Friday through Sunday, the downtown art gallery called The Space on Heriot Street will host an art experience which is programmed to measure and react to changes in the brainwaves of a viewer’s frontal lobe.
HYACINTHE is a multi-sensory visual and audio experience by Matthew Lessner, an American artist based in Amsterdam. The work uses modified neurofeedback technology using EEG headbands (wearable devices for electroencephalography), allowing visitors to engage in a “participatory cinematic moment with visual changes that occur through the assessment of brainwaves in the prefrontal cortex.”
Put simply: Each individual viewer will have a unique, psychedelic and surprising experience based on their own brain waves.
Our thoughts shape our reality
Lessner said the project is inspired by the age-old idea that our thoughts can shape our reality. He hopes to make viewers aware of the personal power and agency they have in creating their own perception and reality.
“I realized, through the implementation of this technology, there could be the capacity to explore that concept in a more immediate sense instead of in the abstract way we know it,” he said. “So in a way, there is the ability within this project for the viewer to experience in real time the way in which their thoughts or lack of thoughts are impacting something.”
HYACINTHE premiered in Stockholm in February 2023 and was funded by the Swedish art council Konstnärsnämnden. It is the result of one year of intensive research, filming and the development of the unique software program Lessner employs.
Lessner, who is known for his work as a filmmaker, cinematically takes the HYACINTHE viewer to five sacred sites: The island of Ikaria, Greece; Samothrace in the northern Aegean Sea; Sacred Valley, Peru; Ucayali River in the Amazonian rainforest of eastern Peru; and the Atacama Desert, Chile.
Lessner said his inspiration for the project can be understood in three parts:
“On a practical level, I became aware of these EEG headbands. Historically, this kind of brainwave technology has been only accessible to those working in a more official scientific capacity. Over the past few years, this technology has become accessible to the average consumer. And so I knew this was technology that I was interested in exploring.
“Another component is that I’m someone who has benefited immensely in my own life from a multitude of practices which can go under the umbrella of mindfulness, broadly speaking, meditation, breathing exercises,” Lessner said.
“But something I found is that there’s a number of folks that can sometimes become almost more anxious by closing their eyes or being encouraged to go more inward, at least as a first step toward mindfulness. And so I started imagining, would there perhaps be ways to help those folks who could perhaps benefit from these mindfulness techniques? Instead of encouraging them to close their eyes — could there be a way to sort of visually stimulate them while still kind of encouraging this state of mindfulness or kind of introspection?’
See it in Charleston this weekend
Only 15 people will have the opportunity to experience the work in Charleston this weekend. To see HYACINTHE, email firstname.lastname@example.org. A lottery system will help select 15 lucky visitors for one-hour time slots to experience the work sometime between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 3 through Nov. 5 (five showings per day).
The work comes to Charleston by way of a connection made at Burning Man — Cathryn Davis is the former executive director of Enough Pie, a local nonprofit that uses creativity to connect and empower the community. Davis met Lessner at the music festival earlier this year.
“When I met Matthew and he shared a little bit more about his work, it felt very congruent with what Enough Pie offers,” Davis said. “So we brought the project to [Enough pie], and they were thrilled to lend their resources to bring this to Charleston and really bring this to life.”
All are welcome to attend the free and public artist talk at The Space, 2147 Heriot Street, Studio F, at 6 p.m. Nov 2.
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