Color Therapy, Amsterdam, London, Milan, NY, Toronto, Singapore, 2014


 

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Color Therapy

A project by Marcos Lutyens 

Presented by Samsung

Amsterdam-London-Milan-New York-Singapore-Toronto

Dedicated to: Oliver Noah Yu-An Nam

 

Color (n.) Origin Old Latin – colos:  covering

 therapy (n.) Origin Greek - therapeuein :  attend , do service

The project engages with passers-by, as visuals evolve and morph to counter-balance according to each city’s current conditions.  The color of the elements counter the weather conditions, creating emotional warmth when it’s cold, wet or windy, and a feeling of calm and being refreshed when it’s hot, dry or still. 36 sixty-second films were dynamically graded to reflect 25 different color combinations, allowing for each city to have a possible 150 visual representations of the current weather conditions. The cities together have an almost infinite number of combinations from a total of 900 visual representations. The music speeds up and slows down countering the pace of the city.

Background:

 The visuals marry local weather data with each city’s unique element, from meandering smoke in Singapore to shattered colored glass in Milan to hypnotic ink drops in London. The elements were captured at ultra-high speed, with frame rates varying from 500 to 3000 and unparalleled resolutions up to 4K. By observing how matter behaves at a smaller scale and slowed down tempo, we broaden our consciousness and begin to have a better sense of the subtle worlds around us that, compounded, make up our everyday reality.  Some of the footage incorporates symmetries, playing to the integration of left and right brain processing.

 This relates to my own investigations such as McSynAt fingertips or FlavourCollider, exploring synaesthesia,  a phenomenon in which different senses overlap in the brain. The work is further informed by behavioral, physiological, and neuroscience research linking colors to emotions, and feelings to weather and the seasons. When one experiences color on a purely emotional level, unfiltered and instinctually, it is as if one were actually seeing a completely new range of colors.  The linkage of colors and emotions has been a subject of study for centuries: one such investigation that comes to mind is  that of Annie Besant which was published as the book ‘Thought Forms’.  The book includes descriptions of how colors, edge-sharpness and other variables were linked to states of being. 

 In terms of the title “Color Therapy’ there has been a resurgence of the investigation of therapy in the context of contemporary art, such as with Valentina Desideri’s Political Therapy, which perhaps finds its origins  in previous ground-breaking work of artists such as Lygia Clark in the 1980’s .  One can also sense a growing interest in psychotherapeutic applications of art, such as through the discipline of ‘Art Therapy’.  In my own practice, I have been involved with ‘youths at risk’ in Los Angeles, working with them through art making and hypnosis reframing processes.  There is an undoubtedly strong link between the creative aspects of art and the positive affects it can have on the psyche.

Long before working with inner city kids, my first direct encounter in a ‘therapeutic’ role was when I was 17 years old in the Amazon rain forest and short on supplies. I needed to urgently stitch up someone’s severely gashed head, as he had just fallen head first down a precipice. I used the scissors on my swiss army knife to cut his hair off and then fire ants to bind the cuts together.  

 

When at Documenta 13 in Germany, a couple of years ago, I carried out over 340 hypnosis performances over 100 days as an ongoing collaborative project with Raimundas Malasauskas. I took notes and received feedback about how the combination of art and the unconscious can affect the psyche.  One visitor wrote to me afterwards:

“I have Parkinson and Diabetes, I see them as diseases, but not myself as being ill. I had no expectations and was glad to have a break and sit. It had even been a coincidence, that I could participate at all!

Then my personal miracle happened within a very short time... I became utterly peaceful and had incredible light experiences. They surpassed everything in length and intensity, that I had had so far, how happy I was! It became a turning point in my life! From then on I undertook actions I had not done before. I wanted to go to Kassel again. In the second session, my Parkinson rigor dissolved almost entirely, how wonderful!”

