Audio-visual compositions and public art

The Experience.
Entering a dark railway arch down a side street in Southwark, you find yourself in front of a huge aperture in the back wall. Through the aperture you can see someone standing in the centre of a tunnel, surrounded by hazy beams and planes of intense laser light.
They wear an EEG headset. A soundtrack fills the space. As they stand in the tunnel enveloped in light, the laser and audio composition changes and mutates around them. It starts as a spiky, discordant atmosphere. But as time continues, the soundtrack and shape of the laser composition becomes calm and fluid, approaching a solid circular shape and a single pure musical tone. The participant becomes visibly more focused as this happens.
As they leave the tunnel, you are invited to take part. You are led into a side room, where an assistant fits you with an EEG headset, with electrodes placed against different parts of your head. You are briefed for your experience in the tunnel. The tunnel responds to your brain. The audio-visual patterns are being formed by your unique brain signature. And the overall feel of the tunnel is controlled by your power of concentration. The aim is to bring the tunnel under your control by focusing your thoughts as fully as possible. There is no faking it. As you focus, the tunnel will transform from a spiky, angry place into a serene, circular shape. You may not reach a state of perfect serenity, but you may approach it.

The Site:
The railway arch has a particular resonance, in that it is a secret,hidden London space. Being brought up in London, I grew up exploring it’s hidden nooks and crannies. As London becomes increasingly developed, these hidden spaces have become both rarer and more accessible. This installation is a chance to recapture a feeling of wonder at ducking off a busy street and entering a different world. There’s also the memory of watching ‘Quatermass and The Pit’, where a whole world of intrigue lurks under the surface of London.

Artist’s Statement:
This is an experiment where visitors are able to use their brain functions and mental state to control a large-scale, physical audio-visual composition. The installation creates a social space, where you display your inner self in a way that is both intimate and anonymous. You are being asked to focus, but in a space that puts you on public display.

The composition will act as part of a feedback loop. So that if you focus, the installation will respond by becoming more focused. Because the installation will actively reward a sense of focus, visitors will feel a sense of achievement at casting away their inhibitions and achieving clarity. On a different level, the installation is loosely based on Joseph Campbell’s idea of ‘the ordeal of the innermost cave’ in mythic storytelling. In this, the hero must face their ultimate challenge by entering the heart of the enemy territory and facing their nemesis. This cannot simply be conquered with a sword, but relies on the hero facing their own innermost fears. Victory only happens when the hero lets go and goes with their instincts.

This installation is driven by visitor’s personal data. Part of my work is about looking at the ethics of data transactions between audiences and private bodies. As someone who has spent some time working on both sides of the fence, I have real concerns about the ease with which people are willing to offer up their most intimate thoughts and information. This installation acts as a ‘honeytrap’ allowing me to record the brain functions of hundreds of people. Using the prospect of an audio-visual experience and a sense of control, the public is persuaded to hand over intimate data, with no idea about how it could be used in the future.