These Brainwave Artists Are Crafting the Future of Immersive Experiences

This piece is part of our Dimension Defying Series, in which we explore artists who, like the Marvel character Doctor Strange, transcend physical, dimensional, perceptual, and conceptual limitations.

Recent revolutions in technology have made it possible for scientists to gain unprecedented insights into the human mind. Yet despite all of the remarkable advances in neuroscience, the brain remains as magnificently mysterious as ever, and few are better equipped to examine this paradox than artists. Creative individuals possess the curiosity and the drive to investigate the implications of scientific breakthroughs, using mechanisms of the brain not just as subjects in their art practices, but also as tools with the help of the electroencephalogram (EEG).

Luciana Haill's early experience with viral meningitis led to an intense interest in gray matter, and her use of the EEG as a creative medium spans more than two decades. Through digital and analog installations as well as the traditional discipline of drawing, Haill investigates the brain's activity during the state immediately preceding sleep, and looks at how EEGs can reflect various states of consciousness.

Haill’s work is deeply influenced by surrealism and Beat philosophy, in particular, William S. Burroughs' friend and colleague, Brion Gysin. Gysin invented the Dreamachine, a cylinder with holes cut out and equipped with an interior light bulb. The device rotated atop a turntable while audience members closed their eyes and experienced the pulsating emanations of light, which transformed into an all-encompassing, near-hallucinogenic visual symphony. Haill has taken Gysin's experiment further by recording the neural oscillations of participants experiencing the classic Dreamachine.

"I can’t predict what levels of EEG speed and amplitude I will record from the brain of someone in the audience or in one of my sleep sessions," Haill tells The Creators Project. She has measured unusually high brain activity during exercises that were designed to be therapeutic, for instance—just one of the surprising things she says she loves most about working with brainwaves.

New York-based visual artist Lia Chavez has created a method by which viewers can witness the interrelation between their own brainwaves and the vibrations that create sound and light. For her interactive and multidisciplinary installation The Octave of Visible Light: A Meditation Nightclub, Chavez directs electrical impulses in the brain to engineer fully immersive sounds and fleeting light works. Inspired by the visions of paradise in Dante's The Divine Comedy, the atmosphere is an homage to Sir Isaac Newton's frequency theories, as well as an exploration of the therapeutic effects of bioresonance.

Audiences wear headsets designed to record brain activity as Chavez provides guided meditation. The EEG headsets translate and transfer the signals to an A/V system via Bluetooth, which then reflects the intensity of the brainwaves through color and sound. More relaxed brainwaves yield a broader span of vibrations. The Octave of Visible Lightisn't the first time Chavez has examined the interrelation between the senses and visual art: she’s painted while blindfolded, wearing earplugs in her project Carceri, and most recently, composed a sequence of optics that represent her visions while in deep meditation in Light Body.

Suzanne Dikker is a cognitive neuroscientist and Matthias Oostrik is a computer artist and software developer who also specializes in interaction design. Together, the two have worked on projects that use neuroscience to investigate the evasive nature of human interaction. Their collaboration, the Mutual Wave Machine (MWM), is equal parts experiment and artistic installation, seeking to understand the mechanisms behind the successful synchronization between two people's sets of brainwaves. A pair of individuals is confined to a modular space, with an audiovisual concert of concurrent brain activity. Increased synchronization is reflected as more colorful and clear, whereas discordance is displayed in a comparatively dark and unpleasant manner. Meanwhile, audiences can sense what's happening with the machine through sounds and by viewing the silhouette of the exchange between the two people through the capsule.

"We enjoy our collaborative art/science practice because it is inspiring and challenging, and it enriches our individual work in our respective fields of expertise," Dikker tells The Creators Project.

Link to article



Lia Chavez Explores the Intersection of Art and Neuroscience 

Lia Chavez is a multimedia artist who draws on meditation to find her creative spark. She says she's driven to explore "how the artist can serve as a living lab for the creative process." Video by Denise Bolstein for The Wall Street Journal.

Link to video


Photo by Ioulex for   The Wall Street Journal

Photo by Ioulex for The Wall Street Journal

Artist Lia Chavez Lends Her Mind to Science

By Kelly Crow

Lia Chavez, in bare feet and a flowing floral tunic, moves with a ballerina’s poise as she descends into her studio—a former garage attached to a rambling midcentury ranch on the eastern tip of New York’s Long Island. After six years of living and working in Manhattan, the 38-year-old moved here part time in July and began renovating with her husband, David Shing. The exterior is now a charcoal black, while every interior surface—floors, walls, ceilings, steps—is a high-gloss white. The effect is stark yet Zen, not unlike the artist herself.

The chemist Blair Munhofen built the house in 1955 and lived there for decades. His basement—once filled with beakers, stands and clamps—now stores Chavez’s paintings in cardboard tubes. “You can just feel the creativity here,” she says.

That’s not an idle comment from Chavez, whose artworks exploring the elusive triggers and effects of creativity have earned her lecture invitations from the Tate in London and collectors like the actress Isabella Rossellini.

At first glance, Chavez seems more mystic than academic, with her penchant for wearing coaster-size earrings, feathery hats and heavy streaks of eye shadow in red and blue and black. But like her new home and studio, her work has a scientific background, and her recent collaborations with neuroscientists could help answer a question that has eluded researchers for decades: What does the creative spark look like in the brain?

Despite the fanfare (and TED talks) around creativity, only a few neuroscientists have captured images of the brain undergoing a spontaneous aha moment, which is difficult to induce in a sterile clinical setting. London neuroscientist Joydeep Bhattacharya has tried for more than a decade, but his subjects have repeatedly told him that they get their best ideas while in the kitchen or the shower—not while wearing a brainwave monitor in a lab.

“Then we met Lia, and we got our paradigm shift,” says Bhattacharya, who is head of the Brain and Cognition Cluster of the psychology department at Goldsmiths, University of London. “Because she happens to get inspired when she meditates, she can trigger it systematically, so long as we can give her time to get settled.”

When Chavez reaches a state of deep, sustained meditation, she sees strobelike bursts of light arcing across her mind’s eye, a phenomenon frequently reported by experienced meditators. These flickers, she says, are the source of her creativity and her art, and she can conjure them on command, in her all-white home or a more clinical setting.

“It sounds so unscientific to meditate in a lab,” Chavez says. “But that’s the forefront of science—to try new things.”

For the past two years, she has subjected herself to a battery of brain-scanning experiments, meditating for up to eight hours at a stretch with her head covered by a wiry, swim-cap-like electroencephalograph, or EEG, monitor that tracks her brain activity. During these sessions, her reports of light storms correlated with sharp increases in her neural activity, specifically her gamma waves—electromagnetic frequencies in the brain associated with aiding memory, focus and feelings of well-being. But what surprised researchers was where in the brain this activity was taking place. Chavez’s occipital quadrant, which processes visual stimuli, was highly active during these light-filled sessions, even though the artist was meditating with her eyes closed. “What she’s seeing isn’t an illusion or her imagination,” says Caroline Di Bernardi Luft, Bhattacharya’s co-lead researcher, who lectures at Queen Mary University of London. “It’s coming from a primal area of her brain.” When Chavez tried meditating while suffering from a cold and jet lag, she saw nothing—and neither did the researchers watching for spikes in her neural activity.

When the artist meditated, Luft found that gamma-wave activity in her occipital quadrant pulsed at rates up to 700% higher than when she was resting. To Chavez, this link between her creative visions and her elevated gamma levels amounts to a potential breakthrough because it suggests a possible way to expedite creativity on cue. For people with low gamma levels, Luft says, it might now be possible to supply them a creative jolt using a technique called transcranial alternating current stimulation, which shoots magnetic impulses of gamma waves directly into their occipital quadrants.

