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Plans and thoughts that came before the making of Every Thought There Ever Was ...some things did not happen

Statistics for mental health problems are on the rise and it is still unknown what impact technologies can have or are having on our subjective lives and mental stability. Although there are many concerns for the impact of long hours absorbed in front of screens these technologies also are proving to potentially have positive impacts on well-being, through conscious design, and are even being used as a means of effective treatment for mental illness. But can we treat a problem with its potential cause (technology)?

Schizophrenia has become a means in clinical and neuro-scientific study of understanding the extent to which the human brain can mistake hallucination as absolute reality. Defined by some as an organic brain disease schizophrenia reveals the possible slippage in representation and translation of information in brain functioning. Influenced by the work of an eminent neurologist working with avatars to cure schizophrenia, some neuroscientists defining consciousness and a talented artist suffering from schizophrenia I want to continue and expand these collaborations to create a series of works that are aligned with new discoveries about brain functioning. These collaborations represent a meaningful attempt to move away from tropes of cinema/video art and sculpture (which have ultimately evolved with a specific philosophy of time and space and concept of self). I intend to find new neurologically based language that exposes the nature of perception, its integration and disintegration in this new era of technologies. This technological period has been defined as the age of the neuro image.
 

Historically Colonialism and madness are also philosophically of interest to me, as are my readings of schizophrenia through Deleuze and Guattari. This has led me conceptually to a proposition of the Neuro-image as made by Patricia Pisters in her book of 2012, which rethinks perception through contemporary scientific thought. She outlines how we perceive some contemporary film as unfolding specifically in relation to brain functioning, of entering a mind.

“Today’s viewers no longer look through a character’s eyes; instead they move through his or her brain or mental landscape. “

This being a brain-centered era our understanding of memory (autobiographical and historical) has become one of ‘a process’ and this relates to notions of neural networks and synapses – re-entry, place neurons and mirror neurons, ideas that all influence our preconceptions and imagined experience of perception. Pisters speaks of a digital baroque, my understanding of this is in terms of both the excess of digitally enhanced films but also the idea of the complexity of brain functioning that are still only partially addressed in the unresolved mathematical problems of Information Theory (which underpins contemporary neuro-scientific findings).

Recently having spent three weeks resident in the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science with Anil Seth and his team I revisited their work the Oculus Rift VR headset to research questions of the effect of subjectivity on a subject as defined in neuroscience.
Also to look at the full scope of results and intentions in using the Oculus Rift at the Sackler Centre, the testing set up and VR use in neuroscience (general back ground of its precedents in testing).
I would like to continue with this research, to look into the effect of virtual and as opposed to lens based imagery in the VR device; (eventually by creating a virtual model of Talbot Rice Gallery and a lens based version of the gallery and testing these against one another in Oculus Rift, and also comparing the experience of seeing the imagery in the Oculus Rift on someone that is actually in the space and someone who has never been to the space). Does this alter brain functioning/mapping in the brain?
Also I want to look directly into the effect of subjective/emotional states effect on brain functioning and the effect on semantic readings of imagery, by using sound tracks that significantly alter the atmosphere of a scene.); to research there the notion of 'non-representational memory'  and how that can manifest in artwork. (Phenomenal rather than semantic experience); and to look into any experiments findings/work on psychosis (schizophrenia) and the relationship to sound/hearing.

Oculus Rift is an emerging technology with 2016 seeing it being rolled out to the consumer market. This 3D virtual reality experienced through a head set and headphones allows a meta-representation to unfold where ones body and mind can enter into a false representation and yet be simultaneously aware of its virtuality.
These clearly constructed animated worlds still bring with them the resultant phenomenal bodily responses to the movement in space that the VR draws out. These physical signals are as convincing as any other every day embodied ‘real’ experience. Particularly at the early stages of the use of the headset the viewer can experience a strong dichotomy of between the real and virtual - something akin to ‘out of body experiences’ or lucid dreaming. One enters ones virtual body and floats through space as the perceptual floor falls away – it feels real even if at times it does not look it.  There is also something akin to hallucination experience of the VR headset. As one looks away from an object and it slips into periphery of vision, on a return glance back to the same object one finds it subtly changed, one doubts if it has or if memory is mistaken – unsure one looks away and back again then finds it entirely removed. These shifts in perception feel uneasy, uncanny and also trouble the viewers sense of agency – are things changing because ‘I’ have misread them or simply triggered because ‘I’ look away – am ‘I’ the trigger for change? The sense of the world as a construct hovers around the experience but who is constructing this world? A belief that the brain is producing the world is a common idea in neuroscience but Paul Fletcher (a neuroscientist at Cambridge University who is working with gamers to produce a high spec Playstation Game that address’s hallucination and mental illness) refers to how ‘the brain is simply a model of the world and is never more or less than this.’  I experienced the VR work Paul has been developing and found myself clinging to my chair and screaming on a virtual fairground ride and even when I had my eyes closed through terror my stomach continued lurching!
 

