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The Brain Mirror

From the artist’s website

“BrainMirror is an interactive experience where the image of the visitors brain appears mixed with his/her mirror image, using natural head movement as an interface to explore volumetric visuals of the human brain.

Designed and built by 3 independent artists and technologists, putting our skills together we aimed for creating an interface that works without learning for all age groups, and fosters communal interaction, interaction among the different visitors. Our interaction thinking is focusing on creating a simple but powerful language for the visitors to explore the otherwise complex MRI brain data. Everybody, including Kids and elderly people can use the installation instantly without learning the interface.

BrainMirror is tracking the head movement, and displays generated brain models on a projection surface is 1 meter behind a half transparent mirror making the projection seem to float in the air 1 meter in front of the mirror. The visitors can find models of brain lobes, sub cortical systems, pathways and centra of the brain with an information overlay pointing out different anatomical parts and describing their functionality, and several volumetric renderings of MRI data. Volumetric renderings are explored by moving closer to the mirror, using the mirror as a slicing plane. All modes grow as we move closer to the mirror, a natural actions by the visitors to see more details.”

The Brain Mirror

The Brain Mirror: Cyborgs, Education and Esthetics

By combining MRI-scans, motion tracking, open source software, mirrors and interactive digital graphics, Brain Mirror creates not only an educational, but also an aesthetic experience. The seamless interactivity combines the graphical with the flesh, as if it were an actual part of the body, which it in a sense is, simply blown up slightly, but still in the same place.

The externalization of the brain and its virtual enlargement thereof, serves not only a practical purpose; it also explores notions of the cyborg or the person interacting with technology being ‘more advanced’ than a ‘regular human’, as increased brain size is commonly associated with increased mental capacity and human superiority over other living organisms. Indeed, by wearing the helmet nessecary to use the Brain Mirror, one becomes a cyborg, becoming a form “in which elements of the robotic other are integrated with the human organic norm within a single entity…” (Piper 2001, p. 250).

The installation helps educate the human utilizing the installation.  In this regard, it fulfills the role of Cyborg-related art theorized by Jack Burnham, by shifting “from the direct shaping of matter to a concern for organizing quantities of energy and information. Seen another way, it is a redocusing of esthetics awareness … on matter-energy-information exchanges and away from the invention of solid artefacts. [Such forms of art] prompt us not to look at the ‘skin’ of objects, but at those meaningful relationships within and beyond their visible boundaries.” (Burnham 1968, p. 247) This reminds us once more that the helmet, the custom-made circuitry, the MRI-scanner or the mirror itself are not the artwork, but the experience that is delivered, that which exists only by grace of the interaction with and input by a human. The work needs a human to exist, which subtly reconfirms the nessecity and importance of the human as the main subject in a increasingly robot-populated world.

The Brain Mirror

The Brain Mirror in relation to other artworks

Concerning the body as the locus and measure of all things, being at the center of attention, this work can be compared to the Einstein’s Brain Project of Alan Dunning and Paul Woodrow and ConFIGURING the CAVE by Jeffery Shaw et al, as these projects explore the coupling of visual and corporeal and interacting using bodies (or body-like objects) to navigate a virtual experience. It also is similar to Robot Cowboy, which is parallel to this work in exploring man-machine integration to help the human body and mind express, learn or understand.

Links and references

Burnham, Jack. Robot and Cyborg Art, 1968. In: Edward Shanken, red. Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon, 2009, p. 247.

Piper, Keith. Notes on the Mechanoid’s Bloodline, 2001. In: Edward Shanken, red. Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon, 2009, p. 250.

The Brain Mirror

Robot Cowboy