Warren Neidich in conversation with Mathieu Copeland Zurich, 26th of October 2014
Mathieu Copeland: I would like to begin our discussion with the word “neuroaesthet- ics” – a concept that encompasses new possibilities of aesthetic experience and the ca- pacity of works of art to effect and sculpt the materialized brain. I believe that you prefer the idea of a neuroplastic brain. Are both terms equivalent for you?
Warren Neidich: When I came up with the idea of “neuroaesthetics” in 1995, as part of a series of lectures I conducted at the School of Visual Arts, it concerned an emancipa- tory artistic practice: one which first created dissensus and disruption in the cultural field and, as a result, reconfigured the architecture of the brain I have always been in- terested in the idea of a becoming-cultured brain. The brain is a crucible and culture fills it with agency. There is a parallel neuroesthetics perpetrated by the neuroscience com- munity, which acts to demystify artistic production in the name of scientific inquiry. My journal created in 1997 as part of www.artbrain.org was meant as a site of insurgency.
MC: The core of your practice consists in forging – or sculpting – the brain, with the pos- sibility of a sculpture arising from within the brain?
WN: First of all, I think it’s important to set the stage here: the brain, the mind, and the body are linked together; they are not dislocated from each other. There are two parts to your question. The first concerns the idea of sculpting. What does it mean to sculpt? Are we speaking of the figurative sculpture of the Greeks and Romans or that of August Ro- din’s Gates of Hell or his statue of Balzac? Or are we thinking of “sculpture in the ex- panded field,” as Rosalind Krauss labeled it, which includes the earthworks of Mary Miss or the sculptures of Donald Judd? How does the scatter art of Barry LeVa fit in? What then of the expression “sculpting the brain?” The brain's plasticity has the capacity to be molded by all these forms of sculptural plasticity. Cultural plasticity is dependent on the brain's capacity to be coded through activities of neuronal plasticity, which include den- dritic modulation, synaptic stabilization and neurogenesis. The second question con- cerns the idea of a “cultured brain.” The cultured brain refers to the capacity of the brain’s behavior and circuitry to be stimulated and transformed by the environment. In the past, it was nature that provided these epigenetic pressures. Today, however, cul- ture does so – and, furthermore, a culture that is highly engaged with technological ad- vancement.
In September 2003, Scientific American published an article of interest to the art com- munity, titled “Better Brains.” The articles subheadings included things like “Ultimate Self Improvement,” “The Quest for a Smart Pill,” and “Mind Reading Machines.” It was a science magazine, so it obviously emphasized scientific questions. But I began to wonder what impact the humanities had on this question of a “better brain.” Are we to leave it the sciences to decide on the definition of the brain’s future to the detriment of the arts? And at what cost? I wanted to understand what role science was playing in creating a neoliberal brain, i.e., one that is more efficient, less collective, and better adapted to the
requirements of what is now called cognitive capitalism, in which the brain and mind are the new factories of the twenty-first century. Is science in collusion with the forces of govermentalization to create the “cognitariat” or mental laborer capable of producing greater surplus value on laptops and computer screens? I wondered how the “poetic brain,” “anarchic brain,” or “humanist brain” might operate in such a system. I wanted to follow Catherine Malabou’s idea of neuronal liberation as developed in her book What Should We Do With Our Brain?, with the idea that “artists have the power to change the world and the brain, and they don’t even know it.” We no longer want a flexible brain imposed from without and crafted by neoliberalism in order to do its bidding, but rather a proactive brain that constructs an alternative world which then sculpts a material brain accordingly. The idea of “neuroaesthetics” was precisely a method of “conscious- ness raising” meant to do just that. Art is a semiautonomous enterprise in which artists employ their own materials, practices, histories, concepts of time, the void, space, non- time, destruction, destructive art, noise, etc. All of these can be used to investigate the territory of neuroscience and psychology: for instance, memory, perception sensation, empathy, theory of the mind, gestalt, affordances and understanding that produce a very different system of what I call artistic facts with greater explanatory power. Neuroaes- thetic could, in fact, deterritorialize neuroscience and create a cornucopia of objects, ob- ject relations, and things that emancipate the neuronal circuits of the brain to provide new routes of access for the thoughts they help induce.
