Mixing object actions and context

This research looked at how we respond to the observation of actions and how the context affects our neural processing of that action. I was fascinated to learn simply by observing an action with an object that can be potentially used for an action – such as a potato peeler – the brain seems to simulate this action.

But what happens when we observe an object being used for an action in an unusual context? Or what happens if we see an object being used for an unusual action, perhaps even in an unusual space.

The experiments used videos of a person performing a task with specific objects in specific contexts such as cracking and egg into a bowl in the kitchen. and was then repeated in a different context or with a different tool. such as cracking an egg into a shoe in a garage for example. The experiments yielded interesting results [see links below]

For me, this reminded me of the mechanisms artists use all the time. Mixing of materials that would otherwise rarely come together – or simply mixing contexts actions and labels.

“The influence of contextual information on action observation and anticipation
“In order to properly interact with each other it is of utter importance to understand what people around us are doing: that is, to be able to derive intentions, to predict and anticipate future steps of an unfolding action and hence to capture overarching action goals. As actions are highly complex stimuli, action recognition and more specifically goal inference involve not only the readout of core information (manipulation movements, manipulated objects) but also the integration of contextual information, i.e. the scene (including actor, room and contextual object information) in which an action takes place. The latter may be especially important for the inference of action goals. Hence, information that is not necessary for the recognition of an on-going action (e.g. cutting a carrot) might be crucial for higher-level inferences of goals (preparing a salad) and the prediction of forthcoming action steps (e.g. cutting more vegetables, preparing dressing)”
Nadiya El-Sourani, University of Muenster, Germany

Link to related paper:
Making sense of objects lying around: How contextual objects shape brain activity during action observation


James Turrel – Light Reignfall

James Turrell’s Light Reignfall @LACMA – Andrew van Baal

James Turrell’s Light Reignfall Light Reignfall is a work from his series of perceptual cells, inside the participant is exposed to a uniform homogenous field of modulated light. A combination of sensory overstimulation, yet deprived of recognisable forms or space, hallucinatory effects are experienced.

“Assisted by an attendant, an individual viewer enters a spherical chamber on a sliding bed. A program of saturated light (operated by a technician) surrounds the viewer for twelve minutes, allowing the visitor to experience the intense, multi-dimensional power of light and the complex seeing instrument of the human eye.”

“James Turrell (b. 1943, Los Angeles), a key artist in the Southern California Light and Space movement of the 1960s and 70s. The exhibition includes early geometric light projections, prints and drawings, installations exploring sensory deprivation and seemingly unmodulated fields of coloured light, and recent two-dimensional work with holograms. One section is devoted to the Turrell masterwork in process, Roden Crater, a site-specific intervention into the landscape just outside Flagstaff, Arizona, presented through models, plans, photographs, and films.”


God Helmet

Neurologist Michael Persinger created the God Helmet, an actual helmet modified with electrical coils that can create electromagnetic fields in the wearer’s temporal lobes that induces “religious” experiences in the people who put it on. “This is a device to investigate whether religious, spiritual, and mystical experiences had a natural rather than a supernatural source. He speculates that we are somehow programmed so that they can generate religious experiences via our brain’s internal processes.” I was interested in this experiment because of its use of sensory deprivation and the fact it would be relatively easy to recreate [see my DIY neurostimulation attempt 2009] for my Enki project. My plan was to drive it with frequencies generated by my electric fish [a low voltage species].

Persinger noted ‘that there were many points of similarity between seizures experienced by some individuals who suffered from epilepsy, and the types of mental and spiritual experiences that St. Paul, Moses, and many religious mystics had reported. 3 Persinger wondered if visions, a sense of the immediate presence of God, and other mystical experiences could be artificially created in the laboratory by magnetically inducing changes in the temporal lobes of a person’s brain.”

Persinger vs Dawkins: The God Helmet from Tommy Decentralized on Vimeo.


