Drawing alternate realities at Secret Garden Party
November 8, 2017 by Marissa
This summer at the Secret Garden Party festival, we invited sensory neuroscientist Ed Bracey and contemporary artist Stephanie Bickford-Smith to collaborate with us on a new psychedelic life drawing event that explored brain diversity and perceptual phenomena.
Our senses allow us to take in information from the world around us and behave appropriately. But this process of sensing is a process of interpretation – our view of the world doesn’t always accurately represent what’s really out there. There are also huge differences in the way we perceive things, making everyone’s experience completely unique.
We wanted to explore these differences by drawing as though we were seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. We selected five “neuro-differences” that affect how the brain perceives the world, and together considered how these would alter our perception of reality.
Neuro-difference 1: Akinetopsia
Individuals with akinetopsia are unable to see movement. They experience the world as a series of still frames with gaps that do not connect into motion – a bit like viewing a dark room with a strobe light on or like a flick book with pages removed.
To simulate this experience we asked our model to move around while the audience picked out several still movements to draw on top of one another.
Neuro-difference 2: Visual Snow
Visual snow causes vision to be busied by the appearance of static, making everything look like an out-of-tune TV. This experience isn’t always distressing and in fact some people find comfort in their unique view of the world.
To reflect the real life experience of people with visual snow, we encouraged the audience to draw in a pointillist style, using series of dots or pieces to create an image of our model.
Neuro-difference 3: Prosopagnosia
Prosopagnosia causes an inability to recognise faces. A person with this condition sees faces, but their brain does not understand or remember them. Prosopagnosics often look at individual features and use other clues such as hair color, body shape or voice to recognise people.
We explored prosopagnosia by incorporating the style of Picasso, using complex distorted facial features and concentrating on single stand-out characteristics.
Neuro-difference 4: Hemispatial Neglect
People with Hemispatial neglect completely ignore the left half of the world – to them it does not exist. For example, an individual with this condition won’t perceive a clock normally, but instead their brain thinks only half of the clock exists and places all the numbers on the right side.
To replicate neglect we asked the audience to draw a line in the centre of the paper and place all our model’s limbs on the right side of the midline, as if they’d put both halves of her body on the same side of the paper.
Neuro-difference 5: Synaesthesia
Synaesthesia is when one sense triggers another. This mixing of the senses comes in many forms, but the most common is always seeing letters in specific colours. Some of the rarest include tasting sounds, feeling sounds as physical sensations on the body, and seeing sounds as colours.
We mimicked sound-to-colour synaesthesia by blindfolding the audience while they listened to someone singing. Then they attempted to draw what they heard – what colour did his voice sound like?