When: Oct. 18-30 2010
Schiciano Auditorium and The Studio, Duke Campus—At first glance, the function of "mirror neurons" in the brain sounds mundane. They're triggered, for instance, when you watch your friend prick her finger with a needle. They make you wince in sympathy, but you don't actually feel the pain, because the sensory neurons in your own finger tell you everything's dandy. Remarkably, amputees actually do feel the pain, in their ghost limb. Which means there might be more to empathy than meets the eye (so to speak).
The intriguing new research on the "empathy neuron" is the subject of an ambitious installation and performance piece by Utah-based multimedia artist Amy Caron. Waves of Mu sprawls across two rooms, the first of which contains an elaborate fun-house model of the human brain. In the second room, Caron interacts with the audience and finds creative ways to fire their gray cells. One of the theories spawned from mirror neuron research is that they underlie and explain our response to performance—seeing an actor act, or a singer sing, causes us to directly feel what they feel. It's a scientific explanation for art, which casts Caron's artistic explanation of the science in a lovely symmetry.
"I found [mirror neuron research] very interesting because, as a performer, emotional exchange is a big part of performance," said Caron in a telephone interview. "I was interested to learn that there's actually a neurobiological basis for this, and a function that's not just purple fluffy stuff and feelings. It actually made it feel much more concrete to me and much more exciting. Even though we sort of intuitively know it, when you understand how it works it becomes more amazing. Because it's sort of magical."
Attendance is limited for the eight performances, which take place Oct. 20–30. Tickets for the performances are free, but advance registration is required. The installation is open for public viewing, for free with no tickets required, during designated gallery hours Oct. 19–27. —Marc Maximov