Silent Barrage has a “biological brain” that telematically connects with its “body” in a way that is familiar to humans: the brain processes sense data that it receives, and then brain and body formulate expressions through movement and mark making. But this familiarity is hidden within a sophisticated conceptual and scientific framework that is gradually decoded by the viewer. The brain consists of a neural network of embryonic rat neurons, growing in a Petri dish in a lab in Atlanta, Georgia, which exhibits the uncontrolled activity of nerve tissue that is typical of cultured nerve cells. This neural network is connected to neural interfacing electrodes that write to and read from the neurons. The thirty-six robotic pole-shaped objects of the body, meanwhile, live in whatever exhibition space is their temporary home. They have sensors that detect the presence of viewers who come in. It is from this environment that data is transmitted over the Internet, to be read by the electrodes and thus to stimulate, train or calm parts of the brain, depending on which area of the neuronal net has been addressed. The robots’ behaviours then reflect what the neurons send out – mechanical rings around the poles move to various heights and inscribe the paper that encases them – closing a loop of dispersed activity. Silent Barrage is unique as a interactive art work in that it integrates the functioning of living neural tissue in its processes. It radically complicates the way that we understand correlations between biological micro-components and macro activities of motion, sensory perception and interpretation.
About the authors
Guy Ben-Ary is an artist that is working in the area of art & biology. Currently living and working in WA. Guy is an artist in resident in SymbioticA – The Art & Science Collaborative Lab, since 2000. He is the manager of the CELLCentral (a microscopy facility) in the School of Anatomy and Human Biology, UWA. He specializes in microscopy, biological & digital imaging & artistic visualization of biological data. His Main research area is cybernetics and the interface of biological material to robotics. Member of the core SymbioticA Research Group that developed “MEART – the semi living artist” project (http://www.fishandchips.uwa.edu.au). He collaborated with the Tissue Culture & Art Project for 4 years (1999 – 2003). Guy was invited in the first half of 2006 to be a Research Fellow in the neuro-engineering Lab, Georgia tech, Atlanta, USA and work with Phil Gamblen & Dr. Steve Potter to develop the next generation of MEART. He is also on the part of BioKino that is developing the The “living screen” – Investigating the interface between BioArt & Film theory – Using various living tissues & cells as a screen for the projection of Nano Movies (500 microns square). In the past year Guy worked and developed his new cybernatic entity – silent barrage that has recently been featured in NYC and Ars Electronica.
Phil Gamblen – was born in the UK in 1964 and immigrated to Canada with his family in 1966 where he resided until 1989. During that time he trained and worked as a gem cutter in Toronto during the 1980’s. In 1991, after two years of travel, he moved to Australia and re-settled near Perth, WA where he presently resides. He graduated from the Claremont School of Art in1996 and Curtin University of Technology in 1998 with an Honours Degree in Fine Art, majoring in sculpture.
Since graduating Gamblen has been concentrating on his art practice as well as working in collaboration with others. Most of his work is generally kinetic in form and involves the use of simple mechanisms and electronics. He has been increasingly using robotics in his artwork and has been refining his skill in machine making as well as electronic control systems.
Gamblen is an Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Anatomy & Human Biology, UWA, and has worked as an artist in residence in SymboiticA – The art & science collaborative research lab since 1999 where he has been collaborating with other artists and scientists on biological based art projects. The 2 most significant of these, “MEART – The Semi-Living Artist” (www.fishandchips.uwa.edu.au), has been exhibited in numerous exhibitions and festivals nationally and internationally in the past six years. In 2006 Gamblen was a research fellow at the Steve Potter Neuro-Engineering Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta. He, along with collaborators Guy Ben-Ary, Douglas Bakkum and Dr Steve Potter, developed Silent Barrage that has recently been featured in NYC and Ars ELectronica.
Steve Potter has been collaborating with Guy Ben-Ary and Phil Gamblen at SymbioticA since 2002. He is a neuroscientist in the Laboratory for Neuroengineering at Georgia Tech, in Atlanta. His group works with networks of brain cells from rat embryos grown in culture dishes outfitted with 60 neural interfacing electrodes. The multi-electrode arrays send sensory data into the cultured neural networks, in the form of electrical pulses, and read out the networks’ responses, which are used to control the movements of robots. With their Embodied Cultured Networks paradigm, the Potter group is studying learning and memory in a simplified animal, whose brain can be studied in detail under the microscope while its body is somewhere else doing the behaving.
Potter’s lab is interdisciplinary, encompassing cell culture, multi-electrode electrophysiology, computer science, optical microscopy, and artificial intelligence. Potter got his bachelors’ degree in biochemistry from UC San Diego in 1987, and his PhD in neurobiology from UC Irvine in 1993. During his postdoctoral research at Caltech, he developed and improved tools for studying living networks, such as multiphoton laser-scanning microscopy, high-speed imaging of neural signals, and neural cell culture methods. He is an associate professor in the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Emory University and Georgia Tech, and teaches neuroengineering and neuroscience.
The Potter group has developed hardware, software and techniques for training wetware with artificial sensory input, delivered to living nets via the multi-electrode array culture dishes.