# art & science – Matthijs Munnik – tag art and science

Citadels, Lightscape (2012)

 lightscape1” Lightscape is the latest work in my Citadels series, where I research the unique qualities of flickering light. This project is strongly inspired by Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville’s Dream Machine, the first artwork that realized the potential of flickering light. Lightscape is a window to a virtual world, visualizing an abstract universe composed only of light and sound.The aim of this virtual universe is to explore the borders of our sensory hardware. While the eye tries to make sense of the sensory overload, a dazzling display of highly detailed patterns, fractals and geometry is rendered inside the retina and fed to the brain. These curious phenomena you see are created by the eye itself, induced by the installation. This effect is something that is impossible to capture on video or in text, it can only be experienced in real life.I intensly researched all kinds of colour combinations, patterns, rhytms, frequencies, micro-oscillations and intensity changes to discover the visual effects that are the most spectacular. Flickering colour is a very powerful and can create intricate never seen before visuals.

During the performance I play a live composition, playing the machine like an audiovisual instrument, rendering live visuals inside the retinas of the audience. ” M.M.


The Microscopic Opera (2011)


3D impression of the final installation

A few months ago, the Waag Society in Amsterdam teamed up with the Netherlands Genomics Initiative and the Centre for Society and Genomics to launch the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award which invited emerging artists and designers to submit projects involving the exploration of Life Sciences. The works selected were to be developed together with the country’s most prestigious genomics centres.

You might have heard of similar initiatives in the USA or in the UK but mainland Europe doesn’t have such a strong tradition of setting up collaboration between research centers and artists/designers. Hopefully, the DA4GA award will pave the way for more partnerships of the kind both in The Netherlands and in the rest of Europe.

The winning projects were revealed last month: a bullet proof skin, an ecological bioreactor and an opera performed by mutated worms. The winning proposals will be exhibited from mid-June until the end of December 2011 but the curious blogger in me wanted to have a sneak peak of the 3 projects before they go on show. In the coming days i’m going to dedicate several posts on the winning works as well as on the award itself. And i’m opening the series with the Microscopic Opera!

Matthijs Munnik is going to collaborate with Netherlands Consortium for Systems Biology on an audiovisual installation in which tiny, transparent mutated lab worms are producing sounds and images. ”

source:text by  Regine  on  we make money not art

“I didn’t have any experience in this field. When I started working on this project I read Denis Noble’s book The Music of Life, which I can recommend to anyone, to become a little bit more familiar with systems biology and genetics. For me as well as for the scientist from NCSB brainstorming on this project together was very interesting. I thought it would be a lot more difficult, but it turned out to work great.

In my project I’m using common research tools, but instead of using them for scientific research I use them to create an art piece.
The organisms I use in the installation are C. elegans, used extensively in scientific research, for a wide array of purposes. Often this research involves C. elegans that have been given a mutation that is not visible under the microscope. As a handy tool, researchers give these worms an extra mutation that makes them move in a different way; they are twitching, or moving like a corkscrew, or they become really obese. In my installation I use these handicapped mutants, and translate their movement into sound. The worms are projected in real time on screens behind them. I want to control the movement of the worms to a certain degree with temperature and vibration, to create a composition based on an opera. I’m working on making the worms control a synthesized opera voice, and I try to use the same image analysis algorithms researchers at NCSB use.

With this project I try to research the artistic value of some research tools, and shine a new light on them. On the other hand I’m also fascinated by the worms, who have no idea of the world above them. We are like gods to these little lab worms, following them from their first cell division to their death, manipulating their bodies and mutating their DNA. Are we really like gods, or are we like the worms, unaware of the things above us in a different dimension, the biggest thing becoming the tiniest.

C. elegans has been used extensively as a model organism and a researcher introduced me to them. Not only does it move in an elegant way, like its name suggests, it’s also the first multicellular organism to have its genome completely sequenced. Besides these nice aspects they are also easy to keep and you can even train them to some extent.

I’ve started expermenting with the worms and doing some programming. I’ve also done a lot of discussing with the  Netherlands Consortium for Systems Biology  team, mostly consulting me on technical issues, but I’ll also be working some more in their lab, which I’m very looking forward to. ”
images courtesy and text  –  Matthijs Munnik.

Citadels (2009)


” “We must storm the citadels of enlightenment. The means are at hand
William S. Burroughs wrote to his best friend Brion Gysin. The means,he was referring to, was the invention of the dream machine.

A rotating cyllinder lamp-like device, which produced a stroboscopic light. You would see beautiful patterns, shapes and colours, while looking at this device with your eyes closed. Even full hallucinations have been reported. The trippy experience provided by the dreammachine fascinated the two beat-generation artists immensly, as well as a wide range of other artists and performers, mainly in psychedelic circles.


The effect produced by the dreammachine, however was not something new. In fact it has fascinated people since the begin of time. Flickering lights and repeated sounds have always been important for spiritual rituals, to induce a trance like state. Shamans, prophets and ordinary people used the effect as an aid for meditation and expanding their conciousness.

The first time this happened, according to one theory, was when a shaman stood under a tree, when a flickering shadow fell on him, created by the leaves slowly moving the wind. When he looked up and closed his eyes the flickering of the shadows gave him a visionary and spiritual experience. This could be the reason why trees take a really important place in all religions worldwide.

There are also stories about prophets, Nostradamus for example, waving their hands in front of their closed eyes, while looking at the sun. This would give them the ability to vision the future. The first scientist to report it was the great Jan Purkinje, 200 years ago, when he was still a child. He found out that, by looking at the sun with his eyes closed, and waving his hands in front of his eyes, ‘beautiful figures’ would appear, which gradually became more intricate.It doesn’t really matter what method you use, be it a device, your hands or a natural source, in the end the effect stays the same. The only difference is that modern day devices give us more control over the flicker and intensity. That’s why the dreammachine was such a revolutionary device, as it made it a lot easier to experience the effect.

Brion Gysin and scientist Ian Sommerville created the dreamachine after reading William Grey Walter’s book, “The Living Brain”. Walter, a neurophysiologist, was a pioneer in research of brainwave activity. In this book he describes his experiments with stroboscopic light. He found that flicker-induced hallucinatory experiences of his test subjects seemed to be as broad and dynamic as anything experienced in the medical case histories. As suggested by himself, this effect is caused not by properties of the light itself, or by the eye, but are a product of the brain.

One theory is that the flickering is interfering with the brain’s visual cortex, attempting to deal with intermittent signal. It’s hard not to wonder if the patterns you see perhaps offer a glimpse of our own brain activity, something beyond our own senses. In my performance I also make use of the flicker effect, but I have more control over it. In my performance, the audience wears white plastic masks, this way they look into a ganzfeld, a totally white field during the performance. In my set up, I use beamers, projecting light on the audience’s masks, completely immersing them in the light and colors of the projection.

I play an 8 minute live composition, based on the varying effects of different frequencies of flicker, colour, binaural beats and sound.During the performance every spectator will see something different, varying patterns and colours, created within their own brains. ”

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