Too much reality – Architecture
Artist Julia Norton recently described a unique form of epilepsy that she manages, a form that has taken years to be diagnosed due to the obscure symptoms it manifests through. Rather than seizures, temporal lobe epilepsy is a form of epilepsy whose symptoms are expressed through memory and emotion. Sometimes she experiences an intense feeling of what she describes as “horrible deja vu” accompanied by disturbing nausea that leaves her physically and emotionally exhausted for days. Other people with temporal lobe epilepsy describe experiencing times of reality more intensely than normal, or times that seem “more real than real.” For some, this feeling is pleasant, almost as if they are on hallucinogens, although they are actually experiencing memory protein overstimulation due to the seizure episode.
Patients with this neurological disease often encounter flashbacks, which can be described as a superimposition of memories (including those of events one has never experienced) in addition to their perception of the world. Julia likens it to the sudden possibility of seeing the world through the eyes of a frog, “where you can see several panels of reality all around you”. She describes the experience as “impossible to explain… unless you have had it”. Julia further explains:
This is why so many people with this epilepsy become artists, in order to further explain their experiences. The idea of reality as being fixed is not a constant that can be passed from person to person or from concept to concept.
While Julia suffers from her brain plunging her into emotional crises while having to deal with day-to-day reality, a person who does not suffer from temporal lobe epilepsy must still navigate their daily reality in a pro-adaptive manner. The endurance of psychological conflicts is a universal and transhistoric constant within human communities. The ability to flourish therefore depends on the ability of each person to adapt to new situations and to create spaces of safety within them.
In order to adapt to reality, the brain is constantly creating new connections between neurons. This process of neural connection is known as neuroplasticity and can be trained and optimized through activities such as exercise, learning a new language, or working on a puzzle. Over generations, the activities that change our brains take the form of culture. Art has always been one of the most important and powerful ways for humans to evolve their brains.
This can be especially recognized in the avant-garde, or among artists who throughout history have introduced new ideas and been rejected because they were too new, too different, to be accepted and even revered. later. In this sense, civilization needs the arts and culture to encourage and create opportunities for more neural connections to develop.
Julia’s description of her neurological condition as “multiple panels of reality all around you” can be understood as a form of hyperreality. But it could also be used to literally describe a multimedia installation. Technological reproducibility makes it possible to record moments in time on supports. These “snapshots” make it possible to bring back at will temporalities captured in the present. Multimedia work that emits multiple snapshots of reality in a single space and a single time does not flatten them into a single message, but rather presents them all at once, creating a landscape of potential experience.
Maria Chávez, The Rain of Applause (excerpt)
Maria Chavez, The rain of applause (sample), 24 hour live sound installation at INKONST, Malmö, Sweden, April 26, 2014.
In my own sound installation practice, I frequently use field recordings or audio snapshots of the time. In my current series The rain of applause (2012-present), I ask arts organizations and venues to record the applause of their events for a period of time (a week to a month). I then manipulate the recordings and shape them into a compiled sound file, which is output through an 8.1 speaker setup that plays the sound piece for at least six hours and up to twenty-four hours. By placing multiple levels of audio documentation in a dense configuration over an extended period of time, the sound of applause slowly begins to transform. A mental form of audio masking occurs in which the mind can no longer identify the source or intention of the sound. This stripping away of excess context and information allows the listener to hear applause not as praise but as rain.
My Abstract Turntablism performance practice uses my large library of field recordings to create a real-time hyper-memory installation by playing back decades-old field recordings on multiple decks. Some records played contain sounds recorded during certain seasons in nature, such as the monsoon season in India, or from wildlife, such as frogs and toads in New Hope, Pa., Or wolf cries at night in the mountains of California. In addition to multiple decks, I use RAKE double-headed needles, which read two parts of a record at the same time. Using RAKE double-headed needles on four decks gives me the ability to isolate or play eight different audio broadcasts at once.
The experiential density of these “hypermnemonic” facilities has the potential to support and aid in the development of neuroplasticity. Should we understand places and cultural institutions as places for those who want to activate their own neuroconnectivity? Providing safe spaces where creatives can produce works and offer new experiences is essential for stimulating our brains, which is essential for responding to a reality that changes spontaneously and proves difficult to navigate.
Survival is a collaboration between the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and e-flux Architecture.
Maria chavez is an abstract turntable player, sound artist and DJ. His latest album is Maria Chávez plays (Stefan Goldmann’s Ghost Hemiola), and is currently Artist in Residence with EMPAC (The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center) until 2022.