Medium: Brainwaves, Smartglass, living tree, Sumi ink, mounted rice paper, mirror
Dimensions: 55 x 65 x 28 cm
“The Tree of Pascal” is a collaboration among 100+ brains from all over the world to keep a small tree alive. It is an artwork, but also a digitally-enabled ecosystem. It leverages modern technologies, such as EEG, electrochromic glass, and digital signal processing, but is rooted in the haunting words of a 17th century French mathematician & philosopher. I wanted to create an artwork that is so flexible that everybody can find a place in it, both literally and metaphorically. I also wanted to send the viewers on a search for their own Tree of Pascal, which they want to nurture with mental energies.
Blaise Pascal, one of the greatest minds to have bridged art, culture & science, famously said:
"Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavour, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality."
What is Pascal's reed for the 21st century?
A small young living tree is placed inside an electrochromic glass box, the transparency of which is controlled by an electric signal. Depending on the voltage applied, the glass changes from transparent to opaque. The stronger the voltage, the more light comes through and reaches the tree, enabling photosynthesis—and the tree stays alive. The voltage applied, and thus the transparency, is controlled by brainwaves. The more intense the brainwaves, the more transparent the glass becomes.
The brainwaves in the installation are both live and recorded. Up to 5 viewers can put on EEG headsets and affect the transparency of the glass “live.” But their brain signals also collaborate with the pre-recorded brainwaves of over 100 other participants in the project from around the world. Leaders in business, academia, science, & politics have embedded their brainwaves into this artwork—coming from Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa & Australia. Recorded and live brainwaves jointly enable the survival of the tree. Together, they form a metaphor for the elevating force & vulnerability of human thought.
I’m fascinated by brainwaves as an emerging artistic medium. Art, in its purest form, is electric & chemical signals inside the brain of the viewer. So by using brainwaves in my artwork, I strive to disintermediate some of the materiality of art, plugging straight into the source of all thoughts and emotions—the electromagnetic activity of the human brain. Partly, this is also my tribute to Pascal, whose ideas profoundly shaped computer science and were at the roots of artificial intelligence.