The art work under development 'Every Thought There Ever Was' is a moving-image installation, which will explore the phenomenon of consciousness, its uncertainty and spectral qualities. It draws on philosophical ideas and contemporary scientific findings. A particular focus will be on current and historical perceptions/representations of schizophrenia, in literature, philosophy and science. It also addresses current neuroscientific study.  The work involves a number of collaborations. At the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, Professor Anil Seth examines the effect of exposure to virtual reality on our sense of self, our perception of our body and our experience of subjective 'reality'. The team is also concerned with clinical outcomes for their findings.

Elsewhere, the hallucinatory conviction that a body is in a place when in fact it is not has been used in a cathartic way by Professor Julian Leff. Leff creates avatars that represent 'the persecutors' in the minds of schizophrenia sufferers and uses this as a means of treatment. The patient has absolute belief that the avatar is real and present.
The capacity of even the healthy mind to take as real filmic/digital images raises questions about the power of virtual reality. How do we process and interpret what is spatially and temporally real and does this significantly differ from our register of the digital? How does this affect our actions, perceptions and beliefs? Is everything equivalent in perception, given that real space/time is always overlaid with imagined images from our own past experiences?
With an ambition to create effective collaborations my intention is to work alongside Seth and his researchers at the Sackler Centre, where I explored situations in which a viewer will (mis)take a visual image. Seth's ongoing work with postdoctoral research fellow Keisuke Suzuki, manipulating experiences of bodily and worldly 'reality' within an ostensibly Cartesian space of 3D computer generated virtual environments demonstrates how the relationship between self and surroundings can be surprisingly fraught with slippages and blind spots - an observation that is closely correlated to my own interests, with its accent on audience immersion, and its regular plays with disjunction, disorientation and illusion. My interest in doubles, distorted mirror images and phantom projections of the self also finds an echo in Seth's planned investigations into psychiatric patients' responses to these virtual scenarios.

The work will be staged in a constructed space over three moving projection screens. These screens will be mounted on robotically controlled arms, responding to imagery and sound they take on a false semblance of consciousness. The structure and nature of the films is being developed in relation to brain functioning rather than the tradition of filmmaking (at least that is the ambition).
Although consciousness may seem to be a unified field often it seems that the reality may be quite different. The coming together and breaking apart of conscious perceptions of the world and the self is a recurring motif for my work. The piece will reflect these shifting, fluctuating natures of our perceptions of reality.

I will also be searching for a form of editing sound, image, light and environment that relates to the analysis of schizophrenia – in which potentially the hierarchy of attention becomes fragmented and excessively differentiated rather than integrated, so narrative no longer forms a unifying function.

Feeding into this process also will be a series of parallel researches I intend to undertake with Jon Oberlander, Head of the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh. The problems of embodiment and consciousness are also essential concerns for robotics. Professor Oberlander, with Reader in Infomatics Subramanian Ramamoorthy - will help inform the robot intelligence behind the screens, which also has a conceptual resonance. The fact that the screens move and appear to react to one another and for the audience, will invite a degree of anthropomorphism: that the screens are, in a sense, 'alive', and with 'a mind of their own'. Like other examples of intelligent robotics, they may have been programmed to be aware of each other's presence and movement. How much of such 'awareness' in a machine is required before it can be considered 'conscious'?

In both of the galleries concerned there are potential waiting rooms in which the audience can be prepared for what they will experience in the room with the robotic/conscious screens. In these ante-chambers the intention is to prime the viewer with what Chris Frith would refer to as our priors. The viewer will be presented with the VR headset which will have imagery of the room that they are in but with some slippage and also with some phenomenal experiences of floating in the space – this individualised experience in the headset will set up what will happen in the larger shared experience – this feeling of a shift from the virtual to the real will be played off at different levels in the work. The staging of the work across environments will bring its affect.

Although there are many formal elements in the work drawing on meta-cognition the underlying premise is to open up consciousness on itself hence to question ones own systems and preconceptions. This at a deeper level is a way of dissolving dogma and rigid conditioning.

The long established tradition of the novel and its relationship to film are the impetus for the books that are distributed from the work. Sometimes a film is based on a novel and sometimes a novel is based on a film - this order of events seems to matter in that a film will pervade a novel if seen first and a novel if read before the film will often stifle the much loved novel. The two events film and book influence one another and jostle for precedence It is not necessary to do your 'homework' and read the novel in my shows - it doesn't explain the film as such - its importance is that it did not come before of after the film it was written during the whole evolution of the work - so the writing influences the work and the actions/processes and research influence the writing - they circumscribe each other. Ideally months or even years later the owner will pick up this free novel given with the exhibition and the work will be reactivated and reformed in the memory in a different way. For my work in the Hayward I began to write alongside a number of collaborators – the most significant being a person diagnosed with schizophrenia. I would like to continue with this way of evolving the works across mediums with different temporal and semantic qualities.