Personal experience and background
As very often in my works I am starting from the personal experience. I have been obese and struggling with the body weight and diet since childhood. Coinciding with my arrival to Vienna in 2013 I was diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure). Ever since I have been using Tensec plus on a daily basis, half a tablet of 5 mg+12,5 mg prescribed by a medical specialist. I was told that different factors brought to this condition−genetics, way of life and stress. No matter how hard I tried to reduce the body weight throughout my life by using numerous advertised weight loss products, gym and diets(of course I have tried with the advices from a nutritionist), due to the lack of motivation, artist way of life or something else I couldn"t significantly reduce the body weight. That continued until I started working on the Brain Pictures project in December 2016 where I used fMRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanners to investigate the relation between imagination and perception but although I have used scientific methodologies, I was deliberately choosing to be the object and the subject of the experiment.
While producing the work A self-portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, my colleague suggested that I should visit a doctor due to some changes on the brain tissue and bulges in blood vessels in the brain. My dosage of medicament increased and I was ordered to lose weight as soon as possible. The only way imaginable to take something seriously is to start an art project that deals with the issue. On 11thJanuary 2018 I started Hyperplastic although I experimented with the similar approach of experience sampling and data tracking. Due to my artist lifestyle I wasn"t physically active and gym wasn"t considered at all, on the suggestion of my doctor I started walking in the city of Vienna, from 4 to 8km a day. As I was spending more and more time in the city, very much like Situationists, I decided to thematize and frame my work around it.
I was inspired by series of studies by Elenor Meguire and her famous London Taxi drivers experiment. Licensed London taxi drivers show that humans have a remarkable capacity to acquire and use knowledge of a large complex city to navigate within it. Gray matter volume differences in the hippocampus relative to controls have been reported to accompany this expertise. Namely in order to pass the test for London Taxi drivers one has to pass the test of "The Knowledge" that he or she knows the map of London by heart. The MRI scans were made of those people before and after they learned the map. The study shows growth of gray matter in Hippocampus where spatial representation are situated.
During my daily walks I decided to my map the city of Vienna, especially the seventh district where I live, with a particular method inspired by the similar hippocampus studies and so called place cells. Place cells are neurons in the hippocampus that fire when the animal occupies a specific location within its environment. Every time when I start the walk I mark the spot where I started, when I change the direction and when I finish the walk. To mark the sport I am using black permanent marker and the sign of cross which I appropriated from psychological tests that signify beginning and the end of the testing sequence but also it is used to put the attention of the tested person in the centar of the screen. After placing the sign I take the photo of that cross with immediate surroundings, proclaiming that the actual art work/film is a "stream of thoughts" during my walking. All phenomenal and language aspects (images, memories, sounds, emotional arousals etc.) starting with the first sign and ending with the last in the public space in the city.
By walking I am also drawing the path in my notebook but for more precise depiction I used a cell phone application Mapmywalk. The application is free to download and uses Google tools and GPS satellite tracking for more precise following incorporating the issue of monitoring and surveillance into my work treating again the relation between machine and human aspect in art producing. Parallel to this, I was gathering other relevant data in the form of a diary such as body weight, passed kilometers and burned calories.
Structure of the work
Hyperplastic consists of three parts: Infinite Poetry, A Small Mediation on Death and Art Makes Lose Weight.
Infinite poetry deals with the physical changes in the brain while I am acquiring the second foreign language - German and For my diploma show I am presenting A Small Mediation on Death and Art Makes You Loose Weight!
Art Makes Lose Weight is an installation consisting of body images before I started walking and after I lost 23 kilograms, and passed more than 1.500km in the city (before and after, as in it the advertisement for body lost products), redrawn maps of 264 walks with written dates, kilometers, burned calories, and 2 MRI brain scans in the same manner before and after showing the enlarged hippocampus. That surplus, an imprint of Vienna(most precisely depicted 7th district, and then with the decrease in precision 1st, 4th, 6th,8th, 16thetc.) I proclaim the monument of the city of Vienna, playing on the paradoxical idea of the private monument treating sequentiality, respectively historicity of the experience along the inherent privacy of thoughts (a reference to Mel Ramsden"s work Secret Painting). Also this invisible monument I connect with the inevitable fear of death.
To bring into visibility I am using the contrast of the cold, evidence-based strategies (evidence in the form of MRI scans of my brain before and after, photos of my body before and after the weight loss, and redrawing of the walked trajectories) I confront with the subjective and emotionally charged personal issues. The mentioned contrast in setup could also be tracked in the ambiguity and uncertainty of the almost schizophrenic, fast shifts between fundamentally different aspects of thinking−philosophically biased, analytical and associative synthetic, creative.
The setup also examines relation between causal and correlational nature of art and what that means for the world of cognitive capitalism we are inhibiting, where art is being produced by AI Artificial Intelligence (they claim so) and even sold at auction at Sotheby"s in 2018.
What that kind of dematerialized art means for the word of cognitive capitalism that we are facing right now where dematerialized digital labor has not brought expected democratization of knowledge.
In contrast to subjective issues that arise as a main source of motivation I would like to raise awareness of the importance of knowledge producing and digital dematerialized labor as two main aspect of cognitive capitalism where data play an important role, and the inability to avoid data sharing, under the pretext of hyper personalization, is being monetarized and we are constantly monitored. When i started the project I was immediately bombarded with an enormous amount of weight loss product on Google ads.
Also the brain structures as a key aspect in neurosciences and the question how those brain structure are being monetized, learned skills or acquired knowledge. What could be the impact of soon to be possible idea of downloading skill or knowledge directly into the brain which is similar sort of question that brought digitalization and possibility to copy information without loss in infinitive number of instances.
The new understanding of the body and mind problem gives us a more malleable nature of the reality and also an anti-essentialist perspective (our brain is not fixed, not hardwired), both internal and external, as well as the socio-economic law which surrounds us and which we as human beings construct. Using plasticity or neuroplasticity as a main source for emancipation can be seen advocated in many philosophical articles/books. In that sense I would like to underline Catherine Melabou"s book What Should We Do with Our Brain? with the insight in what we should do with our brains in the era of cognitive capitalism. The possibility of change is the most important belief that we have to acquire in the era of various Donalds. Art can make you lose weight!
To shortly sum up, my interest could be seen as the interaction between two realms, mental and physical, medically speaking in psychosomatic aspects of our existence, or how experience shapes our brain. The project Hyperplastic deals with the (neuro)plasticity of the body and the brain/spirit, the reflection of the extraordinary ability to, like the human beings, we can learn and use that knowledge. The first part of the project relates to the physical change of the brain (enlarged hippocampus) in the process of learning Vienna city map by walking through the city creating a sort of the imprint of the city in the brain, inspired by London taxi drivers experiments by Eleanor Maguire.
Together with the spatial mental representation I am interested in the phenomenal aspect of the city walks or in other words, what is going on in the mind, while I am deliberately walking through the city. How many kilometers (where is the threshold), I have to pass, in order to become Viennese, because no matter of the knowledge (or acquired German language for example) and accumulated experience, when I will become a political subject and not a political object. so I don"t have to be anxious about having my diploma presentation and expiring date of my visa on the same day (14th of June), or that is something that cannot be learned or earned but only genetically inherited in the Europe 2019.