But it’s too soon to conclude that gamma waves can incite creativity on command, researchers say. Each brain recruits a distinct and complex neural network to solve problems and form ideas. Still, it’s a first step, paving the road for further research. A 2009 study from Northwestern University found that people were more likely to solve problems, like anagrams, when their brains were stimulated with gamma or delta waves. Bhattacharya and Luft submitted their early findings about the occipital quadrant’s connection to Chavez’s creative triggers to an academic journal, and they’re planning a longer case study. “Now her work with light makes more sense,” Luft says. “I can’t exactly imagine what she’s seeing when she meditates, but clearly she’s showing us through her art.”

Before the lab sessions, Chavez’s work was mostly in photography, sculpture, painting and performance art. Today nearly everything she does incorporates technology and biofeedback. Commissioned by the Art Production Fund to create a temporary piece for the Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas, Chavez subverted the city’s reputation for frenetic hedonism with “The Octave of Visible Light: A Meditation Nightclub,” her multimedia performance installation. One by one she guided EEG-wearing participants through a custom meditation session in a dark room lit by a single laser light. As participants stilled their thoughts, their EEGs sent coded signals to emit specific sounds, and the light changed from red to orange to yellow to green and violet as they achieved deeper states of calm.

Chavez’s lab sessions confirmed to her that meditation could boost brain activity. “I basically wanted to help others have the same neurobiological experience,” she says. At least 4,500 people who participated in “Octave,” including a 6-year-old girl who, 30 seconds after putting on her headset, was “meditating at the level of a Tibetan monk,” the artist says.

Chavez’s artwork began exploring what she saw during meditation as early as 2010, but as the daughter of a scientist, she felt the tug to ground her practice in something verifiable. “I got to thinking, ‘Can science help me explore it better?’”

Her next piece may provide a few more clues. In September the portable speakers and headphones company B&O Play commissioned her next installation, an immersive room where she plans to invite 20 people at a time—the typical number for a scientific experiment—all of them outfitted with Emotiv EEG headsets. Instead of guided meditation, she plans to project sounds and meteorological lights that mimic her own meditative visions. The headsets will reveal how each person’s brain reacts—and if they react in a synchronous way—to what she sees when she closes her eyes.

“I don’t want science to become a prop,” Chavez says, “but it’s helping me better understand—and structure—creativity, and that’s exciting.” Dr. Luft and others say they’re standing by, eager to analyze the data as soon as Chavez gets it.

Link to article


If You Like Bruce Nauman, You'll Love These Artists

One of the simplest yet most profound breakthroughs in contemporary art came in 1967 when Bruce Nauman realized: "If I was an artist in the studio, then whatever I was doing in the studio must be art." Nauman's focus on activity—rather than product—became the catalyst for a prolific, visceral, and sometimes disturbing oeuvre that initially wasn't perceived as art, until it came to stand as one of its pinnacles. Here, see artists who share Nauman's desire to make work that's "like getting hit in the face with a baseball bat."

Like Nauman's documented performance pieces wherein the artist used his own body as an aesthetic gesture, Lia Chavez's Light Body series documents corporal movement using long-exposure photography. Using light cast in the same bright colors as Nauman's neon sculptures, dance becomes the impetus for stark, geometric abstraction.

Untitled was created as part of a series of private performances, which resulted in what "transdisciplinary visual artist" Clifford Owens calls "figurative abstract drawings" that combine elements of performance, photography, and painting. Similarly, in Nauman's Wax Impressions of the Knees of Five Famous Artists, the gestures that created the work are inseparable form the finished product, rendering a temporal, fleeting action as a permanent, physical manifestation.

A modern cowboy, Bruce Nauman lives on a working horse farm of the kind Marianne Vitale might explore with her work, which focuses on the Old West, frontier history, and the barren landscape of the Great Planes. Twister documents a playful performance of the artist thrusting upwards, as if swept away by the tornado depicted above her.

Born in France, Babette Mangolte relocated to New York in the 1970s and quickly became a mainstay of the burgeoning performance art scene, where she collaborated with and documented some of the era's most important performers and artists. Here she photographed Sylvia Whiteman rolling herself up in a large paper coil, producing body art that calls to mind many of Nauman's own performances.

Tori Wrånes is a Norwegian performance artist interested in "investigating different ways to exist," and her existential disorientation is most visible in The Opposite is Also True, where the artist hung upside-down (the rope is visible in the upper-right corner of the photograph) while wearing right-side-up clothing. Reminiscent of Nauman's unorthodoxly oriented video works like Revolving Upside Down, and of his colorful hanging head sculptures, Wrånes' work feels like the logical (and even more cheeky) conclusion of both— the artist actually suspends herself, rather than changing the orientation of the camera.

In Tracey Emin’s personal handwriting, the titular phrase conveys a directive and deeply intimate sentiment, "Be Brave." The celebrated British artist's poignant neon works are perhaps more sincere and less ironic than Nauman's playful neon signage of the '60s which illustrate Duchampian word plays like Run from Fear/Fun from Rear (1972).

Using "choreography to shape [her] ideas about space and time and weather and emotions,” American artist Kelly Nipper works with video, installation, and live performance. U calls to mind Nauman's wax-cast head sculptures of the 1990s that hung clumsily in clusters to suggest a labored, communication circuit between imagined disembodied figures.

Link to article


Photograph by Nicholas Calcott for   T Magazine

Photograph by Nicholas Calcott for T Magazine

One Artist’s Long Island Home: A Meditation in White

By Laura Neilson

“The moment I experienced the light here, I just knew that this was going to be a place — a really important place,” said the artist Lia Chavez, as we stepped out onto the back deck of the Long Island home she shares with her husband — and has transformed into a minimalist’s nirvana.

Situated on four acres of land overlooking a local, CSA-run organic garden, the 4,500-square-foot house, which the couple acquired last summer, was meant to be a part-time retreat from their home in Manhattan. But after a month of meditating in the Himalayas this winter, Chavez decided to craft the un-renovated 1955 space into a sleek, all-white sanctuary to work and meditate. And despite not having a background in architecture, Chavez oversaw the project herself, closely collaborating with a contractor to achieve her vision. “It was very improvisational. There were no drawings, no plans,” she explained, adding, “It was really about feeling the energy of the space and responding to the light.”

Indeed, the presence of light throughout the house is even that much more pronounced in the unapologetically bare, bold new space, which Chavez likened to a “massive life sculpture for studying the passage of light between sunrise and sunset.” With a spacious studio on the premises, also all-white, Chavez now spends more of her week out in the bucolic Brookhaven Hamlet, where the artists Hugo Guinness and Elliott Puckette, the fashion designer Francisco Costa and the artist Malcolm Morley also have homes. For the couple, it’s also a peaceful place to commune between their frequent travels. (Currently, Chavez is devoting a good deal of time to a work project in London, while her husband, David Shing, travels the globe the vast majority of the year.)

Ironically, the building’s one white feature before the renovation — its exterior — didn’t last. “There was a little pushback from painting the house black, which was expected,” Chavez laughed, referring to her neighbors.

Chavez has established a place for herself in the local arts community, too. One July evening, she presented “Light Body,” a performance art spectacle of light and color for an audience on Isabella Rossellini’s farm in nearby Bellport. “Relocating to this enchanting hamlet,” she says, “has opened a beautiful interweaving of life and art, nature and culture, community and contemplation.”

Link to article



The Week in Art: Lia Chavez’s Stunning Light Performance and the LongHouse Gala

By Sarah Cascone

Though it may seem that Armory Week and Frieze Week get all the action, the reality is that there is never a dull moment in the New York art world. From the East Side to the West Side (and, in the summer, out on Long Island’s East End), there’s always something happening at the city’s museums, galleries, and various event spaces. This week was no exception. LongHouse Serious Moonlight Party at LongHouse Reserve, East Hampton LongHouse Reserve took its “Serious Moonlight” theme seriously at its annual summer gala on July 23, instructing guests, who included child actor Fred Savage, media mogul Martha Stewart, and artists Eric Fischl, Cindy Sherman, and Alice Aycock, to dress in “night sky and silver” and be prepared for “interstellar garden happenings.”