MC: As Meredith Monk has recently reminded us, through dreams we experience our own images which have their own freedom. To consider the possibility of sculpting the brain leads us to question the objectification of (and within) the spectator, and how to maintain a person's subjectivity?
WN: I'm particularly interested in issues of subjectivity and agency.
Your question is complex and goes to the very heart of neuroaesthetics as a space of freedom. It refers to the artistic community’s long-standing distrust of neuroscience, which originates in a wariness towards sociobiology of the late nineteenth century, as well as the reductionism and subjection imposed by science on the creative processes in general. Richard Florid’s The Rise of the Creative Class is a case in point. The idea of dreams as a place where our own images, no longer controlled by the ego, can arise and take flight is a powerful concept for the poet, filmmaker, and painter. The freewheeling images inside our head are capable of acting in different ways and through different nar- ratives, sometime ordered into schemata and, at other times, as part of anarchic abstrac- tions. Surrealism is a case in point. Breton's relationship with Freud, along with his in- terest in dreams, word association, sleepwalking, and the unconscious is well known.
But Surrealism left radical material traces of psychoanalytically inflected objects and things that decorate our cultural landscape and which interact with the wet mutable ar- chitecture of the brain.
Essential to how I understand the power of the arts is how this mutating cultural envi- ronment, as a result of Surrealism, post-Colonialism or Feminism, for example, is regis- tered as immanent-synapto-logics. Neural plasticity is an important link to how specific trans-generational and inter-generational populations of neural architectures result from interacting with the evolving cultural-technologic-sociologic landscape which cre-
ate our so called cultural memory. This is essential because neuroaesthetics plays a role in the process. Neuroaesthetics does not consist in demystifying aesthetic objects through scientific method. Instead, it consists in creating variability and difference in the cultural landscape, which has repercussions for the shaping of the brain. This is, in fact, what lies at the heart of my definition of post-Conceptualism.
Neuroaesthetics is bound to neuropower. Neuropower is a term that is rooted in bi- opower. Neuropower is a means, on the one hand, to subjectivize populations, of bod- ies/brains through rigorous institutionally modulated control and, on the other, is an emancipatory force that acts upon bodies/brains through idiosyncratic remodeling and intonation. Key here is the concept, conceived by the French neuroscientist Jean-Pierre Changeux, of selective stabilization of synapses through the interactions of populations of synapses with the environment, which leave traces in the living brain. Jacques Rancière’s concept of the distribution and redistribution of the sensible is important as a tool to understand sensorial policing. The sensible is not simply a collection of agents external to the subject acting in the existential world, but rather reflects how, according to Lev Vygotsky, external influences and affordances become interiorized. Bernard Stei- gler is also an important reference in this regard especially his theory of originary tech- nicity. Surrealism, through its practices, methods, and apparatuses, redistributes the sensible and the brains’ software and hardware by coupling to these alternative and latent distributions ,are also changed. Populations and distributions of synapses previ- ously dormant now become operative.
MC: I'm reminded of one of the discussions I had with Malcolm McLaren on the Sex Pis- tols. In his essay “The Casino of Authenticity and Karaoke,” McLaren suggested that the Sex Pistols were an art project: “Instead of paint and canvas, clay or bronze, I used real people.” That echoes Joseph Beuy’s concept of the social sculpture, or again, “the living sculpture” as proposed by Gilbert & George… All of them tried to figure within the body
– in its wi(l)dest understanding – the existence of art, the existence of sculpture.