 

It is interesting to note that the origin of the word “therapy” is rooted in the Greek word ‘therapon’ which means attendant. As an artist in this project, I am the “attendant” linking color to weather and emotions in order to extend a sense of connection to all these interactions.

 

In this project, which deploys sound and visuals to counter-balance real-time flows, the idea has been to use analogue footage and live musical instruments at its source. The intent has been to link the viewer’s real world to a correspondingly real-world, live input. In other words, the screen here connects different tangible realities that in turn reconnect us to our senses.

 

The music, composed by celebrated musician Yuval Ron, ties the visuals together and functions as a tempo-balancing mechanism, speeding up when social flows are slow and vice versa.  Each city has a specific designated musical instrument that complements the visuals. The tones underlying the music counter-balance the weather conditions: warm tones for cold, wet or windy weather and cool tones for warm, dry and still conditions. On the street in front of the large-scale screen, passers-by can listen to the corresponding music streamed through the web. 

One can even listen to all 6 cities at the same time, hearing the varying counter-tempos for social flows and weather conditions from around the planet in real time.

In this way the affect of color and sound is designed to alter the internal rhythms that govern our moods and emotions. 

Investigations into weather and affect follow on from CO2morrow, a project with Alessandro Marianantoni exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 2009/2010. Lights on the surface of the 8m diameter fiber glass sculpture changed color in relation to changing historic CO2 levels.  The work was later exhibited at Seaton Delaval Hall in the North of England.  A paper in the Leonardo journal of Arts and Sciences describes the project in greater detail.

 

1.Amsterdam – Tangent : Paint 

Rembrandt Square

This title is taken from the Latin tangere (to touch). The paint displayed has an incredible tactility as it glides across the screen and reacts to paint moving in the opposite direction, melding, mixing, morphing, of its own volition. It is no coincidence that the flow of paint was chosen for Rembrandt Square. Sir Joshua Reynolds referred to Rembrandt’s use of paint when he wrote that “Work produced in an accidental manner, will have the same free, unrestrained air as the works of nature, whose particular combinations seem to depend upon accident.”

As a kid I remember going to a Rembrandt exhibition in London and was fascinated by the anatomy of the paint, more so than the paintings themselves. X-rays showed that he used crushed glass to transmit light through the layers of the painting and hundreds of other color-enhancing concoctions. Today, as artists, we are lucky to have so many additional tools for expressing color, and there is no longer the struggle to transmit light reflected in the artwork, but rather, we can use the substrate, in this case a giant LED array, to transmit the brightest and most intense colors that your eyes could register.

It feels good to pick up from where I left off in Amsterdam: I did a couple of hypnosis performances fairly recently there relating to trance states and ambient surroundings, one with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev at the Rietveld Academie under the theme “Poiesis of Worlding”  http://wherearewegoingwaltwhitman.rietveldacademie.nl/lecture/march-15/  and another one for the Swedish culture program Kobra. For this one, I was  gliding along the canals on a boat, using the bridges and tunnels as an inductive device. These performances echo the fluid mental states elicited through the drifting visuals of “Tangent”.

 

 Corresponding musical instrument: Guitar played by Adam Del Monte

 

 2.London – Soma Chroma : Drops    Piccadilly Circus

 The ebb and flow of macro-scale drops create fleeting aquatic architectures. Each drop marks a movement: a flow of action and reaction.  Curiously, as an extension of this dynamic, droplets that bounces over the surface of a liquid reveal many quantum-like properties, such as double-slit energy quantization,  tunneling and energy quantization

 Piccadilly Circus is close to another major London gathering spot: Trafalgar Square. The well-known fountains there were designed by Sir. Edwin Lutyens. Soma Chroma is a tribute to his work with water, as an 'updated' 21st Century equivalent.

 The apparatus for creating the cascade of drops needed to be extremely precise, with servo-controlled droppers and the means for adjusting the depth of the water to create more of a “crown,” or counter-surge. This ballet is the astonishing result of slowing down time and observing what is actually happening around us.   

