Illusion, perception and performance in ‘Cerebellium’

A simple test? A puzzle with two outcomes.
 (from ‘Cerebelium‘,  2012, taken by T. Howson).

At the end of February, beginning of March, I was lucky enough to perform as a volunteer in a local Sensory Theatre project: ‘Cerebellium’, a link between Pontio, Bangor University and the Republic of the Imagination. Performers included volunteer students from the Universities Psychology, Computer Science and Creative Studies and Media Departments as well as those experienced in Sensory Labyrinth Theatre.

‘Cerebellium” sought to expose the everyday illusions which we take for granted through a performance. Its title comes from the word ‘Cerebellum’ for ‘brain’ and demonstrates the way that even in language, illusory letters can appear through (mis)pronunciation. In extension, the name is suggestive of the world which the audience enters, which demonstrates how little we realise how our brain determines how we perceive the world – not the world being fixed in form. The performance included a sodium lit room where colour is removed until a torch reveals what our brains tell us is the ‘correct’ colour for certain objects (flags, extinguishers, m&m sweets, to name a few). Another section used focus on an object and a spinning mirror ball to make a scientist seemingly ‘disappear’ in the corner of the room. In another location, a tilted room convinced some that the world had literally been ‘turned on its axis’ (‘Cerebellium’, 2012). 

Yet to add to this seemingly weird and stimulating environment, the audience were also placed in a particular role: to make a decision on the construct for these illusions: a science laboratory that had apparently created consciousness in a stimulated brain placed in a vat. The audience member travelled solo through the space with the intention to make a decision on whether the brain, referred to as ‘Project K’, should be told of his true status (as brain in a vat, rather than continuing ‘K’s’ perception that he is a living being), be kept in his current stasis or the whole project be terminated immediately resulting in ‘K’s brain being switched off. 

Developed and scripted by Iwan Brioc and Prof. Guillaume Thierry, the performance combined psychology and sensory techniques to create a truly unique theatre experience. A series of workshops held at the University in November 2011 helped to train volunteers in sensory focus and the illusory. The original performance site being made unavailable for health and safety reasons, the new performance site, a laboratory informed the performance in ways perhaps unimaginable, causing audience to question whether they really were at a theatre performance or in a real working laboratory.

Performed over the course of a week to tie in with National Science Week, ‘Cerebellium‘ combined live music, science, theatre, dance, and technology to create a convincing performance environment leaving many audience members questioning what is real, and what is not.

Prof. Thierry now hopes to create a further series of similar performances which will further mark out North Wales as a key site for the development of Sensory Theatre. I’m already looking forward to the next instalment!


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