WN: Whether you’re talking about Gilbert and George or Beuys, their ideas of social sculpture were contingent upon the generation of which they were a part. They are products of the ideas of Fordism that formed their consciousness, and the post-Fordism that provided their artistic context. The laboring body or proletariat on the assembly line of industrial capitalism transitioned into a laborer as event coordinator or producer in communicative capitalism. Today the situation is described by the cognitariat or mental laborer who produces data through the choices he or she makes on the Internet in cognitive capitalism . We might say that the laboring body has transitioned to the la- boring mind. The real people of McClaren’s art are alive and speaking; they are not mute objects resting on a pedestal. In the transition to communicative capitalism the event and performance takes center stage. This is the beginning of the valorization economyI in which surplus value is created by language itself, through public relations, advertis- ing, and branding. Beuys work Das Capital Raum (1970-1977) is a case in point. The work is an assemblage of used props from a series of activist performances and black- boards used in discussions.
MC: Which brings to mind the work of Robert Barry – notably, his attempts to define the sensitivity of an existing work of art. With no physical presence, you only ever approach the work’s reality through a description of its qualities, its emotional landscapes so to say. The work only exists in the brain. As such, it underscores the place of the spectator. Your work seems to be more of a simulacra; it aims to provide a map of the work, show- ing the path of how to get there, rather than constituting the work itself.
WN: Along with Duchamp and a number of other pioneers of neuroaesthetic inquiry, Robert Barry is, of course, one of my heroes. I especially love the telepathy work. His work is very much related to my own in some of its formal qualities but also, most im- portantly, in its conceptual languages. What is really interesting, is his idea of Conceptu- al Art as a product of immaterial labor. Barry was one of the first artists to understand the idea of immateriality as a form of cerebral labor, which Lucy Lippard called the “de- materialized art object.” Today immaterial artworks refer to the products of immaterial labor in cognitive capitalism: working on the Internet by making airplane reservations, searching on Google to produce data, generating likes and dislikes on Facebook, editing pictures on Instagram, as well as crowd sourcing and prosuming. Telepathy is a form of cognitive labor, as it uses the hardware and software circuitry of the brain to do its work. The advent of Brain Computer Interfaces and the Emotive EPOC headset prove that telepathy is no longer science fiction. This focus on immaterial labor is what differ- entiates Conceptual and post-Conceptual art.
MC: Looking back at your own history, how did you see the transition from your early work with photography in the 1980s to neuroasthetics?
WN: When I was a photographer, my assistant Rirkrit Tiravanija once told me: “You should make work more about yourself. You should really go back to your own personal history, to who you are, and try to work on that.” At the time, I didn't heed his words of wisdom. But with time they sunk in. As you know, I studied neuroscience. With my work Camp O. J., I had come to the end of a certain exploration of the photographic archive as a fiction and I needed something else to work on. I remembered Rirkrit’s remark, and I thought about examining the ways in which art might influence neuroscience as a means to explore who I was. So I started.
MC: One of your breakthroughs was the exhibition Conceptual Art as Neurobiological Praxis, which you curated at the Thread Waxing Space in New York. It was the first time you tried to put forward the idea of neuroaesthetics as an exhibition, which refers back to the idea of what I once heard you refer to as the “founding artist,” Could you also ex- plain this term?
WN: Actually the term founding artist is not my own but rather the idea of the scholar and art critic Warren Niesluchowski. He used it to define the way in which Pop, minimal, nd Conceptual artists had to invent their own discourse to accompany their work, i.e., through curating, writing, as well as making. They were “founding artists” because, when it emerged their work was so strange that there was no vocabulary or criticism to explain it; so they had to create it themselves. I've always felt that it was perhaps a good way to characterize my own practice and it’s estranged position.
In 1999, Conceptual Art as a Neurobiological Practice, at Thread Waxing Space, sought to educate the public on my artistic research and to define other means through which Conceptual Art might be understood. Its central tenet was that conceptual art was an apparatus with which to study and research the brain. There were three nests of work: the “Retino-cortical Axis,” “Word-Image Dialectic,” and “Cerebral Chaosmosis.” Artists included: Matthew Ritchie, Douglas Gordon, Jason Rhoades, Carl Fudge, Spencer Finch, Rickie Albende, Uta Barth, Thomas Ruff, Liam Gillick, T. Kelly Mason, Andrea Robbins, Jack Pierson, Jonathan Horowitz, Grennan and Sperandio, Sam Durant, Ann Lislegard, and Rainir Ganahl
MC: Your first diagrams date from nearly ten years ago. How did you come to the dia- gram as an art form? These are the means to map your own world, and they relate to your scientific upbringing – you trained and practice as an ophthalmologist for years.
