Since I bought my first Mac in 1993, all I ever wanted to do was make digital art. Long before there was ever even a market for it I was fascinated with how far digital art could go. At the NFT Goat Pop up digital art show here in Toronto, I found out just how far.
After venturing into the basement and down a small unassuming corridor, I met the BrainBlots Team. Yasmeen, Andrew and Ali are a trio of young, stylish U of T students with a diverse range of interests from art to neuroscience to philosophy and everything in between. Before I knew just what was happening, I was putting on an EEG headset and watching my thoughts come to life right before my eyes.
I was asked to focus on a thought or a person. I chose my wife NFT Nat, who happened to be with me. We both had digital and physical art pieces in the art show that night. But nothing like this. I simply cleared my mind and thought about her. And then magically a rorschach-like symmetrical interpretation of my brain was projected on the wall in front of me.
The experience was unlike anything I had ever had before. I was looking at my brain, and in doing so I was altering what I was looking at and thus changing the outcome. Observation is in fact an action. This was living proof of that.
Another aspect of this experience that I enjoyed was listening to Andrew and Yasmeen comment on how focused my thoughts were. The small gathering of people next to me were also whispering about how beautiful my mind looked. For a moment, I felt admired in a way that was not possible before. Then, I watched that emotion displayed like a pixelated black butterfly, then reduce into a focused cluster as I shifted my thoughts back to my wife. It was like looking at an MRI of your soul in real time. A highly recommended experience.
My Brainblots recording was later minted and gifted to me as a one of a kind NFT (non-fungible token). At the bottom of this post, you’ll see how I took that recording and added an artistic layer to it. I minted this NFT collaboration with Brainblots into the very first “Mind Portrait” token. A self portrait unlike anything I had ever created before. Read more below in my interview:
How did the two of you meet and how did the BrainBlots project come to be?
Yasmeen and Andrew met at the neurotechnology club at UofT where they were building a mind-controlled keyboard for a competition. They both had experience in crypto and web3 before as independent AI art and charcoal print NFT artists respectively. Combining neurotech and NFTs, they started BrainBlots. While scanning people’s brains at events, they met Ali who was also a UofT student. He joined the team to expand BrainBlots into the traditional contemporary and multimedia art world.
How does it work? What do BrainBlots participants experience?
A person is prompted to think about something they love. An EEG headband is placed on their head to record their live brainwaves. The more intense they react to the thought, the larger the BrainBlot art visual is and the more calm, the smaller it is. Their BrainBlot is then minted as an NFT and is included in the HiveMind NFT Collection, an interactive society of other simulated BrainBlotters that operate under the Game of Life Algorithm.
What role do NFTs play? How does blockchain technology enhance this project?
It re-envisions digital ownership of biometric data, brain emulation, and psychological expression timelines as personal as brainwave fingerprints connected to memorable thoughts.
People are fascinated with technology and yet, at the same time very nervous about its reach. Can this brain scan be used in any negative way? Are there any privacy issues with projecting an interpretation of someone’s thoughts?
It’s normal for people to be hesitant about emerging technology. The neurotechnology we use are non-invasive, clinical-grade EEG headbands that can only monitor cognitive states like focus, calmness, sleepiness, etc. Unlike sci-fi movies, they cannot read people’s thoughts or change the brain in any way. In terms of privacy, we only record the BrainBlot art and not the actual brainwaves in our database. The prompts are carefully curated to ensure the art piece is personal to each participant as a token for a memorable experience they love.
What have you discovered about the people who have participated in BrainBlots? How do onlookers react to the projection of your live display?
People are generally fascinated by the BrainBlot experience. They are surrounded by other people who look at their live brain waves while they think about something personal they love. In a sense, it’s private thoughts and public art. Where the onlookers are curious about what the person is thinking about during the live fluctuations they witness on the artistic projection.
What is next for BrainBlots? Where do you see this project going?
BrainBlots continues to feature in exhibits across the world from Toronto to Chicago and recently on a Times Square Billboard this summer during NFT NYC. We are currently working on a live VR exhibit to kickstart our “self-impressionism” neurotech art movement and to expand the BrainBlots experience to hundreds of neurodiverse people worldwide. Our mission is a reinterpretation of the famous Nietzsche quote where “if you gaze long enough into your mind, your mind will gaze back into you.” That’s what BrainBlots aims to do in the emerging art and science space.