Mind Hygiene, 2009–2011
In a neuroscientific world, the self is less produced through introspection and training, but through neurotechnological testing and manipulation. The project Mind Hygiene consists of three devices for testing and changing the self. Empathy Scale. A sequence of images is presented to the test subject. The empathic state is measured by analysing the microgestural response to the images on the screen. In the case of a low empathic response, the images become more brutal; in the case of a high empathic response, they become more gentle. True Love. Two subjects stand on the apparatus facing each other. On pressing the button, a gas flows through the outlets. This gas activates the production of a pair-bonding neurotransmitter in the brain, which will create a permanent bond between the subjects. Mirror Stage. The response to one's own mirror-image is measured through a neurofeedback device, which analyses the subject's brain waves. If the subject is in an euphoric or tranquil state, the image stays clear; if the subject is in a disturbed or upset state, the image becomes blurry. The device thereby aids the development of a positive self-image.
Some of our fears are very hard to grasp, since they are so removed from everyday experience and rational thinking. Nevertheless, we try to quantify these diffused fears through technical warning and prediction systems which allow us to grasp and manage them. These systems include risk assessment scales, weather prediction systems and crime statistics. On the one hand, these systems allow us to address and manage our fears, but on the other hand, these systems might also trigger fears that would otherwise remain unnoticed. Threat Alert is a device that turns the abstract fear of catastrophes and terror into a tangible experience. Linked to a governmental warning system, the device displays the current national threat-level on a colour-coded scale. Thereby, the individual citizen is kept in a hypochondriac condition of permanent readiness and alertness. In addition to the display, a wearable device can be used during the night, which wakes up the user by pinching the skin should the threat-level rise. (Photos in collaboration with Jonas Unger)
Traces of an Imaginary Affair is a kit containing a set of nine tools which can be used to create an imaginary affair. These tools leave marks on the body, such as bite marks, carpet burns, bondage marks, love bites, scratches and bruises. In addition, probes of perfume, lipstick and hair can be applied to either the body or clothes. The project broaches the issue of intentionally instigated jealousy in relationships, which often serves to bolster self-esteem or to test the strength of partnerships. It was inspired by stories of people who used fake evidence of victimisation or illnesses to receive attention from others. (Photos in collaboration with Jonas Unger)
Affective Sensory Extensions are a collection of three wearable interfaces that monitor health-related information concerning the user’s body. The devices create an immediate and tangible experience by anticipating the long-term consequences of the user’s behaviour. Rather than displaying the information as abstract data, the devices transform them into tangible and unpleasant consequences by using the body itself as a display. The Stressed device measures stress and starts to scratch unpleasantly to force the user to wind down by amplifying the stress. The Sunburned device measures the sun’s radiation and creates and artificial sunburn to force the user to leave the sun. The Cramped device measures body postures and induces and artificial cramp if the position is to static or unhealthy.
We increasingly submit ourselves voluntarily to the direct control of machines and technical systems such as alarm clocks or traffic lights, which regulate our private and social lives. Sometimes, however, this control can be more enforcing and can influence our behaviour more directly. The voluntary submission under the control of machines can help us to attain or eliminate a certain behaviour that we are unable to achieve on our own due to lack of motivation or will. In this way, the machine becomes an external motivation device, similar to a personal trainer or coach, which not only encourages us but also makes us change our behaviour. The Pace Maker is a training device to improve the performance of an extreme workout. It consists of a facial mask with a valve and an embedded pedometer, which counts the amount of steps per time-frame. The valve opens or closes depending on the stepping speed of the user, which is set at the beginning of the training. If the speed is too slow, the device starts to suffocate the user, which then mobilises all power reserves. (Photos in collaboration with Jonas Unger)
One of the most common triggers for panic is the loss of control over a situation, such as being enclosed in small spaces from which one cannot escape by one’s own efforts. This may be the reason why one of the deepest human fears is being buried alive or, more recently, being stuck in a lift without contact to the outside world. The latter also reflects the fear of losing control, which humans experience when being at the mercy of technological systems. The Panic Box creates such a situation. After closing the door, the user is trapped inside the box and is asked to pass a reaction test in order to open the door. The situation intensifies with the release of a gas and the continuous drop in reaction results. However, since the test results are manipulated and the gas is a placebo, the only way to escape the box is to press a panic button, which raises an outside alarm. The machine creates a hopeless situation from which one can only escape by admitting one’s state of panic. (Photos in collaboration with Jonas Unger)
© 2004–2011 Björn Franke