Synapstraction: Brain-Computer Interaction for Tangible Abstract Painting


Watch Synapstraction Demo Video Synapstraction is a brain-computer interaction project which allows users to create an abstract painting based on neuro-feedback. The system uses a special headset that measures the electrical activity of a person’s scalp processed by machine learning algorithms to discriminate a stimuli’s effect on the brain. Each visitor is invited to enter the installation and approach one of five “sense” stations, each with an electroencephalography (EEG) headset. We then measure the event related potential (ERP) elicited by the visitor’s brain using the EEG when the visitor receives 1 of 5 stimuli. These 5 stimuli correspond to the 5 senses (sight, touch, taste, sound, smell). In addition, each stimuli is mapped to a specific creative instrument such as a paintbrush, sponge, or marker. Once the visitor has secured their headset, they are presented with a stimulus (e.g. a Chopin Nocturne if at the “sound” station or fresh ground clove for the “scent” station). Our system then uses a machine learning method called linear discriminant analysis to map the activity of the visitor’s brain while experiencing the stimuli to acoustic frequencies which actuate the painting implements. After visiting each of the 5 “sense” stations within the installation, the participant is invited to keep their finished painting.The participant’s brain serves as a conduit, translating the stimulation of each sense into the finished image. In this way, the usual methodology of an artist using their senses to create a media object is inverted; the senses use the artist to create an image. Synapstraction largely takes its aesthetic interests from the abstract expressionists of the 20th century and its conceptual framework from aleatory artists such as John Cage. Unlike Cage, however, Synapstraction maps all senses to image, and renders the consumption of sensual stimuli as an act of image creation. The material of this artwork doesn’t necessarily lie in the paintings themselves, nor the equipment used in the installation, but instead rests in the speculative reconsideration of potential alternative roles for human senses in art making. This project premiered during the Digital Arts Festival at the Black Visual Arts Center in 2017. Press: Junction Magazine