23 Aug 2016 • Interview
Lisa Park translates biofeedback into visual and sonic spectacle with an intangible material
Inspired by a compulsion to ‘control my consciousness’, Lisa Park’s performance pieces employ commercial biofeedback tools, such as heart-rate monitors and brainwave headsets. She converts the data into visual and sonic form, producing poetic representations of her inner emotional state, such as the rippling pools of water in Eunoia I and II: ‘Water is a mirror of the self,’ she says. Raised in South Korea, Park studied fine art in California followed by interactive media at NYU in New York, where she lives and works today.
In Eunoia I and II, you move water with your mind. How do you work this magic?
LISA PARK: In each of the two performances, I use a different commercial brainwave headset with its own software program. It comes with concentration and meditation values, plus the five common brainwave frequencies – alpha, beta, gamma, delta and theta. I basically translate these input values into sound, using the programming language Max, and the sound is then sent to speakers. The speakers are placed under bowls of water, and the sound ripples the water.
Why use your emotional state as your material in this way?
I’ve always thought of myself as an emotional person, and I wanted more control over my emotions. That’s my goal: to master my own mind. I started using biofeedback in an attempt to calm myself for each performance. My first work of this type, Obsession Is Sad Passion, was inspired by my fear of butterflies. My head was in a plastic orb into which butterflies were released, while a sensor monitored my heartbeat. Its fluctuations were translated into variations in the speed, pitch and tone of a prerecorded reading of Patrick Süskind’s ‘Depth Wish’. After the performance, I felt I had confronted my own vulnerability. I was no longer afraid of my own fear.
How difficult is it to manipulate your feelings during a performance?
The irony is that I created Eunoia in order to calm myself, but people want to see some variation in order to believe it works. I really have to choreograph myself during the performance. The headset analyses certain emotions better than others – it responds well to frustration, for example. I conjure certain memories, reliving various frustrating emotional scenarios.
How do people react to your work?
When I’m performing, I feel as though the audience and I have an unspoken dialogue. I feel their presence, and they influence me. It’s like a feedback loop, as if our emotions are on one level. Outside the performances, people do question whether brainwave headsets are accurate enough to portray emotions. After all, I’m working with a developing technology that gives an impression, not a precise picture.
Watch Lisa Park in action here: