Divided by Resistance is a live-installation/performance by Bruce Gilchrist in which the artist invites the audience to interact with him while he is asleep. This piece was performed over the duration of multiple days as part of the Totally Wired exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1996. During the performance, Bruce Gilchrist, who is asleep, is wired to an electroencephalograph (EEG) that detects electrical activity within his brain while he is asleep. Any participant can take a seat in the chair known as “the seat of consciousness” and zap his feet, affecting the electrical activity in his brain. Changes in Gilchrist’s brain state will be manifested through vibrations in the “seat of consciousness”. Bruce Gilchrist collaborated with the computer software programmer Johnny Bradley and implemented a biofeedback technology that allows for the creation of a database of Gilchrist’s brain activity while he is in REM sleep. A computer, utilizing this database, pulls a picture from its own library and matches it with certain patterns of brain activity and projects it on a screen for the audience to see. So for example, if Gilchrist has similar patterns in his brain activity from prior nights of sleep, the computer will recognize the similarity and pull up a picture that represents the dream Gilchrist had the prior night. The REM wave patterns of Gilchrist’s sleep are also physically recorded onto a graph paper.
Gilchrist’s live-installation coincides with a sort of technology boom that was going on in the 1990’s which must have raised questions and concerns about the effect of technology on our autonomy, privacy, and security. His piece seems to embody that conflict between the body as a private entity and technology as a more invasive entity. Before biofeedback technology or the EEG, dreams and thoughts were processes going on in the brain that could not be seen. However, this live installation very clearly demonstrates that these technologies are able to expose these private aspects of our humanity. These technologies make visible what was once private to each individual, and the dreams and thoughts of Gilchrist’s subconscious mind is manifested through the pictures the computer projects on the screen and the waves that get recorded onto the graph paper. Our minds and bodies are at their most vulnerable state when asleep, as our conscious is asleep, and our subconscious takes control. By measuring his brain waves when asleep, Gilchrist seems to be emphasizing that these technologies can expose the most vulnerable aspects of the human body and psyche.
In another sense, this piece seems to exhibit a new level of intimacy between two bodies with the help of technology. A conscious body is now able to tap into and affect another body’s subconscious mind at its most vulnerable and open state. It’s a direct interaction between an individual and another individual’s psyche. The conscious individual can alter or stimulate the dreams of the individual. The sleeping individual can respond in his or her dreams and the conscious individual can see these affects through the pictures shown by the computer. The “seat of consciousness” vibrates and further serves as a response from the subconscious mind to the conscious individual. A full-on interaction is going on between the conscious and subconscious. Technology becomes the mediator between this potential deeper level of intimacy.
I think this project raises a lot of questions about the relationship between technology and the human experience. It brings to the table discussion about the vast ability of technology to alter our perspectives on our own consciousness. What changes can technology bring about in our conscious experience as well as our subconscious experience? How far can technology allow us to tap into and alter our subconscious experience, which is largely still a mystery? Will technology pose a threat to the privacy of our own psyches? This project reminded me of a youtube video I saw while surfing the web several months ago. The video essentially explores the possibility of recording our dreams, which I think would be feasible down the line. Some of the research mentioned in the video seems to correspond really well with the type of computing work that Bruce Gilchrist worked on with Johnny Bradley. Enjoy!