Corresponding musical instrument: Hang played by Masood Ali Khan

 

 3.Milano – Nascent : Glass   Duomo

 This is named after Santa Maria Nascente, to whom the Duomo is dedicated. But the title also refers to the way in which glass emerges as a “glass transition” from sand. On the screen, the glass rises and falls in a continuous anti-gravitational flow, emerging from a state of rest to float and drift through the air.  The glass echoes the cathedral’s 164 stained-glass windows, and calls to mind the breath-taking light and color explorations that have taken place over the past 600 years. The visuals reflect Aldous Huxley’s Heaven and Hell : “Every detail is seen and rendered as a living jewel and all these jewels are harmoniously combined into a whole which is a jewel of yet a higher order of visionary intensity." 

Corresponding musical instrument: Glass Harmonica  played by Brien Engel

 

4.NewYork - Counter Tempo: Ink 

Times Square

 Times Square is a place of convergence from all sides, a kaleidoscopic reality seen from below as from above. The ink has its own sense of choreography as it dances through the water, like mobile ink blots in three dimensions, conjuring associations as it moves, and slowing down time in such a densely trafficked area.

Corresponding musical instrument: Duduk  played by Chris Bleth

 

5.Toronto - EfferveSense : Voids 

Dundas Square

 Effervescence simply means bubbling. The Latin root is related to temperature, but in English the word also denotes liveliness. The voids that create the space for us to live and breathe are always more useful that the containers that hold them, and yet seen from up close, these voids are always moving, changing and creating dynamic opportunities and portals through which to dream.

The idea of bubbles in the context of mental imagery first came up in the planning of a hypnosis performance for the last day of dOCUMENTA(13) with Raimundas Malasauskas. The idea was that bubbles provided schemas of reflection, exchange, mobility and interaction. This last performance was attended by some 250 people in the open air outside the Reflection Room cabin.

This screen in Dundas Sq happens to be the largest one in Canada.

Corresponding musical instrument: Harp played by Cynthia Hsiang

 

6.Singapore - Transpire : Smoke

Orchard Rd

The patterns of meandering vapor lull the viewer into a hypnotic reverie, unfolding as they move across the screen.  The drifting spectre, which triggers olfactory associations, calls to mind the scent of nutmeg, pepper and fruit trees from which Orchard Road derived its name some 150 years ago. My research into synaesthesia has included the investigation of smell in the context of mental processes, including working with the renowned smell chemist/artist Sissel Tolaas at dOCUMENTA(13)  and the Institute for Art and Olfaction with Saskia Wilson Brown and K.J. Baysa, which was shared at MamBo and at Boccanera Arte Contemporanea .

The moods relating to weather transpire as the color of the imagery on the screen and the corresponding sounds change over the course of the day.

The play of symmetry calls to mind the effect that Rorschach Blots have on our inner perception, as a visual field into which our own ideas and associations are projected.

The symmetry is also a way to activate our left and right brain centers. The moving geometries call to mind the processing of patterns at the root level of mind through which we build our picture of every day reality.

Corresponding musical instrument: Bansuri played by Chris Bleth

 

It is rare to be able to perform a work of art of this reach, scale and impact, both in global magnitude as well as the sheer size of the screens. It is also great to contribute to the continuing evolution of outdoor media arts and exciting to create content for these screens that are becoming more connected, personal and dynamic.

 

What is most intriguing about the project is the idea of turning these huge screens in major public squares that are usually devoted exclusively to commercialism into a medium that ‘gives’ to the general public instead of ‘taking’. It is a bold statement for Samsung, one of the world’s most recognized brands, to set aside this commercial media space, in which every second of air-time on these large screens is worth millions of ‘eyeballs’, and offer it up as a forum for an art expression that seeks to positively influence emotions and moods in response to the ever changing factors that surround the passers-by.

