Art has a unique power to bring abstract scientific concepts into a tangible experience. I am interested in presenting my research and imagery from this semester as an interactive installation in which the participants learn about the topics and are then given a chance to practice what they have learned. Borrowing from examples of scientific studies and psychological art works, I plan to spend next semester building a show that is both educational and experiential.
Last summer I was fortunate enough to encounter Ozge Samanci’s and Gabriel Caniglia’s You Are the Ocean in SIGGRAPH’s Art Gallery:
“A participant wears an EEG (Electroencephalography) headset that measures the user’s approximate attention and meditation levels via brain waves. Through relaxation and concentration, the subject can control the water and sky.”*
Controlling the landscape through brainwaves was an incredible and impactful experience, but I have since been dreaming of how much more impactful it would be to watch a real-time rendering of another’s emotional response as I attempt to empathize with them. I recently discovered Guto Requena’s Mapped Empathy, a large, CNC structure with projected light and sound that maps the heartbeats of interactors:
“In each session, guests’ heartbeats are recorded in real time at the touch of a finger via sensors installed on the bench. This vital data is sent to speakers and lights that transform the architecture into a large sculpture of emotions. At the beginning of the session every individual heartbeat can be heard, and then they gradually mix and transform into a symphony driven by the vibrant pulse of life.”**
The artist was inspired by the quote, “empathy is feeling with the heart of another.”**
The combined concepts and techniques of You Are the Ocean and Mapped Empathy reminded me of one of my favorite studies on validation and emotional state. In a 2011 social experiment conducted by Allan Fruzzetti and Chad Shenk, participants were divided into two groups and were all given math problems that appeared easy but were actually impossible to solve. Stress levels were measured before the participants were given the problems and then after solving the problems was attempted, via EEG. As would be expected, stress levels rose as the participants became frustrated with the task. Participants in both groups were asked how they were doing by the test administrator; they generally responded to indicate frustration and anxiety. The test administrator in one group assured participants that everyone got stressed and their emotional responses were normal, while the administrator in the other group told participants that their responses were unusual and most people found the problems easy. Stress levels were measure by EEG once again: the stress of the validated group began to drop closer to the levels before the task was presented, but stress levels of the invalidated group continued to rise. Validation/empathy acted to regulate the heightened emotional state and give the stressed person the ability to be calm.***
Next semester I plan to use this research as inspiration for an interactive installation that will allow participants to learn empathy and validation techniques, practice what they learned by listening to the stories of a fellow participant, and see real time renderings of how their empathy and validation (or non-empathy and invalidation) affect the emotional state of the other.