After performances from contemporary classical music composer Nico Muhly and dancers from NYU, led by Em Watson, the LongHouse Creative Scholarship award winner, attendees enjoyed dinner, with a menu composed by acclaimed California chef Alice Waters. A techno-infused David Bowie tribute from Nona Hendryx, followed by dancing to the tunes of DJ Donna D’Cruz, rounded out the festivities. NADA Summer BBQ at the Abrons Arts Center Dozens of art dealers gathered in the Abrons courtyard on New York’s Lower East Side on July 27 at a barbecue thrown by the New Art Dealers Alliance, which organizes the NADA art fairs in New York and Miami. Despite heat and humidity, gallerists like Bridget Donahue (one of artnet News’ Most Respected US Contemporary Art Dealers of 2015), Bill Powers, Gabrielle Giattino, Photios Giovanis, and many more came together for pulled-pork sandwiches and cocktails under the shade of some merciful trees.

Lia Chavez’s performance of “Light Body” at the farm of Isabella Rossellini, July 23, 2016 Part of the draw to Lia Chavez’s performance the evening of July 23 was the location: The site-specific work was commissioned by actress Isabella Rossellini as the first of “a summer series showcasing some of today’s most celebrated contemporary artists” taking place at the Blue Velvet star’s Long Island farm. But the performance itself was more than worth the trip, as Chavez herself and two dancers (Troy Ogilvie and Djassi daCosta Johnson) moved through the woods in a dream-like choreography that involved whirling wands studded with multicolored lights. Designer Mary Katrantzou was responsible for the costumes, making for a truly enchanted evening.

B&O Play Launches the Future Series at Aska, Brooklyn Actress Zoe Kravitz, singer Okay Kaya, artist Cleo Wade, and JiaJia Fei, director of digital of New York’s Jewish Museum, headed to Brooklyn on July 23 as headphone producers B&O Play unveiled their new arts intiative, the Future Series. B&O is partnering on the new project with Greenpoint, Brooklyn, design center A/D/O. Brooklyn-based artist Jason Krugman‘s LED artwork, which will be included in the Future Series’ first project, a three-part performance and exhibition series called “THE NEW WAVE,” served as a backdrop for the evening, along with a custom soundscape by Kris Bowers. The night’s highlight was an 11-course dinner from Michelin-starred chef Fredrik Berselius, who will soon debut the Brooklyn outpost of his restaurant Aska.

Link to article


On The Power Of The Light, Dance And Meditation: A Dialogue With Artist Lia Chavez

By Horacio Fabiano

This last Saturday, Lia Chavez, presented her first live dance performance alongside dancers Troy Ogilvie and Djassi daCosta Johnson. The work titled “Light Body” showcased the practice of contemplative walking, which Lia encountered during a recent artistic pilgrimage to meditate in the cave monasteries of the Himalayas. Set at Isabella Rossellini’s farm in Brookhaven, the performance happened in the woods bordering the crops. It was a visual fest, accompanied by the music of the evening crickets and cicadas. I thought nobody better than Lia’s herself could explain what she accomplished.

If you need to explain Light Body in just one paragraph, how would you write it?

For “Light Body” — my first live dance performance — I lead a balletic procession of effulgent bodies at sunset. I appropriate the practice of contemplative walking, which I encountered during a recent artistic pilgrimage to meditate in the cave monasteries of the Himalayas. For Saturday’s presentation, I performed alongside dancers Troy Ogilvie and Djassi daCosta Johnson. “Light Body” refers to the practice in which Tibetan Buddhist meditation gurus transform their physical bodies into new, rainbow-colored energy forms after many years of practice. For this performance, I imagine this advancement into another realm through a process of visual choreography which conceives the live figure within the art-historical tension between pictorial form and abstraction. This performance meditates on the primordial state which has no form but is capable of expressing all form... ontological becoming.

The “light” is a word that can refer not only to the basic physical electromagnetic radiation, but it can also be used as an epistemological representation of what is sacred. How would you explain your connection to “the light”?

If art is a process of mining paradox, then light is the perfect paradox. It’s a wave and a particle. It inspires illumination as well as superstition. It connects equally to our material and our spiritual existence. I find its luminal status fascinating in this way. Light has always been very important to me. From chance encounters during childhood all the way up to my recent experiments in the neuroscience of visual perception, visions of light in the darkness have always factored strongly into my personal experience. As an artist I investigate light’s phenomenological and spiritual essence.

How important is meditation to you? Do you follow a specific school or method?

I have studied contemplative disciplines with mystics and sages in the East and West for much of my adult life. I’ve been fortunate to learn from multiple traditions, including Vedic meditation, Tibetan Buddhism, contemplative Christianity, the Cahuilla Native Americans, and the deep analytic meditation which both Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein practiced. Another important influence on my practice has been the Himalayan Yoga Meditation tradition. During the month of February 2016, I undertook an artistic pilgrimage to North India. Over the course of my journey, I was in silent meditation under the tutelage of the Swamis at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama in Rishikesh, India. I conducted intensive research into the embodied spirituality of the Himalayan Yoga Meditation tradition, adopting the full regimen of the Himalayan Yogis. I also practiced darkness meditation in the cave monasteries and temples of the Himalayas in a deepened exploration into the symbiosis between perception and contemplative practice. It was in Rishikesh that I discovered the transformational practice of contemplative walking, which involves walking very slowly — toe first, then heel.

What’s the reason of your silence during the last few weeks?

I took a 40-day vow of silence in preparation for last Saturday’s performance. According to the Himalayan masters, we leak up to 80% of our energy through speech. My silence ensured the performance is powerful both visually and energetically.

Silence, meditation, durational contemplative practice, deep listening... All these form the foundation of my creative practice.

In developing my new performance, “Light Body,” I invented a choreographic method which draws upon the meditative principles of contemplative walking and takes the practitioner on a journey into the deep silence of the mind. This silence frees the dancer to tap into her own innate embodied spirituality and discover original gestures and movement forms which liberate the body from resistance, tension, and noise.

What were the biggest challenges of doing the performance in a working farming environment?

“Light Body” was created on site at Isabella Rossellini’s farm over a period of three months. This performance is as much a visual artwork as it is a performance artwork, so getting the visual effect just right was key. The visual effect of the piece required delicate timing and many months of studying the way that light behaves on the farm at sunset. The piece depends entirely on the viewer’s visual perception during that liminal state of transition from sunset into twilight, so I’ve observed countless sunsets there and met quite a few fireflies along the way! Collaborating with nature and the elements (especially with light) instills a special reverence for the poetic precision of nature. Also, Isabella is a keen observer and expert in animal behavior possessing a profound reverence for nature which is very contagious. The birds, cicadas, fireflies, and crickets at the farm became important contributors to the light and sound of the piece. The absence of man-made music and the seeming “silence” opened a door to invite nature’s prolific orchestra to provide music for the piece. Working with nature in this intensive way has given me a deepened appreciation for the generosity present within the natural world. The song is always there if you’re willing to hear it.

Besides Light Body happening in a beautiful farm setting, what’s behind selecting an agricultural environment to make the performance?

When Isabella invited me to create a piece for the farm, I was most inspired by her vision to establish a place where the relationship between nature and culture could experience a renewed symbiosis. This vision is so refreshing for our time. I tend to orient my life and art around my ability to study the various phenomena of light, and Brookhaven Hamlet possesses an astonishing quality of natural light. So the invitation to create a piece specifically for Isabella’s Brookhaven farm was irresistible.

Is there in Light Body any continuity from your previous work in Las Vegas? Is there a lineal evolution from a total chaotic and noisy environment such as Las Vegas to a peaceful and quiet Brookhaven farm?

Broadly, my work draws upon my fascination with the laws of the physical universe and investigates the astonishing mysteries of light, form, and the interior cosmos. It’s been my life’s work to investigate light’s spiritual and phenomenological qualities, whether I am meditating in the caves of the Himalayas, leading a quiet procession of luminous dancers at a farm at sunset or crafting immersive, vertiginous encounters with the art material of human consciousness in a Las Vegas nightclub. My work seeks to reveal the ever-present invitation into the vast inner landscape of beauty.