It seems a bold move on Samsung’s part but not surprisingly, a screen that shows a hypnotic and singular set of visuals that mesmerizes as it slowly changes colors stands out so much more in a sea of logos, to which we have all been over-habituated. A second reading of the screen will reveal not just an emotional engagement but the fact that this project introduces interactivity to these spaces.  

 

Before starting this project I assumed that well over half of the media in Times Square or Piccadilly Circus, or one of the four other highly transited spaces would be interactive in some way, especially as we are well into the era of ‘new media’ of the 21st century. So it has been an intriguing aspect of the project to be a pioneer in engaging with these screens interactively.  All the more so, since the planet-wide extent of the project makes us begin to view the world across national boundaries and sense the ‘pulse’ of the world in real time across so many time zones, cultural differences and perspectives. This sense can be especially registered when listening to the corresponding sounds from all six cities at once (on the website), as you can hear all the varying tempos of the musical instruments and the warm or cool drones that respond to traffic flows and weather respectively.

 

From the point of view of the passer-by, on seeing these visuals, there is a move away from an objective reality of logos and materialism to a subjective engagement with the internal emotional space.    I hope to be able to explore this possibility later this summer with a series of performances in these public squares, which work more directly with people’s emotional states, both positive and negative as well as the unconscious and how we engage with these archetypal messaging and gathering spaces. 

 

This project extends my interests in consciousness, as well as investigations involving hypnosis and the response of the body and mind to sound and colors.   I see this project not just as a pre-planned effort that seeks a given result but also as an emergent terrain from which to find out more about people’s response to and engagement with color.  This project is certainly a basis for future investigations…

 

 

 

Collaborative orchestration:

The project has been a global effort that has spanned many time zones, working in sync to bring the Color Therapy project to life.  Contributors include John Park of Addict Films, award-winning musician Yuval Ron,  Hyewon Oh of Cheil, Yoon-Seok Nam of Keystone films, David Estis, Adele Major, Asher Edwards, Chris Vincze and Tim Dillon of MPC, Mina Choe, Billy Park, Kevin Berve and Susan Millinken of Reel EFX, Pergrin Jung, Sam Partners, , Yi-Ping Hou, Chiara Ianeselli as well as many others. 

Also a big thanks to Samsung without whom this project would not have been possible.

This scale and scope of collaboration is a reflection of how the world has changed around us. So much social and cultural convergence could not have been imagined even 20 years ago, and yet in this collaborative process with all its different voices a diversity and originality has been fostered that is wonderfully refreshing. 

 

 

Neuroscience Aspects of Color Therapy

 

An exchange with Francesca Bacci  who is the first art historian in residence at the Center for Mind and Brain Sciences (University of Trento), where she is involved in collaborative research on neural correlates of the experience of art.

 

 

 

ML: Do you think these visuals, that are substantially different from those that you would habitually see in a public place  such as Times Square make people respond differently?

 

FB: The perceptual systems in the brain adapt to the surroundings, with neurons reducing their activity when the environment is constant and monotonous. Through this process of adaptation, the senses respond less and less over time. An example is the constant hum of an air conditioner, which fades out of consciousness as neurons in the auditory cortex habituate and cease to respond to the invariable stimulation. The most effective way to de-habituate these neurons is to present a contrasting stimulus. 

(Note: habituation and adaptation are basic principles of the brain, and you can readily measure these effects in the human brain with fMRI or EEG by repeating the same stimulus).

(Review: Krekelberg et al, 2006)

 

ML: Does it make sense to contrast opposite emotional states with opposing weather parameters and color hues?

 

FB: Sensory systems tend to be organized in terms of opposites. One of the basic principles of colors, for example, is that they are organized by our brains in a series of opposites, like red-green, blue-yellow and black/white. 

 

 

 

ML: As far as a predictable emotional responses to colors and shapes: would you say that this linkage can be substantiated?

