For the installation Proto-Objects, Michael Schwab commissioned four independent collaborators to respond to his artistic analysis of his own brain activity. This was recorded as he was exposed to a succession of one hundred pictures, randomly chosen from the history of art (from 1420 to 1912). The initial EEG scan took place as part of the research project “Wissen im Selbstversuch/Knowledge through Self-Experimentation” (2009–10, PI: Yeboaa Ofosu, see http://www.hkb.bfh.ch/?id=2453) at the Hochschule der Künste Bern (CH) and was carried out by Dr. Thomas Koenig at the Universitätsklinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie Bern (CH). The raw EEG data was statistically analysed and geometrically transformed with the help of Padraig Coogan, Leon Williams (both Royal College of Art, London, UK), Michael Klein (Universität Heidelberg, D), and David Pirrò (Kunstuniversität Graz, AT). This work resulted in the construction of one hundred three-dimensional “proto-objects,” each corresponding to what is deemed significant in Schwab’s cognitive response to each particular picture.
The name “proto-object” was first used by Schwab in a book chapter (Schwab 2012) that utilises Hans-Jörg Rheinberg’s research on “experimental systems” for possible epistemologies and methodologies of artistic research. Rheinberger makes a distinction between two spaces, the graphematic and the representational space (see Schwab 2013). Surprising events that lack explanation are produced in experimental settings and traced in the graphematic space as “epistemic things.” Epistemic things are gradually transposed into the representational space where they register as knowledge. According to Rheinberger (1997, 28) appropriating François Jacob, epistemic things announce future knowledge and, thus, drive history. However, in the context of techno-scientific experimental systems, and despite being rooted in the graphematic space, the future of an epistemic thing lies in the representational space—that is, research must feed into science.
The installation Proto-Objects speculates that this economy is reversible, following a two-step procedure. The material installation transfers an actualised technical object back to an epistemically underdetermined space, a virtuality suggested by a multiplicity of images from different disciplinary backgrounds. In this installation, Einar Torfi Einarsson transforms Schwab’s proto-objects into scores to be interpreted and played by the cellist Séverine Ballon; the contemporary artist Florian Dombois uses the one hundred objects to develop a “language of things,” in which he writes poetry; the architect Miguel Figueira modifies Van Gogh’s Pont de Langlois (1888) on the basis of the proto-object corresponding to that painting; and Taslim Martin uses one proto-object as the template for a creamer and sugar set.
Needless to say, there are no “real” proto-objects outside their presentation as manifold, “the real object is reflected in a mirror-image as in the virtual object which, from its side and simultaneously, envelops or reflects the real: there is ‘coalescence’ between the two . . . a double movement of liberation and capture” (Deleuze 1989, 68). Keeping what Deleuze says here in mind, the installation Proto-Objects may be seen to suggest alternative modes of signification within artistic experimental settings.
The book Proto-Objects published for this installation is available on issuu
Deleuze, Gilles. 1989. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: Athlone Press.
Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg. 1997. Toward a History of Epistemic Things: Synthesizing Proteins in the Test Tube. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Schwab, Michael. 2012. “Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” In Intellectual Birdhouse: Artistic Practice as Research, edited by Florian Dombois, Ute Meta Bauer, Claudia Mareis, and Michael Schwab, 229–47. London: Koenig Books.
—, ed. 2013. Experimental Systems: Future Knowledge in Artistic Research. Leuven: Leuven University Press.