Link to article



Tech Download: The Next Era of Music, featuring Lia Chavez, Rehabstudio, and Artiphon. 

Through EEG headsets and multifunctional instruments, a handful of creative pioneers are using technology to change how people experience and perform music.

Link to video


WWD Las Vegas Preview: Arty Party

By Rebecca Dancer

Upping the level of culture on the Strip is the Cosmopolitan’s P3 Studio, an intimate venue on the hotel’s third floor showcasing contemporary art installations. Foregoing the traditional formality of a museum, guests at P3 Studio can watch artists at work or participate in interactive exhibitions, making art more approachable and designed to attract a new audience.

For 2015, P3 Studio has partnered with New York’s Art Production Fund on an artist-in-residence program, offering a rotating lineup of local and international artists and shows. This year’s roster began Jan. 7 with Lia Chavez’s immersive meditation nightclub experience, titled “The Octave of Visible Light.”

From Feb. 11 to March 8, New York-based artist David Colman will show his interactive “Santa Confessional” piece, which made its debut at Art Basel Miami. For the installation, guests enter a two-person confessional booth one at a time to chat with the artist, who is dressed as Santa, while onlookers eavesdrop.

A total of 14 artists will rotate through P3 Studio in 2015.

Link to article



Higher States: What is the Meditative Nightclub?

By Abby Lowe

For dance music aficionados, meditation and clubbing are as far apart on a spectrum as you can possibly get. Likewise, when you think of Las Vegas the first things that probably come to mind are 24-hour gambling, ubiquitous neon lights and The Hangover. But now, thanks to a project by New York-based artist Lia Chavez, the world’s first ‘meditative nightclub’ is about to question those long-standing assumptions, because the original city of sin has become home to The Octave of Visible Light: A Meditation Nightclub – an experience-led performance that invites clubbers to use introspection as a means for collective experience. Held at P3Studio at The Cosmpolitan of Las Vegas and presented in partnership with the Art Production Fund, it is turning notions of clubbing as we know it on their head.

Working in collaboration with creative technology company rehabstudio (, Chavez’s aim was to ‘create a highly conceptual interpretation of a futuristic nightclub that comes alive through the phenomenon of biofeedback,’ and so wearing EEG headsets, she guides guests through a meditation session in which their cerebral activity is translated into a mesmerising audio-visual display. She explains, ‘the headset reads brainwaves and, via bluetooth, transmits a custom-coded signal to the audio-visual system. Since the signal’s frequency and strength mirrors the participant’s brainwave activity, the intensity and register of the colour and sound emitted by the system varies as well. As a result, each audio-visual ‘set’ is unique to the person wearing the headset.’ So through considered contemplation and calm focus, one person is able to transform the experience of everyone else, or as Tim Rodgers of rehabstudio puts it, ‘control the club with their minds’.

"...One person is able to transform the experience of everyone else..."

And this of course, is one of the paradigms embodied by the project – traditionally a club is a venue associated with collective experience, and yet in this instance it’s at the mercy of an individual undertaking a personal search for spiritual quiet. So how does this function as an environment that could provide the same level of ‘ecstatic abandon’ seen in a club that Chavez was after? Perhaps it’s worth looking at it from a different angle. Meditation is a practice that demands deep introspection, but as our ability to delve deeper into our own mind space strengthens, it’s said to reinforce our connection with others, in turn opening us up to newer, more profound happenings. Chavez notes that her goal was to ‘facilitate interpersonal connections rather than insularity.’ And so conversely, meditation in this scenario doesn’t so much foster isolation, as allow the subject and the rest of the club to become ‘more mindfully connected.’ Indeed, as the controller’s state of meditation deepens, the musical and visual experience of the other clubbers intensifies.

So in essence, The Octave of Visible Light reveals that our consciousness can be harnessed and used as material for our own experiences, and that in itself can perhaps propel clubbing into uncharted territory. Chavez explains that for her, the recreational drugs associated with clubbing can actually have the opposite effect they’re taken for in terms of trying to expand our perceptions, whereas the process of meditation allows our horizons to expand instinctively, and without the risk of an imminent crash. ‘The more you practice [meditation], the thinner the veil between the conscious and the subconscious becomes, which equates to having a more complete access to reality,’ she says. So if we all mastered the skills required take control of our senses, it would open up unexplored paths for us to investigate when clubbing? ‘Our experience is limited only by how alive our senses are,’ she confirms.

"...Future clubbing will integrate the responsive capacity of the crowd more significantly..."

Of course this is fantastic in theory, but perhaps it’s easier to speculate than to master in practice. Nevertheless, it is an idea we should continue to progress, especially in a time when we live such fraught lifestyles and have less and less regard for experiencing things as and when they happen. With every element of our lives increasingly documented in order to produce fodder for social media, we’re in danger of becoming spectators of our own lives, and maybe this deeper connection to ourselves and others would put us resolutely back in touch with our own experiences. Chavez poses the question: ‘How do we achieve higher levels of awareness of what we’re experiencing without compromising the experience itself?’ And that’s something we should all consider while waving our phone cameras around trying to capture pictures of our Friday night.

So in the same way a work of art forces us to reassess existing opinions, The Octave of Visible Light serves as a stimulus for examining our traditional clubbing rituals. Perhaps we’re long overdue in blurring the lines between music, art and science, and maybe it’s time to acknowledge that we should be pushing the parameters of clubbing as we know it. But in a world where we’re the rulers of our own internal and external landscapes, where would that leave DJs? For Chavez, the answer is clear: ‘Future clubbing will integrate the responsive capacity of the crowd more significantly. The beauty and challenge of this new dynamic will be mastering the art of balancing the realtime awareness of what is being experienced with a continual enhancement of the experience itself.’ The gloves have been thrown down. DJs, it’s over to you.

Link to article




Sin City's Hottest New Club is The Octave of Visible Light

By Samantha Katz

It isn’t very often that, in the city of sin, new age nightclubs are associated with neuroscience. So when Las Vegas hotel, The Cosmopolitan, invited Lia Chavez to participate in its artist-in-resident program she leapt at the opportunity to develop an entirely new type of visceral experience for their guests, by combining art, science, and technology with contemplative practice.

“The Octave of Visible Light: A Meditation Nightclub” offers visitors a break from the usual spectacle on the strip, trading perspiration and pulsation for calmness and cadence by utilizing human consciousness as an art material. Working with creative company rehabstudio, Chavez invented a revolutionary digital-neurology technology that allows the user to observe the relationship between their brainwaves and corresponding frequencies. After a one-on-one introspective session with the artist, participants wear an electroencephalograph (EEG) headset, which transmits a custom-coded signal to an audio visual system, translating the results into hypnotic light sculptures and chakra-healing music.

“Throughout my visual and performance work, I appropriate cross-cultural contemplative disciplines for the purpose of achieving natural and sustainable expansions of perception,” Chavez said. It is fitting then, that in a place where the surreal is sought-ought, she would craft an environment for those disinterested in distinguishing the real from the imagined. The installation is designed for open-eye meditation, so it is both sensual and ocular for the audience, generating an incredibly profound experience that optically bewilders and hypnotizes.

Aesthetically, “The Octave of Visible Light” was inspired by Dante’s final vision of paradise, illustrated in The Divine Comedy, as he encounters a light that surpasses the perceptual capacity of the human eye:


But now my will and my desire, like

wheels revolving

with an even motion, were turning with

the Love that moves the sun and all the

other stars.


Chavez is no stranger to experimenting with advanced technology in the name of art. Last October, during Frieze Week, she presented “Tumult,” a 4-hour meditation performance in which she crafted a vertiginous environment by using light to convey the flickering visibility of one’s interior sense of self. Some participants became so frightened by the psychological effect that they ran out of the installation.