Acupuncture, brainwaves, and electric fish

Some documentation from a day working with Greg Byatt developing a system to work with the IBVA [Brainwave visulisation] interface.  Such as attaching the Electric signal discharge output from the Electric Fish to acupuncture pads placed on our arms, to see if we could perceive the signal and also seeing how the fish behaved.

No conclusive results. More time needed!

Black Ghost Knife fish interacting in tank
Black Ghost Knife fish interacting in tank
Black Ghost Knife fish interacting in tank
Measuring levels of EOD

In preparation for the next Enki event, we spent the day testing the neuro-graphic interface; as an experiment, we patched a strong frequency via MIDI to a MAX patch so our brains were modulating all kinds of strange sounds. Later this will combine with the Enki interface as a form of feedback.  In this image you can see the graphics of the brain activity and the receiver boxes – the sensors are wireless and stuck to our foreheads.


Enki Manchester Science Museum

Some of the early experiments for the Enki project at Museum of Science and Technology Manchester 2006…

We recorded brainwave data and monitored the behaviour of the electric fish during the experiment. The electrical activity of the fish is experienced as sound and light via ENKI (a stroboscopic high frequency led placed close to eyelid) and the natural binaural frequencies produced by the interaction and communication between Black Ghost Knife fish. The participant’s bio-electric field was connected to the aquarium allowing the fish to sense a human (bio)electric image or presence.


Museum of Science and Industry Manchester, 7th October 2006

Enki interface 2005-2013

This project formed the basis for my PhD proposal. Initially, an investigation into the behaviour of electric fish which have an ability to navigate and communicate using electro-perception. I investigate ways in which to communicate and interact with them. In considering how it was possible to do this, I soon started to become interested more widely in perceptual and psychological experiments with humans; themes of interconnectedness, extending sensory perception. More specifically a notion of the ‘body as eclectic image’ which I will be elaborating on the next few weeks…

” The ENKI project was developed through an Arts Council, International Artists Fellowship, Pepiniere programme, Paris, with Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) France in 2006. It has been shown in the UK Europe including, Dutch Electronic Arts Festival, NL, CAAC, Seville, Spain 2007. International Festival of Art /Science /New Technologies, Prague, the European Forum for Emerging Creation Luxembourg and Spectropia08, Riga, Latvia. Most recently in 2009 – 20010 ‘ENKI Experiment 3’ was commissioned by Arts Catalyst for the show Interspecies.”  shown in London and Manchester and most recently for my solo show at Kapellica Gallery, Ljubljana, Slovenia 2013 

Diagram of the experiment set up for the installation at Corner house, Manchester  2009

“ENKI was a series of experiments in bio-interfacing between humans and certain types of Electrogenic Fish. Ultimately this is achieved through psycho-acoustic audio and visual entrainment as a means of modulating human emotional state. During this process bio-electrical activity is monitored and used as a means to create a feedback loop between organisms.

Enki Experiment 03, Cornerhouse Manchester 2009

The research aims to study interaction between tiny bio-electrical fields of both species [human and fish] specifically the they way in which these fields modulate and the means of controlling them. It also aims to discover if it is possible to create a harmonious state of interaction that can be of benefit to both species, no matter how different.”

Diagram showing the arrangement of the final experiment See the documentation here...

Amplitude Modulation Workshop

I met Martin Howse in 2009 when he invited me to do a workshop for his micro research series in Berlin. At the time he had a fantastic apartment with a large garage space for a studio. The large table at its centre became sprawled with electronics by the end of the day. I had the opportunity to take a look at some of his projects, wonderful hand-drawn circuits burnt and encrusted that looked more like remnants from some other device of unknown function. For this workshop we investigated Amplitude Modulation, turning light into sound, use of the LM chips as an amplifier and using light sensors as an input, and making LEDs and lasers transmit sounds and signals through light over distance. [ See iLog Photsynthisiser] as well as some more experiments in ganzfeld perception.