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UH Moment

UH Moment: ‘Creative Brain Waves’

“What you’re seeing here, which you cannot see on the recorder, is a floor of inlaid granite and a marble-like glass surface. I created this design on the floor and these are all the platonic solids.”



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Artist Jo Ann Fleischhauer provided a tour of her Warehouse-district studio, pointing out images of her work. 

“I am an installation artist and I do large scale pieces,” she said.

Her next installation will include a University of Houston researcher who will chronicle her creative process from beginning to end–by tracking her brain activity. 

“We got this new grant from the National Science Foundation that looks at the neural basis of aesthetics, understanding how we perceive and make judgements about art,” said UH Cullen College of Engineering Professor Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal. He’ll fit Fleischhauer with a headset containing several dozen sensors that will track her creative thoughts…and inspiration. It’s part of the National Science Foundation’s Brain Initiative to answer fundamental questions about the brain.

“It will allow us, for the first time, to look at the brain in action, as it is happening,” he said. “I’m spying on your brain.”

Contreras-Vidal also will work with Blaffer Art Museum, a contemporary art museum on the UH campus. 

“So wherever I work, I’m going to wear (the headset). I’m even going to wear it on the treadmill when I’m at the gym,” Fleischhauer said. 

Collaborators on the grant include Claudia Schmuckli, director and chief curator of Blaffer; James Rosengren, Blaffer’s deputy director; Badri Roysam, chairman of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UH, and Saurabh Prasad, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. 

Contreras-Vidal says results may contribute to neurotechnologies to address things like Parkinson’s disease or depression.  He says science and art share a desire to respond to challenges of the world, be it through brain research or creative works. 

“In that mystery, there’s the poetry. There’s something…magic,” Fleischhauer said.


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