WN: A diagram is a kind of cartography; it’s based on intensities; it’s fluid; it’s net- worked; it’s not hierarchical; it’s flat and distributed. I think that characterizes the world we live in today and the brain’s architecture. It’s the best material to represent the work of thought. As you know I do blindfolded performances in front my diagrams, in which I recite the diagram from memory. But, more importantly, the diagram is a network, and most accurately displays the way information is designed today. The development of my diagrams has followed a trajectory beginning as drawings, books, and teaching devices and has progressed to neon sculptures. Sunset Strip, Californian patois meets continen- tal philosophy!
The key to its recent manifestation as neon represents a nod to Pop Art and Pop culture. I really wanted to use the idea of the neon, how it operates within the commercial field and the history of “the art of the masses,” so to speak. How could I bring knowledge and research into a medium considered as a commercial enterprise? Did this somehow re- late to the phrase “the market place of ideas”? In other words, how could I reenact the story of high and low art? Would it attract more attention? Would it be more readable and fun?
The story of high culture is one of orthodoxy and the re-theatricalization of established truths, which migrate into the established archive of those in power. It dominates the story of the history of art. High culture and the archive become sites of contestation be- tween aristocracy and the public. My diagrams are political works because, in the end, they pose another set of questions about the jurisdiction of the archive and how it serves power. The diagrams are consciousness raising ballets that perform and negotiate the relationship between art and society, in their most utopian and egregious forms and de- lineate the process of how the brains architecture is ultimately the site of these asym- metric power relations. I am wagering that what reaches the archive becomes part of a long history of indoctrination and plays an important role in the process of neural sculpting.
What I’m describing here is a form dialectical materialism of the brains material essenc- es trans-generationally. One that runs parallel to a culturally engaged dialectical materi-
alism. The archive is a specialized kind of cultural memory and record of these two par- allel streams. In the age of cognitive capitalism ideas and immaterial practices mediate these archival renderings and act to transcribe their effects on sculpting the brain. The history of Pop Art can be instructive as a means to illustrate the power of art.
If you go back to the history of art criticism as it engaged with Pop Art, what you discov- er is that many writers hated Pop Art. The major problem with it was that it disrupted the trajectory of art historical criticism. Krauss mentions this in her article “Sculpture in the Expanded Field”: the attempt to paternalize minimalism and earthworks. But the same can be said of Pop. It wasn’t something that followed a lineage of Constructivism, Surrealism, Dada or Abstract Expressionism. Abstract expressionism has historical roots and was thoroughly engaged in what came before it: Surrealism, for example. It was a natural progression, and art historians could easily write about it. Pop exploded that.
Pop allowed high and low art to merge and that was its perversity and subterfuge. Like Fredric Jameson’s description of the Bonaventura Hotel in Los Angeles, Pop was sub- lime. It would require a future generation of spectators whose perceptual habits had been nurtured by another more complicated post-Modern environment to understand the provocations of its new hyperspace.
Furthermore, this question takes us back Pierre Bourdieu’s book Dispositions and his definition of cultural capital. For Bourdieu, what was taught at school reinforced what had already been taught in the homes of the privileged aristocracy. Their children could do better and achieve more because, at an early age, they learnt what was necessary for a successful education. Their schoolwork reiterated what was already taught to them in the natural course of being brought up. At an early age, their neural plasticity had been sculpted by these cultural affordances and the knowledge they acquired was natural- ized. So Pop Art equalized all this and made the relation between high and low art pre- carious. It also changed the very question of criteria for great art. Because historically high art has always been the terrain of the aristocrat: a person who was well-educated and therefore had good taste. With the advent of Pop, and its embrace of mass culture, connoisseurship was no longer advantageous. It was actually a disadvantage, as critics were not proficient at the task of interpreting such a vulgar medium. In contrast, the commoner had gained an advantage, and was now on equal footing with the patrician, in terms of cultural knowledge with its enjoyment and interpretations. Pop spoke to the everyday life of the American and, subsequently, to the world citizen. And this was one of the reasons why Pop confounded all of these icons of the New York literary and criti- cal world, because they really didn’t know what to do with this ascendency of low art.
