Art and Neuroscience: The feeling of being in, and owning, your own body is a fundamental human experience and tightly linked to our subjective, first person perspective of the world. But where does it originate and how does it come to be? How do painters and self-portrait artists incorporate the self into their work—and why?
Olaf Blanke is Director of the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and a consultant neurologist in the Department of Neurology at the University Hospital of Geneva. He pioneered the neuroscientific study of human self-consciousness and subjectivity by using a broad range of methods such as the neuropsychology and electrophysiology of self-consciousness in neurological disease as well as brain imaging in healthy subjects. His main interest at present is the development of a data-driven neuroscientific theory of self-consciousness and subjectivity. Another main line of research concerns balance and body perception, and their application to engineering-based technologies such as virtual reality, robotics, and neuro-rehabilitation.
Terri Cohn is a writer, curator, and art historian, and was a contributing editor to Artweek magazine for 20 years. Fascinated by the zeitgeist for decades, she is currently intrigued by contemporary interpretations of traditional genres, the conceptual life of objects, and a return to storytelling. Cohn is the author of hundreds of essays, interviews, reviews, and catalog essays largely focused on artists who are involved with contemporary art and media concerns, including conceptual art, gender issues, the intersections between static and time-based media, and evolving public art practices. She has contributed to several books including A Sculpture Reader: Contemporary Sculpture Since 1980 (ISC Press 2006); Letters from Linda Montano (Routledge, 2005); Women Artists of the American West (ed. Susan Ressler, McFarland & Co. 2003); and RE/Placing Public Art, (2007). Her curatorial work over the past 25 years has included numerous site-specific public and gallery installations and several performance art series.
Nicole Ottiger was born in London in 1969. She is an artist, teacher, and art psychotherapist. She graduated in 1998 with a BA in Fine Arts from Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts and in 2004 with a Master of Arts in Art Psychotherapy from London University Goldsmiths. In 2010, she spent nine months in a residency in the Brain Mind Institute at EPFL. For her work, the artist employed the "Video Ergo Sum" neuro-scientific experiment and setup of Bigna Lenggenhager et al 2007 (Lab of Cognitive Neuroscience, EPFL). The experiment demonstrated that conflicting visual-somatosensory input in virtual reality could disrupt the spatial unity between the self and the body. Ottiger's "Portait of An Artist: The Mind's Eye" installation featured in the "Think Art - Act Science" exhibition is a self-portraiture of the virtual body modus.
Olaf Blanke, Director of the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, presents an experiment that demonstrates the bizarre ways in which the brain defines the "self."