The public response to “The Octave of Visible Light,” however, has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, with guests traveling from all over the country for simply 10 minutes with Chavez. One woman—an experienced meditator—even boasted that the experience helped her reach “the next level.” And Piers Fawkes, the editor of L:SN Global described it as “engulfing and eternal.”

Link to article



The Hottest New Nightclub, an Art Installation?

By Camille Cannon

The freshest entrant into the Las Vegas party scene isn’t a megaclub, ultra lounge or booze-fueled brunch. It’s artist Lia Chavez’s The Octave of Light: A Meditation Nightclub at the Cosmopolitan’s P3 Studio. What’s a meditation nightclub, you ask? To borrow from Saturday Night Live’s nightlife savant Stefon, “It’s that thing” when an artist combines principles of neurobiology, technology and sound therapy to illustrate consciousness as an art form. New York-based Chavez says the installation is “a wink and nod to the culture of Las Vegas.”

Through February 8, visitors create their own sets of pulsing beats and hypnotizing lights by monitoring and observing their brainwave patterns. There is no bottle service or DJ booth, but like most nightclubs, Chavez admits that the installation “can be a little disorienting at first.” Here’s how it breaks down:

Everyone is a VIP. Don’t let the studio’s dark windows discourage you from entering. As you approach, you’ll be welcomed be a greeter. Partiers are admitted no more than 10 at a time (so the atmosphere feels super exclusive). Inside, you can roam two connected rooms and observe other participants as you wait for you turn “to DJ.”

It’s easy to meet the dress code. You can leave the high heels and short hemlines at home; all you need here is some headwear. Chavez, along with tech company RehabStudio, “hacked” a consumer-grade EEG headset so that it translates brain activity into corresponding colors and sounds via Bluetooth.

You don’t have to deal with unwanted dance partners. No one’s gonna grind up on you during guided meditation. The installation is designed to “place the individual in the spotlight, literally and figuratively,” Chavez says. So, she will invite you to stand in the middle of a circle and focus your eyes on the light beam in front of you. After she places the EEG headset on your scalp, Chavez leads you in breathing exercises for the purpose of deepening your mental concentration.

You won’t hear the same “song” twice. Your brain wave oscillations—which are monitored by the headset—correlate to colors on the ROYGBIV spectrum, so the circle of light around you flashes and transforms as you meditate. You’ll also hear notes from the prerecorded “vocal palette,” ethereal coos and electronic hums, which are based on frequencies used in sound-therapy research. Each sound was selected “to help the viewer transcend the chaos of Las Vegas,” Chavez says.

You can make requests. Your brain is the DJ, after all. The deeper your focus, the faster your brain wave oscillations, and the greater control you have over the audio and visuals around you. Says Chavez: “Each DJ set is unique [to each participant] and can never be replicated.”

You’ll never have a drink spilled on you. That is to say, you’ll never be disrupted from your groove. The installation—light, sound and all—is designed to give you, the participant, real-time feedback about your brain’s activity. Since you’re encircled by those changing light and sound patterns, Chavez says, “you observe that feedback without leaving the experience.”

Link to article



Link About It: This Week's Picks

Meditating in the Club

A new type of nightclub is taking over at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas. The hotel’s newly appointed artist-in-residence, Lia Chavez, has developed an interactive "meditative nightclub" that actively analyzes participant’s brainwaves as they respond to computer-generated lights and sounds. The show then comes full circle by translating the cerebral data into the very musical and visual stimuli that the user was first introduced to, which begs the question, "How do we achieve higher levels of awareness of what we’re experiencing without compromising the experience itself?”

Link to article



An Artist’s ‘Meditation Nightclub’ on the Las Vegas Strip

By Laura Neilson

Artists’ residencies in Las Vegas tend to involve grand theater stages and bizarre ticketed performances, but at the Cosmopolitan hotel, the New York-based multimedia artist Lia Chavez has crafted an altogether different kind of spectacle. As the first in the annual lineup for the hotel’s P3Studio artist-in-residence program, Chavez has set up a surprisingly cerebral take on the notion of nightclubbing.

“I wanted to extract the very best elements of a great nightclub — namely, those encounters with ecstatic abandon — and create an experience all about that aspect,” Chavez explains. Her show, “The Octave of Visible Light: A Meditation Nightclub,” tracks and displays the real-time relationship between visitors’ oscillating brainwaves and corresponding colors and sounds for a mesmerizing spectacle that’s entirely unique to each participant.

Working with the creative company Rehabstudio, Chavez invented a digital system to generate user’s neurobiological feedback through EEG headsets and translate those frequencies into musical sounds, laser-projected colors and radiant strobes in an otherwise dark studio nestled among a cluster of buzzy restaurants on the Cosmopolitan’s third floor. “The most pressing challenge of this work lies in how the viewer is able to receive real-time feedback on what is occurring within the brain, while remaining engaged with the experience,” she says. In other words, she adds, “How do we achieve higher levels of awareness of what we’re experiencing without compromising the experience itself?”

In this case, the physical act of dancing is subverted by the focus on achieving a mental rhythm of sorts. Visitors are invited to wear the headsets as Chavez leads a guided verbal meditation based on Zen Buddhist techniques — again, an intentional contrast to the noise and excess of Las Vegas. “It’s an opportunity to explore the currency of attention in a setting that’s a masterpiece of hyper-stimulation,” Chavez says. “Thoughts go everywhere, and the technology enables the viewer to observe the acrobatic nature of the mind. After a few moments of relaxing and focusing, the viewer learns how to use color and sonic spectra as guides to deeper states of meditative intensity.”

Link to article



Meditation Nightclub Offers Alternative To Las Vegas Scene

By Adriana Krasniansky

With formidable drinks, pulsing lights, and overcrowded interiors, Las Vegas’s nightclubs are far from relaxing. Swimming against this stream of activity, artist Lia Chavez has created ‘The Octave of Visible Light’ – a pop-up meditation nightclub that uses brainwaves to direct the club’s audio and visuals.

From January 7-February 8, “The Octave of Visible Light: A Meditation Nightclub” will serve as pop-up experience in P3Studio, a contemporary art gallery at the Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas. Each evening, Chavez guides guests through a brief meditation session. Guests wear EEG headsets, which interpret brainwaves and transmit a corresponding signal to the AV system. Colors and sounds of various intensities match the brainwave signals, creating a unique, 15-minute meditative “set” DJ-ed by each guest.

Our very own founder, Piers Fawkes, experienced the concept at launch and told us, “The art is engulfing and eternal. You are bombarded by a mix of sound and light – but to balance the experience, you have to seek calmness and tranquility.”

Octave is designed to sit at the junction of art, tech, and science, fitting for a city that just finished hosting the largest tech trade show in history. For Chavez, the nightclub is meant to be more powerful than a crowded dance room—it serves as a transcendental experience, where guests can visualize their own brain waves and manipulate them. By stimulating neurowaves and targeting certain sound levels, Chavez anticipates that the nightclub can also have spiritual effects:

A key part of the meditation nightclub is realignment. That’s exactly why we came to Las Vegas, a city that’s filled with money and ego and discord. The bassline created during meditation uses a sonic palette from the Pythagorean scale of A tuned to 432 Hz – a frequency that is said to help with DNA repair. It’s also a series of notes commonly used in cross-cultural sound therapy traditions.

Chavez worked in partnership with creative technology studio rehabstudio, art nonprofit Art Production Fund, and Au Revoir Simone frontwoman Erika Spring to produce the pop-up. She has previously experimented with brainwave visualization during London Frieze art fair, and believes the interactions “[empower] people to explore their own interior landscape.”

As last week’s CES showed, people are increasingly turning to technology for support in both productivity and entertainment: smartwatches and virtual reality headsets help us to coordinate our days or escape from them. In a city so reliant on high tech, it’s comforting to find a place where the entertainment is in our heads.

Link to article


New York based artist and London agency collaborate on a performance that translates brainwaves into audiovisuals. 