Pop was part of the greater social revolution taking place at the end of the 1960s.
MC: Teaching, and education, is something that is very important to you – to such an ex- tent that it forms a major part of your work and your art.
WN: My work is all about education. Many people in New York and Los Angeles couldn’t understand why I included so much documentation of my student workshops in my re- cent book The Berlin Works. I believe that teaching is a form of artistic practice. I have always looked at teaching as a kind of artwork. I was invited at the American University in Cairo, for instance, and I drew the whole diagram we referred to above. Each student
chose a section to memorize and perform. I repeated the experience recently at the Weissensee Kunsthochschule in Berlin. The students learned both the meaning of each term and a new form of memorizing which was distributed and non-linear.
MC: In Cairo, you began to shift from the diagram to the score, as you “performed” the diagrams. In turn, this relates to your piece for Manifesta in Saint-Petersburg. Can you tell us a litte about it?
WN: The diagram is always a guide for my work. I started incorporating ideas from im- provisation and noise into my diagrams as a site of emancipation. So in the Duende Dia- gram (2011), a central white diagonal acts as a bridge between the forces of subjugation at the top and those of emancipation at the bottom. Included in the bottom loop are ref- erences to noise, improvisation, and graphic scores. I had been listening to John Cage and Ornette Coleman. So this is how it happened. I made these sound installations and scores to illustrate what I had meant in the diagrams. The new works were then shown synchronously with the diagrams.
Avant-garde art practices have been likened to and interpreted through the Oedipal complex: as aggressive acts against the father. Each generation’s artistic production kills the father of the previous generation. There is merit to this.. Deleuze and Guattari men- tion it in their Anti-Oedipus, when they coin the word “schizo-analysis” in a slightly dif- ferent context. I want to create another paradigm based on noise: “noisy-analysis.” What I’m arguing is that, in fact, there is a total disruption of a specific generational type of artwork into fragmented mess. The re-territorialization of meaning is an act of con- scious linking, which is not based on correlationism but rather on coupling intensities.
Noise acting on behalf of culture is a generator of diversity and alterity through a disrup- tion of normalized linkages that subsequently create new variable gestalts, affordances, and patterns of attention, which are sampled by the selective brain. These satisfy the becoming-brain’s thirst for new potentialities with which to invigorate its labile and si- lent synapses, reawakening them to form new alliances of immanent futurity.
Imagine that you are walking along a street. You can hear your feet clicking on the pavement as you approach the building where you live. You check your iPhone to see the number of the code for the door’s security system. It is in your notebook section. You swipe your screen to find the notebook and there is the security number. You dial in the code and the door opens. You proceed through a dark hallway towards the elevator, which, lit from within, casts a thick ray of light on the opposite wall. You enter the eleva- tor and go to the third floor. Your cell-phone makes a little ping and you notice that you have a text message from a good friend. While you read it another ping with a different sound occurs alerting you to a Facebook message. You open Facebook and start reading the posts and you like a number of them. You open the front door, and the first thing you see is your living room.
In the living room there is a couch – it might be a Louis XIV couch, a Victorian couch, a Jungendstijl couch, an early modernist couch; it might be something made with a com- puter (a recently designed CAD couch) Nevertheless, there is a couch! The couch is on a
wooden floor with big slats – dark brown, stained wood. Now import into your imagina- tion an image of a rug that you found on your favorite website, let's say eBay.
You are looking for an old Turkish rug; you go on eBay and you search for, let’s say, “Af- ghan kilim” or "Turkish rug.” And, all of a sudden, you see many stamp-size images of rugs. Choose one of the rugs that you see. Click on the image; choose one of them. Import it now back into your mind’s eye (because that’s what we’re doing: we’re working in the mind’s eye.)
