An Installation Design

Inspired by conversation and theory around humans’ relationship to technology that surpasses private experience, and exists in a more complex, ecological relationship towards ourselves, I began to think about technologies other than personal computers and smartphones, namely neuroscience research technology. The fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) is a neuro-imaging technology which measures the BOLD signal, which is blood-oxygen-level-dependent imaging. There are two profound ways in which this imaging is removed from the “truth”: one is that measuring blood flow as an expression of neural activity is complicated, due to the fact that we assume these to be linearly correlational but do not know if they are, and secondly that the temporal resolution of the fMRI is about one second. When looking at vision for example, it takes light one millisecond to reach the back of the eye, and tens of milliseconds to reach the primary visual cortex in the occipital cortex of the brain. Therefore, if looking at how light hits the eye in the fMRI, it would only be possible, due to its temporal resolution, to view what would occur one second after light hits the eye.

There are two real consequences to this delayed response of the technology to our cognitive processes: one that we are consistently looking at the after-effect of what we would like to look at; and two that the fMRI can only be used to measure cognitive processes that are slower, take more time, are more removed from direct experience and immediate interaction with the world. Poetically, I think this idea of only after-effect being something that can be measured or reached is so beautiful, and in a lot of ways reminiscent of Lacan’s ideas, specifically the fact that there is something which is contained in the Realm of the Real, which language is unable to access.

Overcast is an installation design which I hope combines many of these ideas. The basic set-up of it, as drawn in the figure, is a room with a glass floor, under which there are several thermal cameras attached to projectors. When people lay down or walk on this floor, their body in front of the light of the projector will create a shadow on the ceiling, which is unmediated by the projector but simply the result of a body obscuring the light. Then, the thermal cameras below would take images of the shadow obstruction and project them onto the wall with a temporal resolution of 1 second, equivalent to the resolution of the fMRI. Therefore, in a scenario where someone rolls across the floor, their shadow would create a continuous sequence of imprints on the ceiling as the act was occurring, but there would only be one or two images captured and then projected by the thermal camera.

I wanted to combine something that was clearly unmediated and existed in the realm of the real (the body and its shadow) compared with a technologically mediated image, which had some characteristics of our relationship to the fMRI technology. I also wanted to involve light and shadow, because some facets of measuring vision in the fMRI seem to be limited by the speed of light itself.