Tapping into an unexpectedly tumultuous side of meditation, Lia Chavez’s latest performance combines art, technology and neuroscience in what she describes as a ‘deep meditation hack’. Having developed the piece earlier this year, today sees a special four-hour performance in London to coincide with Frieze Art Fair.

Link to article


How Lia Chavez Makes Art Out Of Brain Waves

Art and science collide in Chavez's collaboration with the creative technologists at Rehab Studio.

By Ainsley O'Connell

Strobe lights flash in the dark gallery space in Dundee, Scotland, as artist Lia Chavez sits motionless for eight hours, a wireless brainwave sensor pressing lightly on her temple. Riotous storm systems, lightning bolts: the staccato light is an external representation of the visions she sees while deep in meditation.

"It’s like watching storms of consciousness develop and dissipate over time," Chavez says. "It’s incredibly intense. It’s incredibly violent. The closer I get to this quiet place, the more intense these visions become."

The resulting performance, Poiesis/ Tumult, is a snapshot of the artist's interior world at a singular moment in time, much like a photograph captures the external world. "I believe consciousness itself is emerging as the primary art material of the 21st century," says Chavez, who cites inspirations as varied as images from the Hubble Telescope and the stop-motion photographs of film pioneer Eadweard Muybridge. "We’re living in this time of convergence, and technology is a kind of ambassador between very different modes of exploring the universe."

Poiesis/ Tumult is in good company, as technology is finally giving artists the "palette" to externalize the inner workings of the mind. "Every single one of these maps is like a fingerprint of the individual," artist Ion Popian, who translated brainwaves into 3D models for his series "Mental Fabrications," told ABC News. In a more analog way, artist Angela Palmer etches CT and MRI scans of her brain into glass, creating self-portraits that function as a "topography" of her mind.

Chavez, based in New York, has been focused for years on exploring the concept and medium of light in relation to consciousness through performance, photography, and other media. With this project, her interests took on a high-tech dimension with help from a team of creative technologists at Rehab Studio in London. They rigged up a system that uses data generated by a commercially available brainwave headset, transmitted via Bluetooth and processed on an Arduino, to control the strength and frequency of a strobe light.

After weeks of long-distance calls, the first in-person test was a revelation. Rehab Studio's team had been prototyping as best they could, measuring their own beginner-level attempts to enter a state of deep meditation, but they were unsure of what would happen when their system met with Chavez's 10 years worth of experience exploring the recesses of her subconscious. "When Lia put the headset on, it was an amazing moment," says Rehab Studio's Sam Cox, a creative technologist. "In 20 or 30 seconds she was in deep meditation, and it all seamlessly worked."

At the moment, Chavez is further exploring similar themes through a collaboration with Joydeep Bhattacharya and Caroline Di Bernardi Luft, cognitive neuroscientists at Goldsmiths College in London. "We are trying to gain insight into what transpires in the brain at the inception of the creative spark," says Chavez, who meditated for hours at a time this past spring while Goldsmiths researchers monitored her brainwaves using an electroencephalograph (EEG). She plans to present findings from the research at Tate's annual Urban Encounters symposium this fall.

Link to article




Lia Chavez and the Artistic Process

By Katie Kresser

Neither the action nor the actors can be anticipated…They begin as an unknown adventure in an unknown space.

—Mark Rothko, 1947

OUR ENCOUNTER with reality is endlessly generative. Both Subject and Object, the contemplative and the contemplated, are replete with a beautiful, orderly complexity. The authentic artwork—glittering, effulgent with metaphysical glory—bears witness to the felicitous collision of Subject (knower) and Object (known). The result is like tall waves crashing on a beach, like the spiraling smoke from a fire, like the light of colliding stars. The Subject (the artist) possesses a complex inner life that equals the complex outer life she humbly contemplates. Form, bell-like, chimes upon answering form; echoes spread through the air, concentrically, shifting from the brassy, sacred violence of the first moment to mellow tones of cast-off sonic radiance. Throughout the course of art history artists have favored one “side” in this artistic collision over the other. Some artist-Subjects have subordinated themselves to their contemplated Object, striving to picture the Object in its fullness, working to suppress the spiritual and emotional baggage they bring to an endeavor meant to be pure. Other artists turn in wonderment to the action of their own souls, the structures within: the architecture of that inner self that permits the collision (or should we say the marriage) of the Subject with the real, external thing.

The photographer and performance artist Lia Chavez is interested in the Subject’s potential to create. In her recent work, Chavez has aimed to map the creative process by delving deep inside and recording what she finds there. Accordingly, her Object is most properly herself, but at the same time, her Object is everything. Because for Chavez, inner and outer space are connected, both literally and through the production of certain congruencies that exist between the mind, the world, and the cosmos. Chavez herself cites as inspiration a sheet of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci in which the great master juxtaposes an image of a pensive philosopher with a sketch of rushing water. For Chavez, da Vinci’s drawings show that consciousness flows the way water flows; the whorls and waves of water echo the whorls of consciousness, not coincidentally, but through the grace of divine design. We are the universe and the universe is us. We are shot through with order and cosmic light. God’s beautiful ornaments—informed by the exquisite fractal nature of the universe—are everywhere. Consider Chavez’s haunting photograph Last Confessions of a Dying Star [see Plate 1]. This image simultaneously evokes cosmic phenomena, the travails of human embodiment, the locomotion of cellular organisms (with arms like flagellae) and, if Chavez’s intuitions are right, the flow of consciousness intrinsic to the creative act.

Looked at a certain way, the modernist project can be understood as a quest for the font of inspiration. Reacting against the relatively detached medium of photography, some of the earliest modernists—Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cezanne— strove to record their subjective “impressions” on canvas. Later artists delved further inward, until, like Vassily Kandinsky or Piet Mondrian, they learned to map their brushstrokes to purely spiritual intuitions that reflected not the outer world, but an interior one, or at least a more elevated one, in vibrant colors and sinuous or stentorian lines. By the time Jackson Pollock emerged with his distinctive drip paintings in the 1940s (influenced, surely, by the Zen lionization of the autographic stroke), art had become a matter not of picturing but of channeling: Pollock declared “I am nature,” and his works issued immediately from his experience of the forces of the universe, not from any need to optically record.

But this trend toward achingly frank metaphysical disclosure was short-lived. Pop Art brashly mocked the sincerity of its art-historical predecessors. Minimalism championed the literal, the blank, the banal, in favor of a different kind of experience— not one of plunging soul-communication, but one of contact with an obdurate object that pushes back. Conceptualism favored rational intellect over intuition. All of these movements, when compared with the abstract expressionism of an earlier era, were hard-boiled and cynical. All of them implicitly rejected the notion that art was about an ecstatic, subjective experience of inspiration. All of them strove to return art to a more arid, more forthrightly propositional plane.

Lia Chavez is aware of her place in this decades-long history. And she advances art history by looking backward—back toward the throbbing sincerity of the abstract expressionists decades before, and, thanks to her admiration of medieval and Renaissance artists, further back still. Her work is all about tracing inspiration to its roots and discovering, like Jackson Pollock, that we “are nature,” that all of us “are nature,” and that inspiration comes from the simultaneously earthly and divine sources at the heart of Being.

Lia Chavez herself is slender and delicate. Her dark hair contrasts dramatically with her pale skin. She can be radiant with confidence, loquacious, articulate. She is passionate about her artistic program. She is warm and encouraging and prodigal in the distribution of her affections. She is breathlessly, unstintingly positive; there is not a cynical bone in her birdlike frame. At the right moment, she can be elegant. In fact, she can pull off “glamorous,” and that is well, because her circumstances often demand it. For paradoxically, given her sometimes childlike mien, Chavez must inhabit the role of the New York socialite. A noted hostess of artists’ salons, Chavez indeed lives a life that approaches a kind of theater. In a recent performance titled Luminous Objects Chavez, wearing a billowing white gown, meditated among trees on a lush Hamptons lawn [see Plate 2]. Her personal effervescence and graceful appearance are integral parts of her artistic project.

