Noise+Signal | Daksha Patel

November 23th 2013

Cornerhouse, Oxford Street, Manchester

23 September 2013

FACT, Wood Street, Liverpool

Noise + Signal is an attempt at investigating this relationship and the title of the project is a reference to the negotiation, perception and interpretation required of medical professionals when bodily data is visualized, in order to establish ‘signal’ from ‘noise’. Although we might presume that the very many technological aids used in the medical world routinely present a kind of objective, concrete truth, faithfully rendering brains, bones, tissue, blood vessels and bodily electrical waves ‘as they really are’, in fact, scientific visualizations are situated, partial representations of the human body. Their deployment requires the careful training of would-be practitioners. Their normalized, aesthetic quality provides a shared space for both clinicians and patients to understand the otherwise invisible and mysterious internal workings of the body; bringing the inside outside. Moreover, they do not work in isolation, but are part of a great network of visual and practical performances that, together, combine to offer medical professionals assurances on the nature of a bodily illness, injury or condition. They are nothing more and nothing less than perceptive aids. X-rays, for example, cannot be taken as unerringly truthful (visual) objects, but must be coded in reference to patient questioning, prior knowledge(s), doctor-doctor discussion and direct bodily sensing (touch, sight etc.).

Participants were first invited to wear a skin galvanometer. These tiny devices measure the electrical conductivity of the skin to gauge emotional responses. They are commonly used as part of polygraph tests, used to determine levels of arousal in response to questioning. In Daksha’s case, they were utilized in order to measure bodily responses to environmental stimuli.

However, this is not the only biosensing technology incorporated into the project. Daksha also wears an electroencephalograph (EEG) headset that records electrical activity through the scalp. It, in essence, measures brain activity. In clinical use, the EEG is comprised of multiple electrodes attached all over the head. In Daksha’s case a commercial headset was used comprising of a single electrode attached to the forehead.