Understanding Our Brains

Understanding Our Brains

The latest project to emerge from artist, musician and ever-curious thinker David Byrne—who studied at RISD in the early 1970s and met fellow Talking Heads bandmates here—has been getting a lot of attention since it surfaced in late December.

Called The Institute Presents: Neurosociety, the immersive exhibition at Pace Art + Technology (a branch of Pace Gallery) in Menlo Park, CA focuses on human behavior and biases—how we perceive reality and why we make the decisions we do. Physically, it’s a series of four rooms that visitors experience as “somewhere between immersive theater, haunted house, science exhibit and art installation,” Byrne says.

Groups of 10 people at a time go through Neurosociety together and are met by a guide in each room, where they participate in experiments related to neuroscience or psychology—for instance, experiencing the room from the vantage point of an American Girl doll or being forced to make split-second life-and-death decisions in response to scenes from TV dramas or real-life news clips.

Working in partnership with Mala Gaonkar (above left), Byrne prepared for the exhibition over the course of two years by reading extensively and visiting 35 research labs around the world to learn about the latest developments in cognitive neuroscience—everything from how our brains figure out where we are in space to how our connections with other humans impact our moral judgment.

“Neurosociety’s genius is in its presentation as an art installation/theatre experience with visitors experiencing neuroscience for themselves in a visceral and entertaining way.”
from a review in E&T

“In the course of creating The Institute, the work of our partner labs has become both a window and a mirror through which we view ourselves and our larger interactions with the world,” Byrne says.

“While Byrne and Goankar’s ‘experiments’ draw on real research,” notes a reviewer for E&T, “Neurosociety’s genius is in its presentation as an art installation/theatre experience, with visitors experiencing neuroscience for themselves in a visceral and entertaining way.”

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