The daughter of a scientist and an artist, Chavez grew up with a Christmas tree all year round, its trimmings changed to fit the season. She was the well-loved eldest among four children in a small town in upstate New York. In high school, Chavez allied herself with interestingly unsavory elements, though she herself was a model student and, in the eyes of her elders, precociously wise. As an undergraduate at the University of Denver she combined her love of art with a passion for international affairs; she wished to become an artist-ambassador to the world. Later she traveled to England to complete a fellowship at the Women’s Studies Institute at Oxford University, and indeed some of her photographs seem to have a feminist subtext—an ambiguous sense of sexual violence—like Helix Nude [see Plate 3], wherein an impossibly twisted female torso gropes heavily, incrementally, impossibly, along an ink-black ground.

Chavez’s recent oeuvre is diverse, ranging from gorgeously physical stop-motion photography to the most rarefied performative experiences that, in themselves, yield no physical product at all. Common to all of her work, however, is the conviction of a kind of congruency among facets of the physical world: the mind, the ocean, weather patterns, celestial bodies, the spirals in the center of flowers. All of these are shot through with the same forces—all of them share the same structures in their inner life. Chavez is preoccupied with light, both in its appearance and its ephemeral substance. Her three most recent bodies of work, A Thousand Rainbows, True Light, and Luminous Objects each reference light in their titles, and each works with the concept of light in its physical manifestations. Indeed, Chavez seems like a modern-day Franciscan in her conviction about the analogic ability of light to evoke the divine. In the same way that Saint Francis of Assisi, in his Canticle of the Sun, saw divine meaning in “Brother Sun, who brings the day,” so Chavez views light as a type both of the divine substance and the lofting, penetrating faculty of the mind.

In A Thousand Rainbows, a series of works executed in 2011, Chavez strives to echo a cosmic process: the passage of light from object to object—specifically from distant star to the human eye. The heavens we nightly behold are filled with star-points of light that originated at different points in space-time; these lights have traveled vastly divergent distances to the beholder. Some of the stars we behold may have died before their light reaches our eyes, but we see them alongside other lights nevertheless. In A Thousand Rainbows, Chavez creates stop-motion images of human bodies whose reflected light likewise originates at different points in time, but whose images appear simultaneously. Consider Andromeda [see Plate 4], named for the galaxy, where points in the swirling trajectory of a graceful, curved arm, originating from the same dancer moving through space, are recorded in a coincident way. For Chavez, the photography is a two-way process: the object of contemplation impacts the artist, yes, but the artist impacts her object, as well. Thus Chavez is a full, bodily participant in the creation of her Thousand Rainbows series. Clad in black, she directs and interacts with the dancer she photographs. She is present invisibly in every photograph she creates.

In her bravura performance True Light, Chavez claims direct inspiration from a medieval figure who clearly anticipated Franciscan spirituality. In the accompanying artist’s statement, Chavez quotes the twelfth-century Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis, the first Gothic impresario, as he contemplates the stained glass and gold of his masterwork, the French royal church of Saint-Denis: “Bright is the noble work,” Suger says of his creation:

but, being nobly bright, the work should brighten the minds, so that they may travel, through the true lights, to the True Light.... The dull mind rises to truth through that which is material and, in seeing this light, is resurrected from its former submersion.

For Suger, art and the light that illumines it rescue the mind from both sin and banality. At Saint-Denis, a splendid fabric of glass and gold gives form to light, and it is through these forms that the mind approaches the resplendent form of God. Suger’s words (and Chavez’s theories) also recall the thoughts of neo-Platonists like Plotinus and his later, Christian follower, the mysterious Dionysius the Areopagite. For Suger and Chavez, the whole world is illuminated with divine similarities.

Chavez’s True Light, performed between September 1 and December 1, 2012, was a feat of endurance. The artist fasted for ninety days broken into a trinity of thirty- day units, each with a different focus: thirty days of prayer were followed by thirty days of meditation, which in turn were followed by thirty days of total silence. This process, during which Chavez utilized her self-imposed deprivation to access her inner source of creativity, resulted in additional performances and objects inspired by the devotional experiences comprising the main body of the work. During her ninety-day fast, for example, Chavez was inspired to go out into the streets of New York City and engage passersby in a performance inspired by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This performance, staged on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 and titled Heal Us/Heal U.S., involved a mop and a dirty, busy street: the artist, over the course of several hours, traced and retraced the words “heal us” on a city sidewalk [see Plate 5]. The words themselves evaporated each time Chavez inscribed them, but slowly the pavement paled from the cleaning.

Other products of Chavez’s True Light performance have been presented in a more traditional gallery setting. True Light: Form of the Infinite, for example, was birthed from a central insight Chavez gleaned from her month of silence. Stunned, after thirty mute days, by her experience of the sudden resonance of voice through matter, Chavez strove to create an installation that would unveil the mysterious physicality of human speech. Thus she created an object she dubbed the “double bell,” whose highly sensitive latex surface reacts to the vibrations created by a properly channeled voice. In her performance, Chavez coated the latex surface with sand, conducted her voice into the “bell,” and projected the sand’s changing configurations onto a screen [see Plate 6]. Improvised song, as immediate creation, was transformed into something visually dynamic, in a drawing of similarities between intuition, image and sound.

The act of tracing the creative process is central to all of Chavez’s works, but certain pieces more overtly privilege process over aesthetics. True Light: Dynamic Images, for example, consists of a series of photographs that do not register any external object, but that instead capture, in the circumstances of their making, the span of a prolonged prayer. During the course of Chavez’s True Light fast, sheets of photosensitive paper were nightly exposed in a dark room while the artist prayed. The result is a sequence of images of almost perfect whiteness, though small differences reflect the endurance of each prayer. In True Light: Dynamic Images, the appearance of the work is only a small part of its message. To appreciate the work, viewers must be mindful of how it was made.

A third product of Chavez’s ninety-day True Light fast, True Light: Material Dispersion, likewise depends on a spiritual backstory for its full impact. In Material Dispersion, Chavez filled several identical jars with water; the water trapped in the clear vessels is meant to alert viewers to the way physical substances, and by analogy human consciousness, can refract real or spiritual light [see Plate 7]. In the form reproduced here (and Chavez has explored a variety of configurations), Material Dispersion is not visually unique: the sequential arrangement of jars recalls the regimented glass structures of Josiah McElheny’s famous Modernity Circa 1962, Mirrored and Reflected Infinitely [see Image #61]. However, while McElheny’s arrangement of glass objects is meant to comment on the utopian ideologies of the middle twentieth century, Chavez’s piece has more frankly spiritual goals. As in True Light: Dynamic Images, prayer is central to Material Dispersion. Each jar has been blessed and has in turn been dedicated to a different art-world figure. And unlike in McElheny’s piece, each jar is destined for a different resting place; in the same way the refracting action of the contained water distributes light, so Chavez plans to distribute her sacred jars to the recipients of the prayers she has offered.

In all of her artistic projects since 2011, Lia Chavez has aimed to demonstrate the resonances among physical and spiritual phenomena. She has aimed to show how inner space mirrors outer space, and how both mirror the invisible laws of the universe. Her current performance-project, Luminous Objects, attempts, beyond all of her earlier efforts, to fulfill the promise of her theory of creativity. If the vicissitudes of creative consciousness truly echo the ebb and flow of the material world, if these two things are truly congruent, then it stands to reason that some visual evidence—some trace of these harmonies—could be produced “from the source,” as it were.

