Former TALKING HEADS frontman DAVID BYRNE has designed and curated "Neurosociety," a new "immersive art installation" currently on display at THE INSTITUTE in MENLO PARK, CA, the heart of the SILICON VALLEY, "loosely modled after the work of neuroscience and psychology labs" at top institutions such as CALTECH and HARVARD.
There are four rooms in the exhibit, each the site of a quasi-scientific experiment. Commented one bystander: "After an hour, I'd navigated moral dilemmas, got tricked into believing a moving object was standing still, predicted (with limited success) the winners of an election, and found myself experiencing life as though I'd been turned into a doll."
The installation, dubbed "THE INSTITUTE Presents: Neurosociety," was co-created by BYRNE as an expression of his scientific curiosity. BYRNE and his collaborator, the technology investor MALA GAONKAR, toured leading research labs around the world to gather ideas, advice and source material.
BYRNE said he wanted to turn the experience of participating in a neuroscience experiment into a form of theater for the general public.
About 1,500 people have attended the installation since it opened at the start of this month. Tickets for the installation, which runs through MARCH, were previously going for $45 but now go for $20 here.
The lobby of the installation is lined with lime-green walls and bookcases stuffed with scientific props. A sign on the counter warned of a small risk of seizures for people sensitive to light, with eerie beeps playing in the background. The participants become "lab rats."
In the first room, arranged to resemble a game show stage with colored lights flashing over a semicricle of podiums, participants are given a list of moral dilemmas: Would you tackle a man if you know doing so would prevent a future where the Nazis take over the world? How about punching him in the face? Or pushing him in front of a car? Or shooting him in the face?
Next room featured a diorama where miniature wind turbines sat seemingly motionless, but, with a pair of special goggles, revealed they were actually spinning, a demonstration of how color contrast informs our visual perceptions.
The third installation was arranged like a school classroom. For each question, we were asked to look at head shots of two real politicians who ran against each other in SENATE races between 1995 and 2005 -- and make a snap judgment, based solely on their faces, about who actually won the election.
The final room was completely white and after sitting down on white leather couches, participants are then immersed in total darkness - and exposed to flashes of light that revealed images. After strapping on a virtual reality headset, viewers experienced life as a doll -- a demonstration of how our awareness of our own body informs our perception.
PRINCETON psychology professor ALEXANDER TODOROV, whose research inspired the experiment involving the SENATE candidates' faces, has been examining the visitor feedback. "For me, this is really about the experience of the users and introducing them to interesting, counter-intuitive effects that influence many of our decisions."