headset will sit in front of a wooden ball hanging from the ceiling. The brainwave device will capture the alpha, beta, theta, and gamma waves and interpret the patterns into meaningful indicators of concentration and relaxation. The result will trigger the swinging action of the wooden ball. It will swing in different directions according to the brainwave signals. As it moves in front of the participant, it may threaten the participant and thus causes emotional response from him/her. The participant may also need to re-align his/her body to avoid being hit by the ball. This forms the first feedback loop between the object and the participant. Although the brainwave signals detected are digital with great precision, the swinging motion is, however, mechanical and analog. It introduces fuzziness in the operation that is unpredictable.
The wooden ball embeds a small camera at the front. As the ball swings, the camera will pick up motion information and use it to control the vibration of eight Buddha hand models, each holding a branch of leaves, placed on the floor around the participant. The orchestrated vibration will generate a subtle tone in additional to the visible waving actions of the leaves. The camera moves along with the swinging ball. The participant may also move. The motion information obtained by traditional image processing techniques such as optical flow is of little use. Everything is relative. It thus introduces the second level of fuzziness.
I shall also introduce another level of complexity in the vibration. The brainwave signals of all participants will be recorded and the subsequent information will generate a self-organized map (SOM). The self-organized map will function as a template to produce the model hand vibration. As a result, it will be the collective effect of all participants who have been in the exhibition to generate the subtle tone produced by the vibrating hand models. All participants are connected to each other in their viewing experience of the artworks.
In this piece of work, I plan to create an environment that engages the inner body of the participant. The brainwave sensor is not just an interface like a game controller. The brainwave signals are not just raw material for visualization or sonification. The work aims to integrate the participant’s mental states with a physical space. The inner and outer bodies are connected. The body and the environment are connected. Different individuals are connected. This connectedness is the philosophical tribute to Nam June Paik’s TV Buddha.
All the hardware information and software source codes will be released as open source material. The software source codes are in the GitHub repositories.
The host programs are done in C++ with openFrameworks. The master control program uses the OpenCV 2.4.6 for the webcam swinging direction tracking, and which is an adaptation of the motion template sample.