Lucia No.3. Credit: Light Attendance GMBH
Sundays are traditionally a day of meeting friends, going to the bar, BBQing, going to the park—those sort of meandering, lazy activities that you can drift through on neutral. But last Sunday, instead of sitting around and watching TV, I spent some time in the back room of an arts center in north London, tweaking my third eye using stroboscopic light stimulation to create an artwork in my mind. And it was pretty awesome.
The experience was delivered to me by an apparatus called Lucia No. 3, a device that consists of a lamp surrounded by LEDs that hangs off the end of a pole structure, which the participant sits in front of with eyes closed. The device is hooked up to a computer with some custom built software controlling the emitted patterns of light which trigger strange visions in the recipient. It recently exhibited at the Kinetica Art Fair in London and is the work of Dr. Dirk Proeckl (neurologist and psychologist) and Dr. Engelbert Winkler (psychologist and psychotherapist) who have teamed up with Maria Lopes to form Traveller Unlimited, an experiential art project where you are the artist.
The device works by affecting alpha brain waves and stimulating something called the pineal gland—so called because it looks a bit like a pine cone—which is located in the center of the brain. The pineal gland, which is functionally and anatomically linked to other centres of the brain, reacts to both the intensity and rhythms of the light, triggering a visionary reaction in the person’s brain.
In the experience I had, you wore headphones with trance-like music (you had a choice) playing to drown out external noise. After a few moments of closed eyes and darkness I could suddenly see bright colours and formless shapes whizzing past: orange-tinged geometric designs, a pyramid, some microscopic organisms or particles that I couldn’t quite make out, along with other structures and psychedelic palaces streaming past my peripheral vision. This went on for the 20 minutes I was under the device’s spell, with the music having a big effect in driving the visuals—like my mind was a VJ—and afterwards Dr. Proeckl suggested I may have experienced some form of synesthesia, seeing music as color. But, each experience is different depending on the user. One woman said she felt like her brain had been literally sliced open, but then said that may have had something to do with the cold air washing over her forehead from the device.
Dr. Proeckl is on the right of this image.
The pineal gland is strange part of our brain and has been linked with the esoteric third eye, which has been written about in every mystical tradition—Gnostic, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and many more. Advanced yogis are able to use it, and it’s supposed to suspend our linear notion of space-time and take you on a trip into the cosmic mind hole. If this all sounds a bit hippyish, that’s because it hasn’t been explored by many others outside of the mystical traditions and the sub/countercultures they inspired. But the association of the pineal gland with the mystical third eye is more than just symbolic, as it’s considered that the pineal cells share a common ancestry with the retinal cells of the eye. In certain reptiles and living fossils, like the lamprey, a parietal “third” eye is still present usually in the middle of the head. It can be photosenistive and can also be used to regulate biorhythms like the pineal gland does in humans.
Stroboscopic light techniques have long been used in ancient mystery cults and in the 1960s as a way to alter consciousness and experience the inner world of the mind. But what Winkler and Proeckl have created is a piece of technology that uses the harmonics of flickering light to act like a cross between drugs, meditation, and a video game or some other form of home entertainment. In this regard art becomes a form of psychedelic interactivity where you get to peer through the doors of perception and witness the creative river that flows forth from your third eye.
The machine is the result of Dr. Proeckl and Dr. Winkler’s studies on the benefits of light and the effects it has had on their psychotherapeutic and neurologic practices with their clients. The first Lucia was a hacked coffee machine with the inner parts removed and some lamps and electronics put in instead. In an email exchange, Dr. Proeckl also said that, outside of their studies, they knew historically that light had played an important role in certain esoteric cultures.
[It was] our knowledge of the immense relevance that light (or the concept of it) has and had in different cultures including the ancient ones, in mystical and religious experiences, psychedelic experience, near death experience, peak experience and our knowing of the fundamental (neuro)physiologic role it has on so many organisms living on earth.
The small event I went to on Sunday, which had no more than five people including myself, is part of their experimentations to find out more about how the device affects people. It’s part of the device’s journey from therapy machine to artistic tool, with the therapy aspect as a positive side-effect rather than the main event.
[We] came to an understanding of the enhanced productivity and creativity of the brain in play with the light as an artwork of the brain. It is the eternal way of going beyond the border of our cognitive restraints to new worlds of insight. At this point, according to research work of others, altered states of consciousness (such as flow-experience, aesthetic experience and the Eureka effect) come together not only on a phenomenological basis but also in some measurable parameters to open worlds of new insight. Art – Science – Brain – Mind are not separate on their own.
This is me tripping the light fantastic.
But what next for the device? As well as these events, which they’ll continue to do at exhibitions, there’s also the Light Attendance GMBH in Austria which distributes and sells the lamps, offers training for users of the lamp, and maintains a webspace for communication between the users while also supporting the activities of Traveller Unlimited. As an art experience, it was certainly unique and it’s tempting to think of this as the beginning of a new artistic/recreational activity, initially practiced by early-adopters seeking a stroboscopic mind-melt, before making the transition into people’s homes. The experience is akin to playing video games or watching TV, but instead of looking at a screen we’d be journeying into our own creative space, exploring an ancient part of our mind that is rarely taken out for a ride.
Photo credit: Maria Lopes