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‘Octopus BrainStorming’

In their performance art installation two professors challenge participants to explore unspoken, visual communitcation

For the last year, two professors from UCLA have been inviting people to take part in one of the most interesting conversations of their lives. The most recent setting was at a technology and art convention in Slovenia. In a darkened room two people each wore a ceremonial crown that resembled a fluorescent octopus, which covered brain-wave–reading electrodes attached to their heads. But the strangest part? The participants never uttered a word to each other.

Welcome to “Octopus BrainStorming,” a participatory performance art installation that combines the technology of neuroscience with an artistic interpretation of the type of communication exhibited by octopi.

“I have always been fascinated with the octopus as the most complex animal that is the most distant common ancestor to humans. Their intelligence is fascinating and I find it important to connect to these aliens in our midst and appreciate another type of consciousness,” said Victoria Vesna, UCLA professor of design media arts and director of the UCLA ArtSci Center. Vesna created the project over five years with UCLA neuroscientist Mark Cohen, a pioneer of the use of magnetic resonance imaging to study human cognition.

In “Octopus BrainStorming,” which debuted at the opening of UCLA’s Luskin Conference Center in October 2016, Vesna and Cohen are trying to show the power of non-verbal communication using live performance.