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Northumbria researcher performs at international electronic arts event

29th June 2017

A unique artistic performance, created by a researcher from Northumbria University, Newcastle, has been staged during a major electronic arts conference in Colombia.

Helen Collard uses fNIRS technology to demonstrate the changes in oxygenated and deoxygenated haemoglobin levels that take place in the brain while carrying out yogic breathing exercises known as pranayama. These changes are then illustrated through sound and light.

The bio-artwork, entitled Finding Prana, was performed at ISEA International – an annual conference attended by organisations and individuals workingwith art, science and technology, which this year took place in Manizales, Colombia.

Helen, an artist and PhD researcher in the School of Design (Interactive Media) at Northumbria, said: “My work is based on the yogic concept of prana, meaning both breath and life, and the practice of pranayama in which the practitioner moves through a series of exercises that regulate the breath.

“In this performance I record the changing levels of oxygenated and deoxygenated haemoglobin levels in each hemisphere of the brain using fNIRS technology. The data is then sonified, expressing in real-time, through sound and light the changing levels of oxygenated haemoglobin by the moving and suspended breath.

“The aim of this interdisciplinary work is to remind us that breathing is not just a bodily function segregated away from the mind, breathing has agency and breathing practices like pranayama can be considered a self-technology through which we can explore the connection between body and mind and our bodies with others.”

With the onset of air pollution in many major cities and the extreme smog, known as wumai, experienced in Beijing in recent years, Helen’s project also aims to raise interest in why breath and the air we breathe matters.

She added: “Breath becomes a political, scientific, social, spiritual and environmental concern. In this bio-art work breath is situated as a powerful potentiality. Finding Prana offers an interdisciplinary discussion upon actions of human embodiment, science and technology.

“It is an artist’s study that seeks to explore where and how we might focus on the constitution of human self, ask questions of human intimacy and offer an imagining of our own technology and engagements.”

This work contributes to the University’s strategic initiative to bring together academics from across different departments and faculties to share knowledge and expertise to find innovative solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges. Researchers within the multi-disciplinary theme IDEATE are exploring how creative design can be put into practice to realise and explore possible futures, and, in turn, foster innovation. 

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