In our Culture Crossover series we pick up examples of projects that delightfully bridge the worlds of technology and culture. We'll be reviewing exhibitions, giving you a heads up on cultural events or talks coming up in the UK and highlighting the best techy art.
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Contemporary neuroscientists believe that human brain activity is continuous and transient. The Interactive Filmmaking Lab has taken this theory from the lab to the cinema.
The lab explores brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) and neurocinematics – the neuroscience of film – to investigate how moving images influence the brain activity of viewers and how their thoughts can interact with films.
To test the power of this technology, Zioga and her collaborators created a live performance piece called Enheduanna – A Manifesto of Falling, which enables real-time brain-activity interaction between one performer and two audience members.
The work explores the life of Enheduanna, an Akkadian princess who is the first known poet whose name has been recorded in history.
The performance begins with black and white costumes, lighting and video projections. As the narrative progresses, the BCI system allows the performer and her audience to control the atmosphere on stage with their cognitive states. When their engagement levels rise, the greyscale turns into colour.
At the beginning of the performance, the colours are controlled by the brain activity of the actress, but with time she hands over the power to the audience. At the end, the cognition of the actress and the audience merge.
"We were measuring their power potential across different wavelengths, which are associated to specific brain states, and then we would map this to different colours," Dr Polina Zioga, the director of the Interactive Filmmaking Lab, tells Techworld.
"When their more relaxed states were dominant the colours were more towards blue and cold tints. The more engaged or emotional they became, the colours would shift more towards warm and red tints."
Zioga believes that this could create a new model of collective engagement with films through multiple brain interaction.
The results suggest that it could also increase engagement as the attention levels of the audience increased when they could interact with the performance through their brain activity.
"We can use interaction to engage audiences even more, to help them pay more attention, or help them be more engaged in specific parts of the storyline," says Zioga.
Zioga established the Interactive Filmmaking Lab at Staffordshire University in 2017 to explore new cinematic experiences. The lab brings together academics, technical specialist, students and external collaborators to work on projects "that go beyond the passive viewing of a two-dimensional single screen" using a range of scientific methodologies and technologies.
Not all of the technologies are as futuristic as BCIs. The lab has also experimented with virtual reality, which Zioga believes could create new forms of entertainment in the future.
"I think virtual reality is still on the stage of delivering films for individual experience," she says. "In recent years there have been efforts to broaden this by combining other senses or creating installations, in order to experience it in a more holistic manner ... Making it more social in a way that it's not an isolated experience for one person."
Zioga believes that the lab's experiments can have an impact that goes beyond entertainment: "There is also a value from a scientific point of view, because I think this proves how art and technology can fit into science – and vice versa."