You’ve imported the image. Open Photoshop. I now want you to export it into your im- age program, and place it on the ground, underneath the couch, on top of the wooden floor. Now you’re in this room and there is a ceiling. The room is a certain height, about four meters high (or twelve feet).
And there are windows, a bank of windows - beautiful windows, full-length windows – which open to the outside. And the sun is streaming through the windows, or a cloudy sky, if you like.
And then find a lamp: a floor lamp with a shade (for the purposes of this exercise it should be a white paper cone-shaped lampshade) and place it beside the couch. See yourself sitting on the couch now, and pull the chain and turn the light off - and turn the light on - turn the light off - turn the light on.
Now go back to the doorway and see the whole room. You left the light on. You've got the streaming light, you've got the Turkish or Afghan rug, you have the couch - whatever style you wanted it to be. Stand in the doorway, and use the wide-angle lens on your video camera to see the whole room, in one swooping gesture. Just for good measure, install a flat-screen TV on a console on the opposite wall to where you would be sitting if you were on the couch.
Now just focus your camera on the lampshade. That's all. Everything else disappears. And the only thing in your imagination now is the lampshade. Now, with your wide- angle lens, zoom out and see the whole room. Now zoom in on the lampshade - and come back again - and forward again - and now stop moving your zoom and concentrate on the lampshade.
Go back to your Photoshop, or whatever program you enjoy using (there are, of course, other photographic programs, such as Pixelmator or Sketch). And import an image now: a photograph of a loved one. It could be your mother, father, boyfriend, girlfriend, pet, or whatever. And put that image onto the lampshade now, so that the entire lampshade is now an image of the face of your loved one, and the light is on. Now turn the light off - and turn the light on. Do this a couple of times.
And that person could be smiling, or could have a frown on their face – whatever image you like. And that’s the key term here: “like.” Because you should feel empathy for that image of the person or animal now collaged on the lampshade. Think of how you feel about them: What’s the nicest thing you can think of? What’s the most terrible? What has that person said to you recently? Did they hurt your feelings? Did you share a love
experience? Do you feel something for that person? What do you feel? Imagine it.
Now highlight that image, and post it on your Facebook page. How many likes are you getting? Now take a photograph of it with your iPhone, and then post it on Instagram and see how many likes you can get.
You’re still in the room, still looking at the face. And I want you to come in closer to the face by walking up to it and using your macro lens: zoom in on one eye.
See the eye with its iris (blue, green, or brown). The black pupil is getting larger and smaller, depending upon how much light illuminates it.
Now we’re going to take an imaginary spaceship; and we’re going to move through the pupil. And now we’re going to take a projector and put it behind the lens of the eye (the lens sits behind the colored part of the eye); and we’re going to make a projection. We’re going to turn on the projection with a DVD player or your laptop computer.
Now go to Vimeo and find a video of a woman or a man riding a white horse. I want you to find it on Vimeo and I want you to put it into your finder. And you come up with this picture, this video from Vimeo. And you’ve set this video up and you project it on the retina of the eye, which is now becoming a big screen for the projection of a person rid- ing a white horse.
Next, import another image of a beach scene and dissolve the previous image of the horse running in the middle of nowhere. Place it so that it is running on the beach. A sil- houette appears intermittently at the edge of the image. The horse is no longer just run- ning anywhere: its now running through affects created by your program and by you.
It’s running along the ocean - a beach, a beautiful beach; and the water is crystal clear and blue; and there’s a smell of salt in the air. And beautiful white billowy clouds are moving fast behind the horse and its rider. And you see this incredible image of this per- son, however you want them to look, it’s your image, your story.
Hear the thrashing of the hoofs of the horse in the water. It’s right where the waves are hitting the beach. The foaming white of the sea is right there, and the horse’s hoofs are moving through it. Just think of how it sounds: the hoofs are leaving traces as they in- dent the wet sand. And they’re making the sound of splashing and of the sand moving. And you’re moving along with the whole event.
