Previous Talks

06. June 2017 - Can both art and science explore the limits of out-of-body or nearly-dead experiences?

06 Aug, 2017

This LASERZurich will feature two renowned researchers that will cross pollinate their research by presenting this exciting and controversial topic.

Dr. Helen Pynor (Bio-Artist video, photography, sculpture, media art, wet biology and performance) and Assistant Professor Dr. Bigna Lenggenhager (Department of Psychology, University of Zurich). The discussion will be moderated by Prof. Dr. Jill Scott.

Bigna Lenggenhager

will talk about her research on out-of-body and related experiences. She combines techniques from behavioural psychology, neuroscience and virtual reality to scientifically investigate these complex phenomena. She will present clinical and experimental data showing how surprisingly plastic the bodily self is and how easily the brain can be tricked into strange sensations related to the bodily self. She will put forward the hypothesis that out of body experiences are a failure of an integration of various bodily senses. She will relate her findings to possible interpretations of near-death experiences and speculate about how transient experimental manipulation of the unity between the body and the self might influence our perception of death and after-life beliefs.

Bigna Lenggenhager is currently a junior group leader at the Neurology Department of the University Hospital of Zurich. As of September 2017 she will be an Assistant Professor at the Psychology Department of the University of Zurich. Initially trained as a psychologist, she did her PhD in Neuroscience at the EPFL Lausanne, followed by postdoctoral positions in Rome and Bern. Her research focuses on how the brain integrates various external and internal signals into a coherent sense of a bodily self. She developed experimental paradigms to alter the sense of a bodily self in healthy participants and uses techniques from behavioral psychology, neuroscience (EEG, fMRI) and virtual reality to investigate underlying physiological and neural mechanisms. She also investigates how the bodily self is altered in psychiatric and neurological patients and searches for non-invasive therapeutic tools. She published her work in various peer-reviewed and high-impact journals (e.g. Science, Neuron, CurrentOpinion in Neurology) and has received the prestigious Pfizer prize (2009). She has been involved in numerous interdisciplinary projects and received several national and international research grants (Swiss National Science Foundation, German Research Foundation, Italian Ministry of Health, Volkswagen Foundation, International Foundation for research on Paraplegia). - Bigna Lenggenhager

Helen Pynor (AU / UK)

will discuss her new installation The End is a Distant Memory in which she explores the ‘unknowable’ space between life and death. In one part of the work Pynor explores the persistence of living cells inside the meat we purchase for food. She successfully cultivated living, tissue-cultured chicken cells obtained from a biopsy of supermarket chicken meat: essentially demonstrating that living cells persist in something perceived to be dead. The End is a Distant Memory also explores human near-death experiences: the persistence of lucid consciousness during states of clinical death, a phenomenon that is increasingly reported by patients. She will discuss ambiguous zones and states, such as the life-death boundary, the interpersonal nature of organ transplantation, and approaches to ‘reanimation’ within the context of her practice.

Helen Pynor trained as both artist and scientist. Her practice spans large-scale installations through to small intimate works. She has completed a practice-based PhD and frequently collaborates with scientists and clinicians in the realisation of her works, undertaking in-depth research residencies at institutions such as the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden; The Heart and Lung Transplant Unit, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney; and SymbioticA–Biological Arts, University of Western Australia. She has exhibited widely internationally including at Ars Electronica, Linz; National Centre for Contemporary Art, Russia; National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts; Science Gallery Dublin; FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) Liverpool UK; International Symposium on Electronic Art - ISEA2013, Sydney; and Wellcome Collection, London.