JONÁŠ STROUHAL: DR. BRAIN
NAU GALLERY, Prague, June 23 – September 1
Dr. Brain is an interdisciplinary platform for development and application of the therapeutic method of “neurofeedback.” The platform was created as a part of the master’s thesis at UMPRUM Prague and it aims to establish the therapeutic method of “neurofeedback” as more efficient and accesible to the general public.
In recent years, numerous prestigious medical schools headed towards odd direction. While medics are generally appreciated for skills and knowledge in the field of natural sciences, these institutions provided courses to encourage students to develop visual perception, empathy and analysis through reception of art. In many British and American art museums you may encounter groups of medics training their perception and reasoning by the means of a gothic pietà or a baroque painting. It is a well known fact that the artistic interpretation of the surrounding world is able to stimulate our senses and harmonize the rational and creative direction of the hemispheres of our brains. With the development of technology along with ever-growing understanding of human brain, it is increasingly becoming recordable and available to work with systematically.
The main focus of Jonáš Strouhal’s work is the borderline between two contemporary technological phenomena and our primary cognitive abilities (such as human senses) and the related feedback in our brain. While VR is a blockbuster phenomenon in contemporary art, the psycho-physiological therapy neurofeedback that utilises brain wave activity sensor feedback may still come across as an odd mixture of sci-fi and a purposeful therapeutic method. Previously elusive inner feelings of a human being have historically been perceptible only by means of such a primitive device as a lie detector, but now thanks to neurofeedback is their relation to external stimuli directly traceable.
This technology may however pose a threat to the traditional approach of the modernist understanding of an artwork. Through the data collected via sensors, the word “subjective”, crucial for the classic perceptional asthetics, becomes an instrument of a thorough and exact analysis. The relation between a subject and an object or a phenomenon and an individual takes shape of a two-way interconnection of data flows and nerve impulses. Such theoretical reasonings, however, have no meaning for a conventional patient, whom treatment effeciency and interface accessibiliy are essential for.
Strouhal’s project Dr. Brain isn’t a mere artistic gesture, it is rather a humble way to create a functional neurofeedback therapy model by means of artistic craft. For many years the ability to define and form shapes to express oneself artistically has been limited to the feedback unit limbs-eye-brain. In Strouhal’s approach the most physical part (the hand gesture) transforms into what has previously been labeled as “spiritual”. The remnant physical gesture within the process of “brain painting” is the movement of the head and eyes – something commonly considered a passive means of perception. The user literally paints a picture via neurofeedback and the VR headset-obtained data determine the direction and intensity of the virtual paintbrush. Unlike the common neurofeedback therapy treatmenr paid for by the patient, here the participant “pays” with his own creativity used to create the virtual paintings.
Strouhal’s effort in terms of practical benefit of his work doesn’t necessarily have to be seen as contempt for the self-serving role of art practice. It should be seen as a continuation of the altruistic role of “social sculpture” and the faith in the potential of creativity to be benefitial beyond the world defined by art institutions.