Control magnetic liquid with your brainwaves, for art (Wired UK)

solaris video 1::vtol::

An EEG headset has been used to
let people control a swirling pool of ferrofluid — magnetic liquid
— with their brainwaves.

At least that’s the way it appears, as viewers watch the
swirling black mass move seemingly with a life of its own, adrift
in a pool of fluorescent liquid. The striking effect is the result
of a motorised magnet that sits beneath the eerie circle of liquid.
The Emotiv Epoc electroencephalography headset is linked to the
magnet’s motors, and the wearer must learn to relax or concentrate
their thinking to set it in motion.

The setup — named Solaris — was devised by Russia-based
designer ::vtol:: with the help of artist Julia Borovaya, who uses different fluids in her creations to
demonstrate chemical processes, chemist Edward Rakhmanov (a former collaborator of Borovaya’s) and neurophysiologist Alexander Kaplan. The
components that make up the motorised magnet include an Arduino,
actuators and a custom-made interface. Two of the motors spin the
magnet along the horizontal and vertical plane, while a third moves
it up and down and a fourth allows it to move right and left.

solaris video 2::vtol::

::vtol:: writes that the whole experiment “visualises the
temperament of the person”. “The object copies your mental
organisation and echoes it on the liquid’s surface. The object
becomes a part of the participant.”

There have been plenty of practical applications for Emotiv
already — or at least experimentations with these practical
applications. A brain-controlled
wheelchair
has been trialled. Then of course there’s the brain controlled
spy robot
. The opportunities are endless. Applications in the
art world are more and more common, and Braintone Art recently
emerged on Kickstarter as the Emotiv-equipped way to create digital
artworks without lifting a finger.

Claiming to understand what the idiosyncrasies of a swirling
mass of liquid magnet mean, though, might be a bit of a stretch.
Nevertheless, ::vtol:: asked a range of people to trial it and talk
about the experience — and the reactions were priceless.

“Solaris itself is obviously alive,” asserts an artist named
Nastya. “Solaris itself influences your mood and thoughts. This is
a mutual process. A very interesting feeling, it’s complicated.”
The description sounds an awful lot like the antics that take place
in the novel Solaris, after which the installation is
named — so that might be the “influence” she is speaking of. That
novel centres on a fictional sentient planet that begins to bring a
team of human explorers’ memories to life, with ominous results.
And Nastya’s feelings appear to be shared by a number of others
that tested it out.

Ilya — a performer and “researcher of movement”, whose job is
“conscious dancing” — complains that he begins to lose interest in
Solaris, “because there was no answer from that creature”.

“It’s like a baby,” he says. “This is definitely a living
creature, but I cannot realise how to communicate with it. It’s
just lying there and moving… I just cannot realise how to
communicate with it. There’s no reaction, no communication — I
cannot see it. And here I give up, get disconnected with that thing
and start just being into this place, connected to the
environment.” It’s only then, though, when his mind is calm, that
the sphere of magnetic fluid apparently dived into the green
liquid.

Yan, only known to us as a “motorcycle driver”, attempts to nail
the logistics rather than worrying about its potential for
autonomy, saying “as soon as I’m engaged in a social mechanism
(external attention) the ball’s state changes. When I start to
talk, for example”.

Like any application with Emotiv, this is what it’s all about.
Learning the different patterns of your brain activity, and
harnessing those differences to your will. If Solaris doesn’t
become sentient first.

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11 September 2014 | 2:01 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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