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Close Encounters with Inner Aliens

Immersive Installation & Space, 2023

Perceiving the unknown from within

For centuries, humans have been perceiving other worlds by imagining aliens, from zombies and Martians to other extraterrestrial beings. Gradually, these science fiction entities have gained an impact on our sociopolitical perceptions of otherness. But our imagination of aliens is largely based on projecting our own biases, emotions, and desires into the unknown. In other words, aliens begin within us. Even though the advancement of technology has disenchanted many imagined figures, our inner aliens have never ceased but evolved along with human nature. So why not turn the perspective around, and for once not look at the universe searching for the unknown, but investigate our internal aliens through a special mix of guided meditation, AI neural networks and cognitive neuroscience?

Imagining aliens as a mindfulness practice.

Delving into various interpretations of aliens, Close Encounters with Inner Aliens highlights how we visualize otherness by looking inside ourselves and pondering other worlds within. It merges spirituality and science to transform alien imagination into a mindfulness practice, challenging our stereotypes about aliens rooted in our imagination and perceptions. By conducting guided meditation about alien encounters with individuals and an AI, this project seeks to explore this internal phenomenon both personally and collectively. Analyzing fMRI scans of the early visual cortex, a region linked to mental imagery, we reconstruct individuals' internal representations of aliens across various cultures, genders, and ages. Also, we examine how science fiction shapes our perceptions of aliens through ChatGPT and Midjourney, AIs that reflect our extensive collective knowledge and biases toward aliens. 

video credit: BAD Award/ MU

photography credit: BAD Award/ MU/ Boudewijn Bollmann

By applying techniques from both neuroscience and computational modeling, this project creates a liminal space that visualizes aliens from the diverse minds of both humans and AIs. This outcome invites audiences to appreciate others' inner aliens and introspect their cognitive bias of the unknown.

photography credit: BAD Award/ MU/ Boudewijn Bollmann

In this liminal space, audiences will experience three distinct phases of encountering aliens. First, they will appreciate the inner aliens from the imaginations of four participants—three humans and one AI—through projection and dialogue. The projection features inner alien images reconstructed by an fMRI scanner. Meanwhile, the dialogue, in which audio is integrated with a tapestry displaying four participants' neuroimages, involves them discussing their interpretations of aliens.

The story about the interpretations of aliens from four participants.

Second, the audience will encounter the inner aliens through their mind's eye. By wearing headphones and following the imagination guide, they can visualize their own alien entity and landscapes from within.

The audio of the meditation guide for encountering inner aliens.

photography credit: BAD Award/ MU/ Boudewijn Bollmann

Third, audiences will have the opportunity to generate their inner aliens using Midjourney. By typing descriptions of their inner aliens into a computer, these descriptions will serve as prompts for Midjourney to visualize their concepts. Meanwhile, audience members can also view aliens generated by others. This experience invites audiences to read about others' inner aliens and explore their own, encouraging them to reflect on their internal perceptions of aliens and to expand their understanding of otherness through diverse minds.

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photography credit: BAD Award/ MU/ Boudewijn Bollmann

This project also developed meditative workshops that guide participants to encounter their aliens with imagination and then have a collective discussion and reflection about how and why they visualize the inner aliens in a certain way afterward. A lot of time, the aliens that participants visualized in mind reflected their own inner desire and fear, which truly makes imagining aliens an introspective approach to re-explore the idea of aliens from within, understanding themselves a little better through the perspective of aliens.

photography credit: Shun Chih Chang

Software: VGG16, Fsleyes, Deforum, Midjourney, ChatGPT, Html

Hardware: fMRI scanner, printings

This project collaborated with

Neuroscientists - Floris de Lange, Floortje Bouwkamp, Matthias Ekman (Predictive Brain Lab, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior)

Participants - Angelique Spaninks, Victoria McKenzie, ChatGPT

Creative Technologist - Reng Tsai

Prop Design - Shun Chih Chang

Textile Design - Shin Yang

This project is supported by Bio Art & Design Award, MU Hybrid Art House, Predictive Brain Lab, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior

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© copyright 2024. All Images are free to be used if;

Hung Lu Chan, Project Title, and Photographer are mentioned correctly with the images.

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