Brainwave - brainwavenyc.org
Rubin Museum of Art of the Himalayas rmanyc.org/brainwave
by Chris Chalfant
In which our
intrepid reporter-seeker goes in search of the Wild Brainwave, encounters
some turbulence, and comes out somewhat shaken...
Vijay Iyer, composer,
pianist, and physicist, and Bill Morrison, film maker, are embarking on a
project, still in its embryonic, conceptual stage, exploring the ideas of
isolation and out-of-body experience. Iyer, Morrison and neurologist Partha
Mitra conducted a panel-discussion/performance "Escape: Out-of-Body,
Out-of-Mind" at the Rubin Museum, as part of "Brainwave - Entertainment,
Education, and Enlightenment". This festival, running from January to
June in various locations in New York, promises to engage the perceiver in
primal, visceral, cerebral, contemplative, disruptive and other physiopsychospiritual
experiences. Over a hundred public events are being held throughout the city.
In which the
author transports to the East...
the wonderful capability of transporting themselves and others into the purest
state of mind, the place of true reality, a place of discovery, of freshness,
of the moment; the Tibetans call it rigpa. Opposed to sem, the state of the
ordinary, ignorant, and illusionary mind full of attachment, full of ego,
rigpa is the state of complete awareness, of emptiness (dharmakaya),
of radiance (dambhogakaya) and of ceaseless manifestation (nirmanakaya).
These are the
bardo, the in-between, the place where we tap into the "out-of-body experience".
These moments that elevate our beings, transcending beyond the banalities
of the mundane. We capture that glimpse of the groundless reach into the afterlife.
Mystics and artists thrive in this state. Others feel utter conflict from
not knowing which paths will unfold before them.
states in Education and the Significance of Life that one cannot escape
from the self. Escape is an addiction, a craving, a need for security, based
on fear and leading to a feeling of isolation. One feels conflicted and confused.
The reality as they know it is shattered. They become destabilized to the
point of illness and destruction. Their sense of discovery is obliterated
and their attempts at the creative experience are futile.
In which the
author returns to New York...
The panel discussion/performance,
led by Iyer, with Morrison and neurologist Partha Mitra contributing, was
entitled "Escape: Out of Body, Out of Mind" as part of the Sacred
Sciences Brainwave Festival.
In the film,
Morrison manipulated two images from a piece of 1890s film footage of a trolley
on the Brooklyn Bridge side-by-side, playing with the left one in reverse,
playing with mathematical editing processes, i.e. double, quadruple frequency
of frames, where the movement of the film gets faster and faster until there
is a flickering effect, much like a strobe-light.
At the same time,
Iyer played music which seemed to have dramatic effect but was not really
connected to the film, giving the feeling of disruption, as was stated by
composer Henry Threadgill, who was in the audience, during the Q and A.
I felt very reactive
and disturbed on a somatic level by seeing and hearing the combination of
Iyer's piano improvisations set with Bill Morrison's video. Descartes views
the body as "sensing" and is "nothing other than thinking".
My implicit or somatic memory, located in the amygdala, was acutely stimulated.
I felt panic and a sense of claustrophobia.
I thought the amygdala was a Buddhist treatise, but thanks to Wikipedia: they
are "almond-shaped groups of neurons located deep within the medial temporal
lobes of the brain... shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing
and memory of emotional reactions".]
In which our
author returns to the strobe light...
Both the panel
discussion and the performance/demonstration seemed inappropriately paired
with the "Sacred Sciences" portion organized by the Rubin Museum
because of the invasive nature of the project. The techniques of alternating
images between left and right in the film parallel those of EMDR (eye movement
desensitization and reprocessing) sessions, a type of psychological therapy,
where the patient relives trauma in order to gradually dissipate the trauma
from the psychological and physical body.
Perhaps the intention
of this project is to give the viewer the choice to either allow the interrogative
measures to make the subject go into psychologically convulsive experience,
or to remove themselves from the onslaught of aggressive psychological tactics
by either separation via the immense powers of detachment through meditation,
or by surrendering to the conditions and succumbing to the powers of the external
forces, thus becoming completely at the mercy of the interrogators.
My biggest concern
about this project, is that a psychologically fragile person may go into the
"installation" with the "expectation of being transported",
as stated by Morrison, but rather comes out being devastated to the point
of hospitalization in a psychiatric ward, similar to what happens to people
who are not prepared for EST or the Forum, given that there is no back-up
or follow-through from a trained psychologist.
The author explains EST and The Forum as "group awareness training intentionally
held 'under rigorous conditions and designed to induce in participants shifts
towards fresh realizations [sic] about the way their lives have functioned...
meant to let in only the psychologically well'." See source note below.
Others consider their sensory-deprivation methods a dangerous form of brainwashing.]
It would be interesting
if Iyer, Morrison and Mitra would require that the audience endure a sesshin
(Zen intensive), where any assault would be clearly construed as self-inflicted,
and would most certainly be resolved, thus ensuring an enlightening viewing
They could go
further with the notion of an experiment (as this was considered an art installation;
a form of of art) by having one control group come from a sesshin, one come
from an abusive situation, and one group come from an ordinary situation.
Now that is an experiment I would like to see. They did talk about creating
a theater for one and possibly having the source of images coming from different
directions at different times.
In which the
author returns us to maya...
we live in a world of maya, of ignorance, of confusion- a world where we may
feel trapped, isolated, a victim of circumstance, until we wake up and to
we feel each footstep moment-by-moment in the labyrinth of our lives, the
continual journey where there is no escape from our attachments, from the
delusions we prescribe, until we take that leap into the bardo of now,
the land of the out-of-body, the lasting place of inner peace.
Blue Cliff Record,
Buddha, Gautama. Dhammapada.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Conty, Patrick. The Genesis and Geometry of the Labyrinth.
Descartes, René. Meditations on First Philosophy.
"EST and The Forum." www.usefulweb.demon.co.uk/forum/index.htm
Krishnamurti, Jiddu. Education and the Significance of Life.
Murchie, Guy. The Seven Mysteries of Life.
Parnell, Laurel. EMDR in the Treatment of Adults Abused as Children.
Rimpoche, Sogyul. The Tibetan Book of the Living and Dying.
Stein, Alexander. "Ten Unsolved Mysteries of the Brain." American
Imago: "The Sound of Memory" Issue, Volume 64, Number 1 Spring
Wentz, W.Y. Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrine.