Tumult

Tumult. Light Fantastic presented by House of the Nobleman, London, UK. October 13, 2014. Photo: Samuel Cox

Tumult. Light Fantastic presented by House of the Nobleman, London, UK. October 13, 2014. Photo: Samuel Cox

As a sudden flash of lightning destroys the visual powers, so as to rob the eye of strength to realize even the clearest objects, so a living light shone round me, leaving me bathed in such a veil of its brightness, that nothing was visible to me.  

 — Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Paradiso

For Tumult,  a 4-hour meditation performance, Lia Chavez crafts a vertiginous environment which the BBC describes as "wraithlike, primal, violent, frightening...(and) utterly, utterly hypnotic." Transporting the viewer to a sinister storm of consciousness, Tumult reveals the chasm between being and outward appearance by using light to convey the flickering visibility of one's interior sense of self. Harnessing retinal afterimage, Chavez crafts an immersive visual experience of human consciousness that is reminiscent of Eadweard MuyBridge's studies of locomotion. 

Art and science are synthesized in Tumult, which features the premiere of a new technological system that Chavez invented in collaboration with the creative technology company, rehabstudio. Hailed by Fast Company as “finally giving artists the ‘palette’ to externalize the inner workings of the mind,” this new technology translates Chavez's brain oscillations into stroboscopic pulsations. rehabstudio developed custom code that reads her brainwaves and, via bluetooth, transmits its signal to a strobe light. The technology controls the signal’s frequency and strength, so that when she is in a deep state of meditation, the strobe flashes brightly and intensively, and less so when she is in intermediate states.

Chavez uses her strobe light not only as a mode for communicating her inner state, but as a physical gesture of caressing (and even beautifying) the mind of the viewer by way of intense flickering visual stimulation which results in greater synchronization between the creative and analytical parts of the brain — a process which references the work of neuroscientist W. Gray Walter in the 1940s who discovered that such flickering light effectively alters the brain wave pattern in the whole cortex of the spectator.  

As she has journeyed deeply into the fecund practice of utilizing meditation as a creative methodology, Chavez has discovered the sustained cessation of mental fluctuations to be a key for opening the doorway to visions of meteorological systems. In describing her creative process, she has stated, "The deeper I journey into a meditation, the more I am assaulted by violent visions of light. Within the vast realm of interior space, I am able to observe astonishing storms of consciousness form and dissolve." 

By way of the biofeedback enabled through the performer’s ability to simultaneously perceive internal and external luminosities, this dynamic performance contributes an exciting new way not only to visualize, but also to choreograph, flows of consciousness. 

In collaboration with a group of renowned cognitive neuroscientists at Goldsmiths College in London, Chavez rigorously investigates the neuroscience of creativity and the neurobiological correlates of her durational meditation performance process. This body of research explores the unfolding possibilities of utilizing consciousness as an art material, and is the subject of several forthcoming articles, performances, and presentationsthe first of which she delivered at the Tate in late 2014.

Selected Press Fast Company / BBC / POSTmatter