California Institute for Dream Research

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  Lab Rat        

What music should I listen to today? What images/videos do I want to watch? What should this week's meals consist of?
    These are quite normal questions that people ask themselves all of the time, but rarely are they things that are decided for other people or even considered in how they might affect our mental state.  However, in a current collaborative project  the importance of these mundane decisions and how they affect our emotions, behavior, and dreams is explored through invasive MRI, brainwave,  surveillance video, and sound technology.


      San Francisco artist Cassandra Sechler teamed up with C.I.D.R. researcher Nigel Ritter in a piece titled Lab Rat. It  involves the collection of data gathered from a study that lasted 3 months where the artist herself acted as the subject of her own experiment. In the study, the subject was locked inside a carefully constructed laboratory-like  living space that was designed to appear sterile yet familiar. In this space the subject went about life as normal- with a few exceptions. In this space, she was constantly under surveillance of hidden cameras;  a board of particpants made decisions regarding her daily routine (i.e. what sounds/music she would listen to and when, what videos she would watch and for how long, the color and brightness of the lights in the room, as well as what to eat, when to exercise,  sleep, or report back to the group, etc.). This was done to potentially alter her state of consciousness, every day emotions,  and possibly even alter the context of her dreams. The captured videos and images were all available live, streamed over the internet so that they were accessible to the public, then were archived for future viewings.  The process also involved EEG machines to constantly be fed brainwaves through a chip that was implanted in the subjects brain, as well as daily performed MRI scans of the subject by her partner. The feelings that the subject felt were also documented via an online blog that was accessible to the project's participants and wandering viewers of the webcast video documentation.

The documentation of the data can now be viewed at the current exhibition: Reflections of Ourselves at the Center for New Media in Los Angeles, CA. In the exhibition, the data is presented in a fine arts context exploring several themes that came up during the experiment: How we experience our every day lives and then reprocess information while we sleep; the vulnerability of emotions in a study such as this, manipulation of test subjects; the search to know ourselves, our minds, and each other more deeply and the lengths one will go to achieve an altered state of consciousness.

In the setup, seven podiums with flat screen monitors are displayed in a row representing each day of the week. The viewer stands at a podium looking down at a monitor displaying scrolling brainwaves from that day. The viewer can then select any point in the brainwave by touching the monitor. Data such as MRI scans, recorded imagery or thoughts, video, text can be recalled for the selected area.  While some of the visuals are abstract, others are quite familiar and can be quite revealing about our own minds, bodies, and daily experiences.
different views of a brain


Other artists working with similar technologies:

Luke Jerram
Jerram uses brainwave technology to investigate where people go when they dream. He attempts to alter others dreamstates in order to gather data as well as create a community of dreamers.

Bruce Gilchrist
Gilchrist uses sleep lab environments and technologies to present sleep information, theory, and analysis as an art form.

Both artists push the boundaries of science and the arts.