A 3D printed brain wave, by Sinead McDonald.
A 3D printed brain wave, by Sinead McDonald.

HACK CIRCUS: Sinead McDonald


17 June 2015

In the lead up to Hack Circus on June 14, we interviewed one of the participants, artist Sinead McDonald, on what to expect from her presentation on Saturday and what stories can be told from visualising our brain waves.

Sinead McDonald
Sinead McDonald

So, who are you, and what do you do?

I’m a visual artist, working mainly in photography, video, and physical computing. I collaborate a lot with scientists and engineers; the fields they work in – especially the more abstract end of the spectrum, overlaps a surprising amount with contemporary art practice. People tend to frame them in opposition, but in the real world they’re like a big Venn diagram of interests.

As part of Hack Circus, you’ll be telling us what happens to your brain when you look at certain objects, namely, those cat videos we all find ourselves watching. What can we learn from visualising our brain waves? Why is it interesting?

For me, it stems from research into portraits, and what makes a person’s story unique. In this work I’m pushing that to an extreme – trying to represent people’s thoughts is as close as I can imagine to looking at what makes someone who they really are, without the external facets of appearance, lighting, environment etc. intruding. In a wider sense though the entire field is fascinating, with huge leaps made in the last few years as we start to understand what’s actually going on in our skulls.

Using fMRI tech for example, we can predict and visualise with astonishing accuracy what people are thinking, even before they consciously think it. Private companies are now offering brain scan technology to governments and law enforcement agencies to determine if individuals are lying. This level of access to our thoughts is both exciting and scary, especially when you consider revelations in hidden mass surveillance these past few years.

What are the most interesting results from objects you’ve found in your research? How many have you tried?

The research I’m doing is very new for me, and we’re still ironing out a lot of bugs and noise, and trying to determine what is and isn’t possible. So it’s early days. We’ve mostly been having fun, playing with the chips to work out what direction to take. I’m interested in feedback loops – shifting the very low frequencies of the brain up into the audible range to produce sound waves, that we can then play back to the participants in real time. I want to know if listening to the sound of happiness, for example, makes you happier. Probably not, but someone has to check!

We’re just now (as in late last night) finishing the software that will allow seamless 3D printing of the output, so I want to explore that more. I love that we can now do this type of work without the need for huge and expensive hospital machines and manufacturing equipment. I can’t imagine even ten years ago thinking I could access my brain waves and computer model them in a range of materials, all from my laptop in my kitchen. It’s astonishing really.

Join us on June 18 for Hack Circus for an evening of fantasy technology and everyday magic, led by Lighthouse Studio resident and ringmaster Leila Johnston. Book tickets here.


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