Silent Barrage

Silent Barrage

Philip Gamblen, Guy Ben-Ary, Peter Gee, Dr. Nathan Scott & Brett Murray in collaboration with Dr. Steve Potter Lab (Dr. Steve Potter, Douglas Swehla & Stephen Bobic) (AU/USA)

Honorary Mention Hybrid Art

Seven years of research have gone into “Silent Barrage,” a project that spans an arc between artistic installation space and basic scientific research. Its subject is the essential nature of thought, of free will and neuronal dysfunction. Visitors move about within the brain of a biomechanical organism that reacts to their presence. This organism consists of a micro-network of tens of thousands of neurons and 60 electrodes in a petri dish. Each region of the petri dish corresponds to one of the pole robots in the installation space. The movements of installation visitors, captured by cameras and position sensors, stimulate the micro-network, whose reactions on the macro-level are implemented by the robots. The upshot of this is an intensive alternating series of actions and reactions between human beings and neurons. The resulting markings are a representation of the organism’s neuronal activity and can be read as “memory.”

The reactions constitute uncontrolled outbursts of nerve tissue activity that is typical of epilepsy and nerve cell cultures. The nerve cells have been wrenched out of their context—the brain of which they used to be a part—and are being cultivated in an artificial environment in which they attempt to make connections with the cells around them. The barrage of activity is a symptom. Can the pairing of the cells and the installation visitors help establish “meaningful” connections that will quell the barrage? Scientists hope this installation will help them to better understand how to reduce activity in the petri dish, which would, in turn, benefit the treatment of epilepsy.

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