Initiated by the artist Ann Veronica Janssens and Nathalie Ergino, director of the Institut d’Art Contemporain, this project proposes to work in the field of artistic experimentation and explore practical and theoretical research enabling us to link the space and the brain. This interdisciplinary laboratory brings together the reflections and experiments of artists and scientists (neuroscience, physics, astrophysics…), and also of philosophers, anthropologists, art historians, and theoreticians.

Ann Veronica Janssens, Cabinet en croissance, 1991-2009

1. Ann Veronica Janssens, Cabinet en croissance, 1991-2009

The principle of the brain space laboratory came about through some mutual observations. Since the 1980s, Ann Veronica Janssens has been exploring, and experimenting with multiple approaches to perception, space, confronting loss of bearings and feelings of reality. She calls upon the skills of specialists with scientific leanings in order to devise areas of sensitivity and acuity in a deliberately intuitive way. Today, in light of the current acceleration in scientific advances, Ann Veronica Janssens has chosen to place the emphasis on experimentation by setting up a huge “work in progress” of investigations and prototypes.

Brion Gysin, Dreamachine, 1961-1979

2. Brion Gysin, Dreamachine, 1961-1979

After numerous shows devoted to artists like Rodney Graham or Carsten Höller, and to group exhibitions such as Maisons-Cerveaux (1995) or Subréel (2002), Nathalie Ergino is seeking to assess the artistic issues involved in these various approaches, which would seem to follow on from those of the 1950-70s, and which are yet different, taking place during a period of increased scientific application (cybernetics, electronics…) and research. Can one still designate the unconscious as a potential tool of reality; and what does the notion ‘critical perception’ mean today?

Present day scientific research is renewing our approach to space and its articulation with the brain. From advances in neurophysiology to physical discoveries (quantum physics, string theory, nanoscience…), our apprehension of the world is now tipping over from Euclidian space into an as yet indeterminate space, undergoing mutation. While thought, taking in the perspectivist Renaissance, has always spatialised and constructed the world, can we still speak today of its representation? This project proposes to explore the cognitive and phenomenological extension of thought, through the consideration of the “corps en acte(1)” [body in act] as a constituent element of the world. It makes the assumption of going beyond traditional dualities — objectivity / subjectivity, conscious / unconscious, centrality / decentring, materiality / immateriality…

Gianni Colombo, Spazio elastico, 1967

3. Gianni Colombo, Spazio elastico, 1967

Rather than envisage the relations of the brain with space, this Laboratory aims to rely on space itself. First as a possible synonym for the artistic act, secondly as an extension of the eye, brain and body. McLuhan talked about this worldwide extension, saying that man casts his own central nervous system like a net across the globe which he turns into a huge living brain. Why not now picture the cosmos as a brain?

Art could be an intuitive, mobile operating mode, capable of linking research in neuroscience, physics and astrophysics. From the late 1950s, many artists put into practice new approaches to the relationship with the viewer-visitor. From an egocentred posture, which conveyed their feeling in plastic terms, they moved on to propositions of the “allocentred” type, in which the perception of the world was then as it were given to be shared, following a process whereby the “self” and the other blended together, making room for the emergence of experience per se. So it is important that the Brain Space Laboratory (Station 1) should decode and re-examine these past artistic approaches in the light of contemporary artistic practices.

Above and beyond the visual effects of optical kinetic art, the often three- dimensional works summoned here have generated a new relation to space through their immersive dimension, the introduction of light and movement as raw materials, and also inducing hypnotic or “waking dream” effects (appliances of Nicolas Schöffer, Brion Gysin…).

In an apparently more metaphysical mode and following on from Lucio Fontana, James Turrell also undertakes the conquest of the infinite, decreeing perception to be a medium in itself. What are the bases and characteristics of research being carried out now by Micol Assaël, Berdaguer and Péjus, Olafur Eliasson, Cerith Wyn Evans, Bertrand Lamarche, Carsten Nicolaï…?


While the laboratory’s aim is to take part in these upheavals affecting the whole of society, it also involves contributing to the development of artistic research in progress, with no guarantee, however, of ever getting anywhere. Awaiting a possible exhibition, the Brain Space Laboratory will be developed up until 2011 in stages, “stations”, in various forms – day seminars, lectures, papers, presentations of works, collating documentation, publications, blog…

As an exploration unit, the Laboratory will thus pass through various “fields”: neuroscience, physics and astrophysics, nanoscience? new technologies, psychoanalysis and neuroscience, parapsychology, hypnosis and telepathy, non clairvoyance, or again shamanism and animism.

(1) Lecture by Alain Berthoz, Espace et cognition, November 2005.


1. Ann Veronica Janssens, Cabinet en croissance, 1991-2009. Brain Space Laboratory / Station 1, 2009. Institut d’art contemporain, Villeurbanne/Rhône-Alpes. © Blaise Adilon
2. Brion Gysin, Dreamachine, 1961-1979. Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France. Legs de Brion Gysin, 1988. Exhibition view Brion Gysin: Dream Machine, 16 October – 28 November 2010. Brain Space Laboratory / Station 4, 2010. Institut d’art contemporain, Villeurbanne/Rhône-Alpes. © Blaise Adilon
3. Gianni Colombo, Spazio elastico, 1967. Archivio Gianni Colombo, Milan. Brain Space Laboratory / Station 5, 2011. Institut d’art contemporain, Villeurbanne/Rhône-Alpes. © Blaise Adilon