 

FB: Studies have shown that colors and shapes can consistently evoke similar emotions in viewers (for review, see: Melcher & Bacci, 2014). Computer algorithms can predict the emotional judgment of viewers to combinations of colors and shapes (Yanulevskaya et al., 2013). 

 

Also recent scientific studies have shown that there are natural associations between the different senses, such that some combinations are harmonious and others discordant (for review, see: Spence & Parise, 2012).

ML: Would you have a more specific reference  about colors say red, blue or green and its 'similar' emotional stimulus as its implied in this phrase:

 

FB: Here are some recent studies regarding emotion and colors, mainly showing that red is linked to anger and arousal, while green and blue are more calming.

Young et al., Emotion, 2013: Red enhances anger processing for images of faces

Kuhbander & Pekrun, Emotion, 2013: Red enhances memory for negative words, green for positive words

Akers et al., Environmental Science Technology, 2012: describes previous studies showing that exercise in a green environment leads to lower fatigue and higher wellbeing ratings. They had people watch red or green filtered videos while cycling and found that green colors did increase wellness ratings while red increased anger ratings

Fetterman et al., Cognition & Emotion, 2012: A red font facilitates processing of anger words

Sakuraqi & Sugiyama, Perception Motor Skills, 2011: While playing a video game, a blue background reduced fatigue ratings.

Yidilirim et al., Percept Motor Skills, 2011: When looking at virtual rooms, warm colored rooms (red yellows) were rated as more arousing, exciting, stimulation, while cool colors (blues, greens) were rated as more calm and peaceful

Eliot & Aarts, Emotion, 2011: reviews studies of effects of color on motor tasks. They found that red color enhanced grip strength compared to grey or blue.

Droilet-Volet & Mack, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2007: they review studies on how colors can influence the perception of the rate that time passes. Some studies have shown that arousing and negative emotions can make time seem to pass more quickly.

 

ML: How is color used in therapeutic applications, such as treating Seasonal Affective Disorder, or say stimulating a wider range of emotions in autistic people 

 

FB: Colors are used in a number of treatments of mood disorders. A very interesting case study reported by Ramachandran et al. (in the journal Neurocase in 2012) of a man with Aspergers syndrome tested his claim that he saw colors when people had emotional expressions. They found evidence for this claim. There is a nice chart in the paper showing the different colors and how they map synaethetically onto different emotions, mainly what you would expect (red for anger and fear, yellow for excitement, blue for sad, green for cheerful, etc…). I do not know about any studies showing this to be widespread, but it is an interesting case study in synaesthesia in Aspergers (which fits with other anecdotal reports).

 

 

ML: In this project we have incorporated different tempos of music responding to the different pace of activity in each city. Can this generate a change is those who listen to it?

 

FB: The rhythms in music can affect mood and mental activity in various ways. For example, a steady rhythm can “entrain” the naturally occurring oscillations of the brain in a way that changes the relative power of these different brain frequencies. Different oscillation frequencies of the brain are linked to different mental and emotional states.

 

 

 

References:

 

Krekelberg, B, Boynton GM & Van Wezel RJA (2006). Adaptation: from single cells to BOLD signals. Trends in Neuroscience.

 

Melcher, D. & Bacci F. (2013) Perception of emotion in abstract artworks: a multidisciplinary approach. Progress in Brain Research, 204:191-216. 

 

Spence C, Parise CV. The cognitive neuroscience of crossmodal correspondences. Iperception. 2012;3(7):410-2.

 

Yanulevskaya, V., Uijlings, J., Bruni, E., Sartori, A., Zamboni, E., Bacci, F., Melcher, D., Sebe, N. (2012). In the Eye of the Beholder: employing statistical analysis and eye tracking for analyzing abstract paintings. Proceedings of the 20th ACM international conference on Multimedia, 349-358.

 

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July – September 2014  Marcos Lutyens ©