In Luminous Objects, Chavez aims to lay bare the form of inspiration by diving for prolonged periods into the depths of consciousness—the very depths from which creativity arises. After years of study, Chavez has concluded that artistic creativity is associated with theta brain waves; she further believes that she has honed a technique of descending into a theta state at will. Thus situated at the font of creativity, Chavez opens herself to internal visions, which she records as drawings and writings (and in at least one case, as a sculpture: An Exploding Star Is an Inverted Eye [see Plate 8]). The first visions Chavez received through this process were Freudian—phallic, erotic—but after prolonged meditation her inner images transformed into cosmic revelations reflecting the selfsame universal resonances that Chavez has long pursued. These drawings have yet to be released, but they will be reproduced in book form in 2014. Upon their release, audiences will have the best chance yet, perhaps, to test Chavez’s process against her products—to see if inner- and outer-space truly mirror each other after all.

Link to article




How Meditation Can Unlock An Artistic Universe

By Katherine Brooks

Artist Lia Chavez exists somewhere in the beautiful intersection of performance art, meditation and neuroscience. Known for her durational meditative performances, intense bouts of introspection that can last up to 10 hours, she explores what she deems “interior optics” or a series of otherworldly visions accessed by depriving herself of light for prolonged periods of time. 

Essentially, she slips into deep states of reflection (theta rhythms), blindfolded, and attempts to capture the visions she perceives in the void of her own mind. To do so, she positions herself atop large pieces of paper, recording the images with paint, charcoal or ink as she meditates. She likens the process to Hubble Ultra-Deep Field imagery which collects the light of luminous objects in the void of galaxies beyond. Her explosive mental imaginings resemble electricity, clouds, firebolts and stars, drawing an eerie parallel between the mysteries of outer and inner space.

Chavez’s collected drawings are on view at New York City’s Two Rams Gallery until April 5, 2014. We recently chatted with the artist to discuss her mesmerizing process and how meditation enforces her artistic output:

Could you take me through your process? What type of preparation precedes the sensory deprivation?

For the “Carceri” works, I set up a variety of mark-making implements — among them acrylic paint, charcoal, conte, oil pastel, ink, graphite — alongside the edge of a large sheet of delicate Japanese paper in a random, chaotic order. I then sit on the surface of the paper. I blindfold myself and insert the earplugs. As the process is rooted in performance, it requires intense focus for several hours. Any given piece can last from six to 10 hours during which my perception of light and sound are blocked. I take no breaks. I’ve trained my body to inhabit this state for long durations of time with a carefully timed eating and drinking regimen. Usually the preparation period for a piece or series of pieces will last several weeks until the rhythms of my body have adjusted and I can comfortably and joyfully sit for up to 10 hours without taking a break.

I begin by blindly selecting a utensil from the wide array strewn along the paper’s edge. Then I begin to meditate, connecting with my breath and stilling my mind. As I delve deeply into the expansive silence of interior space, I can sense when my mind enters a theta brain wave state because I begin to experience vibrant interior optics in my mind’s eye. Sometimes the visions occur in rapid sequence and at other times, I will sit on the page, watchful and waiting through what feels like an infinite void. Sometimes they form gradually, and at others, they appear to be seared by fire upon my mind’s eye. Each individual vision forms the dictate of a mark I make on the paper. When I sense that a phase of the meditation has passed (similar to the way in which meteorological systems dramatically disintegrate), I blindly choose another drawing or painting implement and enter into the next meditation phase.

When the “storms” quiet I know the piece is complete. The process is both deeply exhausting and incredibly invigorating. A lengthy duration of time can pass by in a flash. An eight-hour meditation can feel like two hours, depending on how focused I am. This recurring experience has led me to be convinced that time travel is something that is accomplished by becoming very still. 

And what happens when the meditation period ends?

When I remove the blindfold, the piece is decisively finished. I am always surprised with the result — particularly in terms of the strong parallels between the focus of a meditation and the formal synthesis of a piece. To see internal cohesion emerge out of a process that is deeply chaotic and populated with sensations of overwhelm and vertigo is deeply satisfying and captivating to me. 

How would you describe your meditative method? 

My meditation technique is informed by 10 years of practice and study of traditions which range from yoga (which I studied in India), to the practices of the Eastern desert fathers and mothers, to the writings of wise, visionary teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton and Hildegard von Bingen.

The darkness meditation practiced by Saint Francis of Assisi has been particularly influential to me. The title of these works, “Carceri” which literally means isolated places, derives from the Eremo della Carceri, the site of the cave in which Francis meditated while wearing blinders, claiming the spiritual light he experienced in meditation was so great that any additional physical light would be lethal. Over the course of my life as an artist I have journeyed to Assisi to research the work of Francis (whom I consider to be one of the great performance artists of all time) as well as to meditate in his cave. Like Francis, I have found prolonged periods of aural and visual silence to be an essential tool for generating natural breakthroughs of perception.

It’s interesting that you reference Saint Francis of Assisi, one of the many Catholic Christians who practiced meditation. How does spirituality — or, religion, if at all — interact with your work?

For me, spirituality is not about re-enacting the social conventions that are associated with religion. It’s about romance, an eroticism of the spirit. My work is the embodiment of my ongoing romance with the Creative Muse and the joy of discovery and being discovered in that presence. It’s an exciting moment to inhabit as an artist because the world is beginning to undergo a broad reintegration — the same kind of integrated consciousness that characterized the Renaissance. I think we are figuring out that the previous mentality of fragmented being or denial of certain aspects of human experience is actually holding us back from exploring the full nature of reality. 

Eli Wiesel has stated, “What does mysticism really mean? It means the way to attain knowledge. It’s close to philosophy, except in philosophy you go horizontally while in mysticism you go vertically.” I am interested in the congruencies that exist between the mind, the world, and the cosmos and I think the unique intelligence of art has a great deal to offer in this investigation. Given its intuitive roots, art most readily belongs to the “mysticism” category of Wiesel’s assertion. But I believe that art in the 21st century will experience a breakthrough and be acknowledged as a viable way of exploring the nature of the universe, not merely subjective perception.

And what do you think meditation achieves that other forms of art making do not?

The discipline of meditation helps keep some space open, so that we can tune into the voice which tells us who we truly are and the actions that we must take from that core identity. (I’m paraphrasing the great mystic Henri Nouwen here.) Deep listening is an indispensable methodology for creating what is essential because it arises from the part of us that is essential. It relates to a larger process of tuning oneself as one might tune a musical instrument to produce resonant notes.

In order to truly advance one’s medium, an artist must listen and first take counsel from it. If I wish to work effectively with my medium, which is essentially light, I must first submit myself to the visual silence of darkness so that the true light can reach me and penetrate the blindness of my natural eyes. Mark-making from this standpoint feels far more potent and sensate, as the light I experience in a state of sensory deprivation is far greater than anything I have seen with my natural eyes.

Do you find that the visions that become your drawings resemble anything you’ve seen before? I know you’ve mentioned weather in the past.

I have experienced a recurring vision of seeing a great eye looking back at me and once I see it, I know I have entered into a kind of interior sanctum that I can either choose to remain in or run away from. It is a delicious and terrifying intimacy to behold and be beheld so forthrightly, but I know that this Eye is the place from which all my visions flow, so I must try to bear it as best I can.

As the duration of the meditation intensifies, so do my visions. In any given durational meditation I am likely to experience concussive visions of dynamic inner storm systems, cataclysms of radiance, vortices, gyrating fibers of electricity, clouds of short- lived photons, cascading firebolts, and embryonic stars — to name a few.

We’ve discussed this before, but some of the beauty in your project lies in the fact that your process is such an enlightened way of viewing inspiration and mental breakthroughs. Inspiration doesn’t have to be arbitrary or random (you don’t have to be “struck” by an idea), you can work purposefully toward it. Has the idea come out more in your own self-analysis?

Yes, definitely it has. I approach performance art as a much-needed link between the disembodied observation of positivist science and the immersive nature of human experience; it’s something which I call “embodied research.” As I have journeyed through intensive experiments in contemplative disciplines such as prolonged fasting, meditation and silence, I have found that inspiration is far from arbitrary and can be methodically mined. Moreover, as my senses have become more ajar, I have discovered that the universe is heavily pregnant with inspiration. If you listen closely, the whole world is singing.

Link to article