This is a talk about a show I curated at the digital studio of the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art in London) entitled “Synaesthesia, A Neuroaesthetics Exhibition”. I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about the concept for the show as well as some works included in the exhibition. I’d also like to touch upon this idea of taking something cognitive and placing it in the context of an art gallery. If nothing else, and as we saw this morning, a scientific approach to aesthetics sparks debate, and if nothing else, an aesthetic approach to science should raise a few eyebrows.
For this lecture, I would like to focus on the distinction between aesthetic neurobiology and neuroaesthetics. I will first outline what can be called the primary repertoire, the volumes of brain that we start out with at birth, and the possibility of the transformation of this primary repertoire into the secondary repertoire, by which the organization of new elements is the result of a process by which the primary repertoire is sculpted into patterns, or maps, by the millions of sensations which imposed themselves on us by our senses.
What I’m going to talk about doesn’t have to do directly with arts practice. I want to talk about certain issues around perception and power in the context mainly of the mass media and try to talk about emotive power, that I think is directly perceptual and imparts technologically the workings of the nervous system in a way that constitutes a trend of extended nervous system, in a way that I hope will contribute a bit to the kind of extended context for what’s being called Neuroaesthetics in this conference. It has to do with aesthetics, obviously, because it concerns a form of qualitative experience…
Two images from Leonardo da Vinci: the brain and the genital urinary tract. Pen and ink drawing on the right, and sections of the head on the left hand side.
What I want to do is to use my 15 minutes here to add art to the movies and buildings of our event’s title. And, I want to offer a quick sketch of half a dozen or so relational positions between art and science. After which, if I have time, I’ll add just a few words about one instance of the effort to reflect on the representation of thought itself.
Philosopher/writers have often pointed out metaphors that insist on a linear view of life (i.e., “the seven ages of man”), while others are grounded in cycles (i.e., “from dust to dust”). But what if you can’t experience ‘progress’ in daily life or any of the norms of sequential reasoning because you have suffered brain damage affecting the regions responsible for memory? This deficit might well be visualized as a filmic series of re-runs and short cuts.
Techno-cultural Neuroaesthetics, Thanks John, thank you for teleporting us through the work of Stanley Kubrick and also Gram Gusson, and for pairing our teleportation with several French authors, Prince Leroi-Gourhan, Stiegler, Blanchot, and Lyotard. And I’m sorry your bandy on Nietzsche at the end there, because I enjoyed previously being prompted to think of our Zarathustran potential to give birth to dancing stars. I’m here today on the basis on my background, way back when, in experimental psychology, with my recent work here at Goldsmiths on Andre Leroi-Gourhan, the paleo-anthropologist that Charlie [Gere] started out with.
I think there are five points that I want to make, in regards to Barbara’s contribution, and to develop on those five points, in terms of my own research in the field.
The assumption that there is a connection between the world of the aesthetic and the world of neural activity is itself an assumption. I think that we should not go along too easily with this connection without putting it properly in the form of a question. The idea that there is some sort of symmetry and concordance between these two domains remains really quite questionable from an epistemological point of view and from the…