Hypertext, Collaboration, and Interactive Art: "The Brain Opera"

In July 1996 The Brain Opera, a collaborative, interactive, sound and image event based on Marvin Minsky's seminal book, The Society of Mind, opened at Lincoln Center and on the World Wide Web as part of the 1996 Internet World Expo. This project continues to tour in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

As it continues to tour The Brain Opera will help to establish a new paradigm for the creation and experience of an exhibition. Its narrative proceeds from the point-of-view of each and all of its audience-participants. The Brain Opera allows its audience to experience and contribute to the evolution of a "hyper-work" that is dynamic and perpetually unfinished. This interactive exhibition challenges old models of intentionality, subjectivity and authorship.


Artificial Intelligence and Hypertextuality

Research in Artificial Intelligence supports Marvin Minsky's theory that human consciousness is not controlled by a centralized "conductor" in the brain but emerges from seemingly unintelligent and unconnected mental processes called "agents". For Minsky intelligence is constituted in temporary aggregates or collaborations between "agents" that combine, disperse and recombine to perform functions without the direction of a central self or subject. He suggests that the development of the intellect is both random and evolutionary, contingent, open, not absolute -- That "Every thought is to some degree a metaphor".

Hypertext, Hypermedia and computer hypertext are multi-linear, multisequential open structures where discreet elements may be linked, or not, at a users discretion, through multiple paths described as a networks or webs.

Together, the hyper textual paradigm and Minsky's "society of mind" suggest that we abandon conceptual systems based on ideas of center, margin, hierarchy, and linearity and find an alternative to the Cartesian model of subjectivity -- a new, "recombinant" subjectivity that is multiple, distributed, and associative.








image integration systems

image processing

Internet-The Brain Opera Web Site provided remote user interaction and input into the Brain Opera On-Site. On -line users interact with on-site participants, contributing sounds and images to the evolving dynamic of each Brain Opera performance.


Technology, Collaboration and Community - conclusions

The expansion of the Internet and the rapid development of digital technology has created a new geography of power relations. The potential of electronic information space as a democratic authoring environment for artists and audience "users" alike is constrained by economics and access as well as internal technological limitations, but these constraints are diminishing. The Brain Opera is, in part, an attempt to address and decrease these limitations and constraints.

First, Through a young peoples program, the Brain Opera trains local students at each installation site to serve as attendants and interpreters in the installation. This program provides students with training in advanced technologies which should stimulate their interest in creative and educational uses of technology as well as laying a foundation of practical and marketable skills.

Second, The collaborative structure of the Brain Opera's creative team provided the opportunity for artists, like myself, to work with scientists in the development of new media and communications technologies. This type of collaboration has resulted in new image processing and communications technology designed for flexibility and accessibility.

And finally, as a dynamically evolving interactive exhibition the Brain Opera begins to erase the line dividing author and audience and avoids the closure and authorial voice of some traditional exhibitions.

Still, there are problems and unresolved issues. Can an experience be simultaneously educational, aesthetically coherent, and authentically open or interactive? How can intelligent systems "know" their users without the negative implications of surveillance and technological domination. And, most important to the goal of the Brain Opera, how can technology be used to enhance rather than diminish social interaction and sense of community.

Despite these difficulties It is my belief that a new paradigm is emerging - one that can incorporate contradiction. The Brain Opera begins to establish this new paradigm by employing new collaborative structures to create a work that is permanently in the process of evolution.