Hampshire College Prof's Uplifting Performance Art Merges Mind, Technology | www.hampshire.edu
student at computer

News & Events

Hampshire College Prof's Uplifting Performance Art Merges Mind, Technology

 In John Slepian's performance piece "Transcendence," the associate professor of art and technology uses his brainwaves, and a few essential pieces of equipment, to levitate off the ground.

In John Slepian's performance piece "Transcendence," the associate professor of art and technology uses his brainwaves, and a few essential pieces of equipment, to levitate off the ground.

The premiere, at Zero1: The Art and Technology Network in San Jose this past summer, brought a surprising reaction from the crowd.


"Like my other work, I expected the project to be ironic," he said. "I thought it was pretty funny that I built this technology to levitate myself. But people there were super quiet, and kind of meditating along with me."

"Transcendence" grew partly from a piece Slepian had done earlier in 2014 called "A Really Great Idea." Using technology that included a chip used to detect brainwaves (which he hacked from a Star Wars Science - Force Trainer toy) and Arduino microcontrollers, Slepian illuminated a connected light bulb through his focused thoughts. He later realized that he could use the technology to levitate himself. He built the necessary structure and sent a proposal to an open call for work at Zero1, which funded the project.

One of the enjoyable parts of premiering the work there was the fact that NeuroSky, the company that makes the chip used to measure his brainwaves, was based around the corner. When the audience asked questions about the technology, it turned out a NeuroSky employee was there and happy to respond.

Slepian does practice meditation, but he points out that "it's pretty divergent from doing the performance itself. It's hard not to be focused on it being a performance as opposed to a meditation practice." Still, the ability to focus on his mental state is something that he gained through regular meditation. That was crucial when Slepian brought the performance to Zero1's booth at the Silicon Valley Art Fair in October.

"In San Jose, it was beautifully lit and quiet," he said. "Here, there were a lot of people, and we got big crowds every time. I'm not the world's most public person, so it was a challenge balancing the adrenaline rush of the experience with the idea that I'm supposed to be sitting there being mindful."

Slepian will perform "Transcendence" in Philadelphia in February, and at the Machines with Magnets gallery in Pawtucket, RI, in the spring. He is also currently collaborating with the contemporary dance company Adele Myers and Dancers, creating interactive electronics for their new work "The Dancing Room." In addition, his next performance piece uses muscle sensors placed on his shoulder and chest muscles. Wearing a climbing harness and with the muscle sensors attached to steel cable and winches, Slepian will take a further step beyond levitation.

"As I flap my arms, depending on the strength of my muscles, I would fly," he said. "I don't have any more brainwave ideas, but I am into the performance thing."

Stay In Touch
With The Communications Office
Snail Mail
Office of Communications
Hampshire College
893 West Street
Amherst, MA 01002