Now take the fast forward button and press it. First times two, then times four, now you're eight times fast: the horse is running and the frames are moving so fast. And now press the stop button. Now use the reverse button to have the horse going in reverse.
And now make the cloudy sky that was in the background and turn it into a red sky. Okay, finished.
Two important things were illustrated by this exercise: Firstly, you were using the tech- nologies of a mobile phone, the apparatuses of contemporary film, video, and the Interne to construct your own story inside your mind's eye. The devices like fast forward, re-
verse motion, your iPhone, aftereffects, Photoshop are the new apparatuses of our men- tal armamentarium, they have become part of our thinking processes itself. We use them to think, just as we use a colored pencil to draw or paper to make a collage, or something like that. We are using them to construct narratives in our imagination.
Secondly, I want to wager that someone from the nineteenth century could not construct such a narrative because they had at their disposal a with a very different assortment of bio-technical apparatuses. First of all, fast-forward and reverse, dissolve and rear pro- jection are manifestations of moving image technologies that needed to await the inven- tion of cinema. The ability to even imagine in these ways is clearly a result of these new technologies emerging in cinema and being imported or mirrored by the brain to be re- called in the production of visualized scenarios: these technologies are used by working memory. Working memory is a condition or ability of the prefrontal cortex situated in the front of the brain right above the eyes. It is accordingly the part of the brain that makes us most human and is largest and most-developed in our species. It has many abilities, such as planning for the future, self control, attention, and, in general, it over- sees the activity of other parts of the brain, in that it modulates inputs from the senses through top-down effects. Working memory, as the name implies, is working with mem- ories that have been memorized previously but are recalled in the context of a task oc- curring in real time. In the performance we have just produced together, we recalled images of familiar objects, some of which were contemporary to our own time, as well as, using special effects that are also generationally specific. My wager is that nine- teenth-century individuals were not able to perform the cerebral gymnastics that we are able to do. Their scenarios were less dynamic and volatile and they would have had a difficult time managing the mental acrobatics (like fast-forward and rewind) that we as twenty-first century inhabitants of planet earth are able to accomplish. I would like to argue that this is a result of generationally specific sculpting of the neural plasticity by a process of epigenesist, in which the cultural environment impresses itself in the labile materiality of the brain: in its hardware, neurons, dendrites, and synapses, but also in its functional architecture, which generates the rhythms important for network connectivi- ty; by functional architecture, I mean the ways in which the different parts of the brain – sometime situated in very different regions – communicate with each other. Special ef- fects have left their traces in these dynamic potentialities.
Infotainment is a case in point. It is a term that emerged in 1980, the same year CNN was founded, the beginning of twenty-four hour news coverage: the Challenger disaster (1986); Baby Jessica rescue (1987); and the Iraq (Gulf) War (1991). These were the ear- ly stages in a process in which documentary news became a type of entertainment.
News no longer consisted in broadcasting the “real story” in a disinterested way, with- out an underlying agenda (trying to talk about the news in a truthful way). Rather, the news became a means to generate enormous amounts of capital and excessive surplus value in creating stories around the event - with specially designed title sequences, in- ter-titles, and end credits that brand the news program and increase its affective gain and attention grabbing effects. This is key to our “attention economy,” which links rat- ings to how many eyeballs are captured by a televised World Cup football match, for ex- ample. Attention resides predominately in the prefrontal cortex. Today all news is info- tainment: everything we watch –what we think is reality – is really “information-
entertainment or infotainement.” As we see with the Trump campaign, it has become the way we organize and construct reality itself, so that judgement and understanding itself can be appropriated and form what Michel Foucault called mentalité or political ration- ality. Many commentators have stated that the Trump's election was a version of Reality TV. But what they mean is, just like in our visualization experiment, the apparatuses of Reality TV: i.e., the special effects we just used and its easily consumed story line have been imported into our thinking process and used to construct personal narratives in our mind’s “I” and our collective mind’s “We.” Reality TV is not something that exists on our flat screens but rather inside our head. It is our symbolic reality externalized and
then recuperated into our unconscious in its mutated condition ?